How bosses ran out of time and fixtures to try to save Eastbourne Eagles

This is part four of Paul Watson’s Q&A with director Ian Jordan about the withdrawal of our local speedway team from the end of the 2021 season and the subsequent closure of Eastbourne Eagles Ltd. The first three parts are linked within this page.

Sunday, 3rd October 2021, 9:30 am
In happier times: Eagles riders at 2021 practice day / Picture: Mike Hinves

Paul: Could Eastbourne have staged a ‘call to arms’ meeting in a similar way to that what was done by Birmingham and Newcastle? The Redcar fixture surely was the one to do that, but it was called off.

Ian: It would have been great to have been able to do that with the Birmingham match, or had the Berwick meeting had still been on the schedule. We asked if we could miss the fixture at Leicester but were told we had to fulfil it.

We met with the BSPL Management Committee on August 16 and outlined fully our position and a plan forwards.

When the Management Committee came back to us with what was required to continue in the short term we were unable to comply with their requests.

As a result the home meeting against Redcar could not be staged. We were clear that this could have been our ‘make or break meeting’ but sadly it was not to be.

In fairness too, there was some inclement weather about on the day of the match and a televised football fixture kicking off live on Sky at 5.30pm between Brighton and Watford, would, we know, have meant us being without some key staff and probably a significant number of Brighton season ticket holders and fans among our supporter base too.

It probably sums up recent luck that this clash should happen

We had arranged our northern tour for August bank holiday.

Those matches were cancelled without us being notified by the BSPL and we only found out from the clubs themselves, and fully understood and appreciated their need to arrange matches.

We had no latitude anyway to have home matches on August bank holiday as there is always a long-standing stock car event on bank holiday Monday and Saturday Bank holiday crowds at Arlington are invariably poor, with counter attractions and often debilitating local traffic putting off possible ‘walk-up’ support.

Paul: Were there no other investors available to give the club a cash injection to see through the season, even if it was only at Championship level?

Ian: We guaranteed ‘asset based’ director-provided investment from me, coming and due in mid-September to fund all liabilities.

That is part of a process that takes four weeks on average to happen and the option to put a card in the wall and fund the club with ready cash from directors’ pockets once again to the amount required simply wasn’t there.

Once the position was known we had contact from a few serious investors and a whole host of offers from supporters and to set up GoFundMe type schemes.

A couple of investors were happy to issue short term loans against our ‘proof of funding; and we could have taken any number of smaller amounts or the offer of a crowdfunder being set up. For reasons I will cover we decided that it would not be ethical or proper to take those offers and we have explained openly and transparently to all who have contacted us directly as to why, and in every case been thanked for being straightforward with them.

Those conversations, for obvious reasons, must remain confidential from our side but if any who contacted us wants to validate them, that’s totally up to them.

Paul: Was the 2021 team ‘too expensive’, was the budget too bullish and what was the break even attendance figure?

Ian: The honest answer to those questions in hindsight is clearly ‘YES’.

Hindsight, though, from the end of 2019 could never have foreseen, I suggest, what has happened in 2020 and 2021.

The team was signed based on 2019 deals and with the addition of Drew on an identical deal to Jason. We were considered to be in the higher echelon of payers in 2019, but also seen in the very higher echelon of prompt payers too. The break-even attendance figure in 2019, 2020 and 2021 was 800 to 850.

Hindsight being hindsight we should have re-negotiated in the winter of 2020 and reduced 2021 contracts. The initial deals weren’t done by me in 2019, but the failure to act prior to 2021 sits with me, is accepted and full responsibility taken.

Paul: Were there other factors that led in the end to Eastbourne being expelled from the league?

Ian: As I mentioned before, in terms of ‘investment’ there was another factor.

When we spoke to investors after the Leicester match and before Friday, August 20, we had to be brutally honest and tell them that they would not be buying the current product, but a probably weakened and reduced product.

We had to be honest with them, and were, and we had to be honest with ourselves in accepting that even with investment coming in, we would certainly have incurred further losses via a weakened team, more supporter unrest. A toxic atmosphere had already manifested in a small but vocal minority on social media and via some messages to management.

The fact is we could not, and did not, allow anyone to invest or to start any funding process on the basis of a weakened team, possible further losses as a result and increasing levels of rumours and abuse.

At the Leicester meeting, one of the team signified his desire to leave and another had signified his intention to retire, although he may still be available to ride for someone else.

We had an open and honest conversation with all of the team present and outlined plans. At that point the rest of the team were willing to remain. However, when we weren’t able to stage the Redcar match at home, which would have guaranteed us as a club and the riders some income from that meeting and to start to repay amounts owed, another requested to leave.

We actually tendered our resignation to the BSPL on Friday, August 20, as a result to give optimum time for the riders to try to get fixed up elsewhere and I’m happy to say that, following long and protracted information gleaning and passing between us and the BSPL. that this has happened prior to the transfer deadline day. There may be a silver lining to these decisions in the future.