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A decade of Ipswich Witches: So often the bridesmaid, never the bride

Flying from the start at Foxhall. It's been a strange decade for the Witches. Starting on a low and finishing on a high. Photo: STEVE WALLER

Flying from the start at Foxhall. It's been a strange decade for the Witches. Starting on a low and finishing on a high. Photo: STEVE WALLER

© Copyright Stephen Waller

Ipswich Witches have reached seven major finals in the past decade and lost them all. It's been frustrating... But still entertaining. MIKE BACON looks back.

Premier League Fours Final Leicester 23rd October 2011; Mechanics and team mates give Kevin Doolan the bumps after he had secured victory for the Witches with a second place in heat 17.; Picture: Steve WallerPremier League Fours Final Leicester 23rd October 2011; Mechanics and team mates give Kevin Doolan the bumps after he had secured victory for the Witches with a second place in heat 17.; Picture: Steve Waller

It's been a strange decade for Ipswich Witches.

Starting life in the sport's top tier - the Elite League - in 2010, they dropped into the second tier a year later. Only then to end 2019 back where it all started - in the top-flight of British speedway.

It was a decade topped and tailed in very different ways.

In 2010 the Witches were pretty much cannon fodder for the rest of the Elite League.

They finished bottom having won just nine of 32 meetings, and dropped down a level. But by 2019 and back in the big time, the team reached the Premiership final where they lost to Swindon Robins - a thoroughly decent season.

Indeed, the story of the decade was 'so near, yet so far' for the Foxhall Heath-based outfit.

There there were plenty of trophy near misses from Witches teams who, on so many occasions, just couldn't get over the line - apart from one Fours victory at Leicester in 2011. That proved a lone success.

After that the team reached the League Cup final v Somerset 2012 and Newcastle 2013, the KO Cup final v Newcastle 2012, Edinburgh 2014 and Peterborough 2017 - losing them all.

The 2010 Elite League Pairs Championship.; Danny King (left) & Scott Nicholls have plenty to think about in the pits.; Picture: Stephen Waller; www.StephenWaller.comThe 2010 Elite League Pairs Championship.; Danny King (left) & Scott Nicholls have plenty to think about in the pits.; Picture: Stephen Waller; www.StephenWaller.com

They reached the Championship play-off final in 2017 and lost to Sheffield, before finishing 2019 as Premiership play-off final losers to Swindon.

Seven major finals and no trophies, the Witches proving so often the bridesmaids!

The cruellest luck of all those final defeats was at home to Peterborough in the second leg of the KO Cup final in 2017.

Having restricted the Panthers to just a four-point lead in the first leg and in front of a big home crowd, the Witches were all set to clinch their biggest trophy of the decade - and were on their way to doing so - until a sickening crash ruled captain Danny King out of the meeting and saw the Panthers take a narrow win.

The 2019 Ipswich Witches, on press day.    PICTURE STEVE WALLER    www.stephenwaller.comThe 2019 Ipswich Witches, on press day. PICTURE STEVE WALLER www.stephenwaller.com

A win they would surely not have enjoyed had King remained able to race.

There has been plenty of play-off action, quarter-finals, semi-finals, but again, while reaching two finals, the team has found it difficult to finish the job off. Frustrating yes. But at least fans can't say it hasn't been entertaining!

Meanwhile, in a sport that endures much chopping and changing there has remained a reasonable amount of continuity at Foxhall Stadium.

Former rider Chris Louis has been promoter/director of speedway throughout, taking on a more hands-on role from his dad, John - and doing a tad of team management into the bargain, while riders such as Danny King, Morten Risager and Cameron Heeps featured regularly.

Team boss Ritchie Hawkins has moved seamlessly from rider to manager.

The decade began with local boy Scott Nicholls leading the averages, although his appearances for the Witches in the years after were few, as the seven time British Champion remained in the top-flight, before riding for other Championship clubs when he doubled up in both leagues.

King was another to leave in 2011, before returning four years later and being with the club ever since - and as captain. Other riders who have made notable contributions this decade include Rohan Tungate (who won the Premier League Pairs with King at Somerset in 2015), Ben Barker and Nico Covatti.

It won't go down as a stunning ten years for the Witches, although it may have done had some of those final defeats been turned into victories.

Witches team manager Ritchie Hawkins with a post meeting team talk following the Witches home defeat by Swindon in the first leg of the play-off final in 2019.    Picture: Steve Waller    www.stephenwaller.comWitches team manager Ritchie Hawkins with a post meeting team talk following the Witches home defeat by Swindon in the first leg of the play-off final in 2019. Picture: Steve Waller www.stephenwaller.com

And of course not when you think of the halcyon days of the 70s and 80s - the 90s provided the Witches with their best-ever side in 1998.

It's been a decade of consolidation at Foxhall Stadium in a sport where plenty of clubs have been lost over the last 10 years.

And it's been a decade where work on the Foxhall track to make it wider has seen consistently better racing. Crowds have remained good.

A recent podcast featuring Ipswich Witches fans Pete Ingram, Kevin Long, Emma Punchard and Robert Mutimer, joined Mike Bacon to discuss their 'team of the decade'.

Danny King and Rohan Tungate with their trophies after winning the Premier League Pairs at Somerset in 2015. Photo: Colin BurnettDanny King and Rohan Tungate with their trophies after winning the Premier League Pairs at Somerset in 2015. Photo: Colin Burnett

And the team they came up with was this: 1 Danny King, 2 Cameron Heeps, 3 Ben Barker, 4 Morten Risager, 5 Scott Nicholls, 6 Nico Covatti, 7 Taylor Poole.

Would you agree? Roll on March.

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