IT has been two long decades since Yorkshire had a top-flight speedway team – but ambitious Sheffield Tigers say the time is right to blast back into the big time.
The now defunct Hull Vikings were the last white rose side to race in the high octane sport’s top tier back in 1999 while, before them, Bradford Dukes folded ironically after winning the Elite League title at Odsal two years earlier.
But Sheffield have now been given the green light to compete in the SGB Premiership – renamed two years ago – and the club owners say they are delighted with the development.
“We believe the sport is on the verge of an exciting time and we want to be a part of it,” said co-owner, Barnsley businessman Damien Bates. “We’ll be representing not only Sheffield, but the whole of Yorkshire.
“We have had some major successes since we took over in 2014.
“We have been delighted with the trophies that have come our way, especially the second division league title win of two years ago, which was something special.
It’s something we have looked at long and hard and we have assessed all factors in minute detail. So it isn’t a kneejerk reaction, it’s part of a thought-out business strategy. Sustainability has been the key throughout.Damien Bates
“But we now feel the time is right to step up, especially with development work at the stadium having now been completed.
“It’s something we have looked at long and hard and we have assessed all factors in minute detail.
“So it isn’t a kneejerk reaction, it’s part of a thought-out business strategy. Sustainability has been the key throughout.”
Tigers themselves last rode in the top tier in 1988, having been founder members of the old British League in 1965 and with a history that dates back to 1929.
But their Owlerton Stadium temporarily closed post Valley Parade and Hillsborough and after two years in the dark, the club re-emerged in the second division, which is where they have remained and competed since.
It isn’t promotion, in football or rugby parlance.
Speedway clubs have the option to move up providing they meet the right criteria and are accepted by the sport’s governing body.
The club has been welcomed with open arms.
Bates knows it is a big move, with the need to recruit some top-level riders during what is expected to be a busy winter.
“We aren’t going up there just to make up the numbers,” he added.
“We intend challenging for the top.”
But with the new £5m building work at Owlerton now complete – making it one of the best speedway venues in the country – Bates is confident the move into the elite will prove to be a successful one.
“This is now an opportunity to establish the Tigers as a blue chip, top-end club,” he adds.
“We have done the sums and we know that we can assemble a team which will compete all the way.
“We’re looking at several riders, including some with the wow factor, but what we won’t do is gamble with the future of the club for a short-term blast at glory.
“The business model that we have is all about sustainability.
“We want to make sure Sheffield speedway is around next year and the one after that and so on.”
Tigers’ top-flight campaign will begin next March.