Speedway: Alex Harkess certain Edinburgh Monarchs will Cook up a storm

Craig Cook with the Premier League Riders Championship trophy. Picture: Ron MacNeil
Craig Cook with the Premier League Riders Championship trophy. Picture: Ron MacNeil
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DESPITE their recent financial worries, Edinburgh Monarchs promoter Alex Harkess today promised that the club will track as competitive a squad as possible for next season and said funds will be available for any new signings if required.

The Armadale outfit have already secured Hungarian Jozsef Tabaka for the 2013 campaign and Harkess revealed that Monarchs will endeavour to keep No. 1 rider Craig Cook as well as bolstering their roster.

Harkess has opened talks with Cook, who was the top-scoring rider in the Premier League and as a result has seen his stock rise considerably, but Harkess believes the Englishman will be wearing a Monarchs jacket next season. “It always comes down to personal terms but I’m confident Craig will be coming back,” said Harkess. “Without a doubt Craig has come on a long way from where he was a year ago, but talks have started.”

Keeping Cook will be vital for a Monarchs outfit keen to avoid another year without a trophy. Some fans felt that Andrew Tully and skipper Matthew Wethers had become stale by the end of a rain-ravaged campaign, yet Monarchs hardly disgraced themselves in 2012 and they were hugely unlucky not to be involved in both the league play-off and KO Cup Final

Harkess defended his riders, pointing out: “Andrew was a ten point rider at home and would be very difficult to replace. His away record was very poor, but if you can keep somebody at home and try to get them to do better away from home, this is among the options we have to weigh up.

“Matthew did not have his best season and he will be the first to admit that, and sometimes when a rider has a bad year it makes everybody else want to sign them to get them on a low average. Matthew probably falls in to that category.

“Quite simply, had we beaten Scunthorpe by seven points instead of six, we could be sitting here as league champions. It was as close as that, and but for three engine failures that Jozsef suffered against Ipswich, we might also have been cup winners, so the team were not failures by any stretch of the imagination.”

The foundation, therefore, is already there for a team that so nearly went to the wall a few weeks ago. Monarchs have a strong asset base and may opt to utilise that, but Harkess also revealed that the club would take on a new rider if it was seen as “an investment for the future”.

“The economic situation is the same for every club in the country, in both the Premier and Elite League,” said Harkess.

“No rider is going to come along and ask for huge money, and we will take the financial situation into account once we have signed the riders we want in our team. All of the riders who contested the 2012 campaign belong to us, but I’m not saying we wouldn’t buy somebody else if we felt it was an investment for the future, but we need to find that person.”

Monarchs have already made an important investment in securing Tabaka for next season. His return at reserve is undoubtedly a huge boost and Harkess said: “This year we did not really have any scoring reserves at all. However, Jozsef is now a good scoring competitor and this will make a heck of a difference.

“Depending on how we build the team we may be forced to bring in a three-point rider to partner Jozsef, and you won’t find a three-point guy who will score double figures overnight.”

Rumours continue that Finn Kalle Katajisto, who was instrumental in helping Monarchs clinch their third title crown in 2010, is being lined up for a return to Armadale. Harkess, however, set that record straight. “We did speak to Kalle about helping us out towards the end of this season, but he was unable at short notice,” the promoter said. “He is, of course, our asset but we haven’t spoken to him and we haven’t ruled anybody out either.”

With Monarchs in a far more stable financial footing thanks to the generosity of their loyal support, Harkess underlined that another important task facing the directors is to win back those other supporters who deserted the club in 2012.

“We have got to address the problem of getting more people in, and you can’t keep cutting costs otherwise the product will deteriorate,” he said.

“I’m not talking about getting hundreds more through the turnstiles, but a few dozen at each match would make a big difference.

“It’s our intention to make Armadale better and more comfortable for people to watch the racing next season, and we are looking at ways of making that happen.”