Words: Graham Faiz
Pictures: Matt Sprake

As the 1999 season drew to a close, Arena-Essex fans faced the prospect of more winter uncertainty as complex owner and promoter Chick Woodroffe announced he was putting the club up for sale owing to ill health.

It had been a similar story back in 1990, when Woodroffe announced he was selling up. On that occasion, Terry Russell and Ivan Henry put in a bid to save the club at the eleventh hour, leading the Hammers to instant success by capturing the league, cup and fours treble.

In this instance, though, Woodroffe announced early that he was in discussions with a number of parties and, although he would not be drawn on any names, he did let on that no member of the previous promoting team – Russell or Henry – were among those interested. This helped to quench popular terrace rumour, although fans were intrigued as to who would be taking to the helm.

On Thursday, 2nd December, all was revealed to the loyal Hammers faithful. A new promoting consortium – Arena Speedway 2000 Ltd – had been formed and would lead Arena-Essex Speedway into the new millennium. This three man consortium was headed by Colin Brine, a long time sponsor of Troy Pratt through his company, Welling Power Tools Ltd.

Brine first saw the sport in the early seventies at Canterbury and had been involved ever since – his face was well known to Arena fans thanks to his pits-side presence in recent years. Joining him at the helm were Adrian Kearney, a former second-halfer at various circuits who ran a successful sports clothing company, and Alan Sargent, a retired bank manager and regular spectator at Arena-Essex. The trio were all hockey umpires who would have to learn a new set of rules for this their first Speedway promoting experience.

Brine took the ringleader’s role with his appointment as co-promoter, joining the long serving Peter Thorogood at the helm. His experience would be vital as Brine, Kearney and Sargent set about building on the foundations laid by Woodroffe and Thorogood. Their aim was to bring success to Arena-Essex in terms of trophies and to provide the paying public with entertainment from start to finish on racenights. Little did they know that it would be something which was to prove difficult as the year unfolded………

Arena Speedway 2000 - Alan Sargent, Colin Brine and Adrian Kearney

For Sargent, sitting on the other side of the fence was a brand new experience. He’d been an avid fan of the sport since the sixties at Crayford, Hackney and now Arena-Essex. He and his two partners wasted no time in naming their first new signing – although it was in an off track role! Former Arena-Essex Skipper Martin Goodwin – holder of the Club’s all-time points scoring record –was named as team manager.

Alan explained: “Our first signing was Martin Goodwin – and it was an important signing as it relieved Peter Thorogood of some of the pressure as he had been running the Club almost single-handed”.  Goodwin himself was delighted to be returning to a role he held at Oxford in 1998 and relished the opportunity of going back to Purfleet.

Skipper Colin White alongside the two riders who started the season in the reserve berth - David Mason and Nick Simmons

The team itself began to take shape after the New Year celebrations had died down - and the club were delighted with their first capture, Leigh Lanham.

“It was deemed vital to have an out and out no. 1 and we were delighted to secure the services of Leigh for another year on loan from his parent track, Ipswich” said Alan. His signing was quickly followed by a series of quick-fire signatures.

He continued the story: “Troy was signed as he was popular with the supporters and was likely to get double figure scores in our home meetings.

“Gary Corbett had a good 1999 season and cleaned up all the end of season awards. As an Arena asset and a local lad he was a natural to sign for another season.

“Colin White had put pressure on Leigh in 1999 as to who was going to be our No. 1 and we were delighted that we were able to get him back in 2000. We believed that he was capable of being a top heat leader as he had set himself up with excellent equipment.

“After a slightly disappointing 1999 season Matt Read seemed well motivated to improve in 2000. He had heavily invested in new equipment and was determined to improve his home average”