Covid rules and masks put punters off watching Eastbourne speedway action

Eastbourne Eagles’ withdrawal from the rest of the 2021 season and subsequent news that Eastbourne Eagles Ltd is to close has come as a shock.

Thursday, 23rd September 2021, 4:00 pm
The knock-on effects of Covid hit crowd numbers at Eastbourne Eagles fixtures / Picture: Mike Hinves

Eastbourne Eagles Ltd Director Ian Jordan sat down with journalist Paul Watson to answer questions about the club’s withdrawal from the 2021 Championship season. We will be running the Q&A in full over a few weeks. Part one can still be viewed here – here is part two.

Paul: In those circumstances (the difficulties caused by 2020’s Covid lockdown and loss of the season), would the Eagles have ever come to tapes this year?

Ian: When I said Covid probably saved us, the paradox is that it probably did. We’d have had to pay back all season ticket monies and the sponsorship we did have before lockdown as opposed to the very generous position, due to Covid, where almost all was carried over thanks to the good grace and understanding of Sponsors and Supporters.

We would effectively have had to start again this Spring in a far worse financial climate than a year before and with very restrictive lockdown restrictions that weren’t actually fully eased until mid July this year.

The team would undoubtedly have been broken up had 2020 happened and with us having to withdraw, they would have needed to ride in the CL in 2020 and it would have been a very different septet that would have started in 2021 and with a genuine shortage of riders I think our side would have been far less attractive.

We fought tooth and nail to retain the 1-7 from 2020 to 2021 as it was as many wanted a reduced points limit, so with no work permit options available at the time, who knows what kind of side we could have built?

Paul: This year began under tight Covid-19 restrictions. What effect do you think the cap on numbers had? How many fans would you have hoped for when Poole came, for example?

Ian: We knew we needed 800 to 850 and were delighted in many ways when Barry Johnson managed to secure a limit of 1,000 just before the first match. We had around 1,000 for the first match, around 925 for the Kent match and we then saw a decline to around 800-850. So, I don’t think the cap on numbers had a massive impact.

What did have a big impact was the requirement to wear masks and to strictly segregate. I think that for the first few matches it was a novelty, everyone was delighted to be out.

Very quickly though there was negativity from some supporters across social media about why they had to wear masks and some even wanted to mount campaigns and complaints to council and Government.

The fact is that the only way we were allowed to run was due to masks and segregation.

As part of the segregation, we had to utilise Stock Car security teams as they were compliant with all of the required compliance and believe me there were thousands of pages of the stuff.

They did a great job in the context that they were there to ensure no regulations were broken and were monitored closely by the council. Again, had they not been there to do that we could not have run. Massive credit must go to them and Barry for the work done.

Unfortunately though, the wearing of masks and the imposition of what some thought was over-draconian security was not popular.

I think we lost support in the period between early June and mid-July as the novelty of being out watching Speedway and the frustration of having to wear masks and being told what you could and couldn’t do, led to frustration and a view that it may be best to wait for all restrictions to be eased.

There were added costs and regulations in the pits area too and, all combined, it meant that much of the enjoyment of the occasion both inside the inner ring and outside in the stadium was hard to maintain.

Paul: What was the financial position under the Covid crowd restriction regulations?

Ian: Here’s the great paradox of where we’ve arrived at and I think discussed at the time.

By mid-July we had seemed to have weathered the storm. We weren’t making any money – I don’t think anyone will make money this season and most don’t ever make money.

Indeed, I’ve been told many times that Eastbourne never made money, it would regularly lose tens of thousands per season. It was kept alive by the incredible patronage and support of the Dugard Family.

However, we were broadly up to date with payments to riders and other bills at this point.

We were acutely aware that there was no season ticket safety net (largely used to cover 2020 and early 2021 costs) and, despite more excellent and much appreciated new financial support from George and Michael at HG Aerospace, other anticipated revenues were not forthcoming.

This was due to the ongoing and long-term impact of Covid on the national and global economies and the ravages of Brexit too.

Indeed, I well remember Lee (Kilby) and I spending a week in Eastbourne prior to the season with a plan to visit sponsors and new contacts.

Basically everything was still CLOSED. You couldn’t get a hotel room even unless you were “an emergency worker” and places like Knockhatch, the Skate Park and Brighton and Hove Albion Community programme, who Ken Burnett had done great work attracting in early 2020, weren’t even open for us to visit or contact properly.

We’d also begun to have issues with the NDL team. We’d entered the NDL to secure and attract assets and at the time expected a season starting at Easter in early April and running to the end of October.

The late decision to add further Lockdown to effectively lose the first 6-7 weeks and start on May 22 was effectively our NDL season in terms of weeks to matches. Had the season started on time we’d have coped with NDL seamlessly.

We tried double headers and after some adverse feedback from some staff and some supporters we were asked by the Stadium Management to stop them which we understood and complied with immediately. So, by the day before Covid restrictions finally eased on Monday, July 19, we were starting to feel the pinch.

Next week: part three