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George Dodds's picture

There was a time when 34 years would have made you comfortably the youngest rider in a typical Bandits’ septet. For 2020 it is the combined ages of our starting reserves.
I’ve been asked if this is the youngest side in Berwick’s history and, from failing memory, would say it is but await confirmation – or contradiction – from those historical giants McCleary and Renton.
This week was the perfect antidote for those who moan that nothing happens in the speedway off-season.
In the space of just four days we learned who will make up the Bandits’ team and how much it will cost to support them.
Add the apparent saving of our nearish and dearish at Rough Park and various attempts by clubs in both leagues to balance the act of pleading poverty and signing notoriously expensive top end riders and there was plenty to keep both electronic and print media busy.
There was a time when turning up to press and practice and studying who was wearing the body colours was the first hint to fans of the likely starting one to seven. In the modern world everything must be done and dusted before Asda starts stocking its – supremely delicious – deluxe mince pies.
Not surprisingly to anyone who has followed the attempts by the Courtney brothers to get speedway in Berwick on a sound footing both on and off-track, Bandits’ 2020 largely follows the blueprint of Bandits' 2019.
An exciting addition; a departing legend who will take some replacing. Let the hard work begin for riders, promoters and sponsorship gatherers alike.
Many names were bandied about but in the end six of the seven who carried our colours last year are back. Which makes sense because in an uncertain world what we do know is that around Shielfield all six can, do and have beaten the best that the Championship has to throw at them over the past two seasons.
Much vaunted – and indebted – visitors came, saw and were conquered around our raceway. Big hitters are fine but the same number of points are on offer in heats two and 14 as 13 and 15.
Scoring in depth has got us over the line in over 90 per cent of our Saturday nights for the past two seasons – and caused the odd upset on the road too – so what, other than an in-bred desire to moan, whinge and destruct, made some think that next season will be any different?
True there has been one change to the side – and it’s a big one.
Turns out that Uncle Dools knew what he was on about with his post-season announcement that his favourite nephew was embarking on a farewell tour in 2019.
Going out on his own terms, relatively free from injury and with a successful last season under his belt – a King handing over the throne on his own terms. It is what the legend that is Kevin Doolan deserves.
Tears were shed – glasses were certainly raised around the sport – to toast his achievements and contribution to British speedway.
On the plus side the next meeting of the Bandits’ Hall of Fame nomination committee should be pretty perfunctory.
So how do you replace a club legend?
Truth is you don’t but persuading him to take an active role mentoring some of the best young – some not so young but equally precocious – talent that Bandits’ supporters have ever seen is a good start.
Kyle Bickley and Leon Flint may be tender in years but they are already far more experienced than many of the reserves and second strings they will be facing next season. In addition Jye Etheridge, Coty Garcia and Nicolaj Busk Jakobsen have all just entered their mid-20s.
This is a team in which every rider is still developing and capable of improving on his starting average.
Even the new skipper Aaron Summers would, at 32, have been considered a mere pup in the days of Cribb, Hunter, McMillan and Pogo Collins.
And then there is Dany.
For one of the sport’s most straightforward, laid-back, approachable guys Herr Gappmaier has the ability to divide opinion. He also has the ability to win matches and beat the best the Championship has to offer week-in, week-out – at Shielfield.
Although it would be fair to say that the Crown Prince of Austria has, Sheffield apart, done little to trouble opponents of deforestation on his travels.
At 28 he may currently be considered one of our elder statesmen but only if you choose to ignore the fact that he only turned professional less than five years’ ago. Indeed in speedway terms he is barely more experienced than Kyle Bickley or Leon Flint.
But he is keen to learn and will spend the winter working on both his riding style and engine preparation to ensure that he is equally comfortable at Armadump, Rough Park, Kent and Eastbourne as he is around the Tweedmouth megabowl.
A handful of points on each road trip would be the difference between reaching the extended play-offs and missing out. It would also push his average up into the high eights and be nudging Aaron for the number one spot. With Kevin Doolan, David Howe a brace of Courtneys and various others who know more than a bit about how to succeed in his corner then this has the potential to be the season that instead of Minding the (performance) Gapp he bridges it.
He may hail from Salzburg but Dany is very much one of our own, Berwick adopting him in the same way that we did the likes of Wayne Brown, Steve McDermott and Graham Jones in years gone by.
There’s nothing quite like watching one of your boys climb through the ranks. Potentially – and with no disrespect to Aaron who we are 100 per cent certain will score big points home and away same as he always does – 2020 sees six Bandits’ riders all capable of enjoying a breakthrough season.
With admission prices remaining at £17 adults, £13 concessions, anyone with £199 available up to and including January 1 can watch the Championship unfold for the equivalent of £12.45 per meeting - £9.93 concessions and students (£159). Put it another way you could miss 4.29 (or 3.06) meetings in 2020 and still be quids’ in.
Even after January the savings are the equivalent of admission for £14.31 per meeting (£11.81 concessions). All 16 match season passes come with a 10 per cent discount on what is going to be an expanded range of merchandise in the club shop. There’s also the launch of the Buddy Club for little Bandits.
Full details are available on the main page of the website along with on-line paying facilities.
All in all not bad for a quiet week during the winter break.