Kent Kings set for Bees test
Kent Kings set for Bees test

With the early season National Trophy [NT] campaign completed, it’s the Travel Plus Tours National League [TPTNL] which at last is to take centre stage for the Kent SLYDE Kings – beginning with the visit of the Coventry Bees to Central Park Stadium on Monday.

The Bees represent to some extent an odd dichotomy – the newest side competing in the TPTNL; yet in fact one of the longest running team names in world Speedway. Based at the Brandon Stadium just outside the Midlands’ city that the club takes its name from – the venue was less than two years from celebrating its 90th. birthday when a combination of events well chronicled and debated elsewhere saw the iconic old venue close its doors – possibly for ever; all of course hope,  only temporarily.

Part of a vibrant campaign to keep the club alive has been to field a side in the TPTNL (after a very truncated nomadic year of just an occasional challenge in 2017) and with a rented home at Leicester Speedway (where Kent have already visited to take on the Bees this term), there’s a buzz back among the Bees’ faithful.

The side put together by club owner Mick Horton and team managed by Martyn Macdonald is certainly a strong looking outfit.  And when you want a strong arm – call for third tier legend, Jon Armstrong!  A rider so popular among rival clubs’ fans that Kent supporters put on a coach to attend his much-deserved Testimonial earlier this year.  That was at Mildenhall, the club he’s perhaps most associated with but in fact Armstrong’s career has seen him ride for a number of clubs winning the League Riders’ Championship title (all the way back in 1997) when with Buxton; the NL Pairs title as a Stoke Potter four years ago; and every team title possible in between. As a pick for skipper, the Bees couldn’t really have made a much better choice.

Two other riders have decamped from Mildenhall to accompany Armstrong at Beaumont Park: Connor Mountain and Luke Ruddick.  Like Armstrong, Mountain is an acknowledged Central Park Stadium track specialist – with a string of high scores for the Fen Tigers on previous visits and a second place when Kent staged the GB U-21 semi in 2016.  Mountain is still well within that age bracket and finished runner up to Robert Lambert in that national championship final earlier this season.  Mountain will now be representing GB in the World U-21s.

Also in that U-21 Final at Berwick was Coventry’s other former Fen Tiger: Luke Ruddick. A home occasion that was for the young Tweedsider.  There’s a Scottish connection too with Ryan Macdonald in the reserve berths for the Bees; alongside a far more familiar face for Coventry fans:  Jamie Halder.  The Yorkshire-born 19-year-old is the only link with the last Coventry side to visit Central Park, the then Brandon-based ‘second side’, the Storm who the Kings took on in the 2014 play off semis.  Talking of that season and indeed of familiar faces, there’s former Kings’ man (and GB Youth Champion that year), Northolt-born, Luke Harris; with the septet completed by injury returnee Danny Phillips.

The visitors are at full strength – but not so for the SLYDE-sponsored Kings. The hosts are resigned to missing the exciting racer Nathan Stoneman – ordered by the medics to take a rest from this coming week’s action due to an injured knee.  Team boss Chris Hunt will utilise Rider Replacement for the missing Stoneman.  For a rider who’s also had injury woes this term (his first in the sport) Jacob Clouting – there’s a chance to get off the mark points-scoring wise at Central Park for his new side after a confidence-boosting trio of matches last weekend riding for the Kent junior Kestrels’ side.  His reserve partner Alex Spooner certainly excelled with an unbeaten run of six wins in his Southern Development League adventure and will be lifted by that success.

After some disappointments in the NT, culminating in that heavy defeat at Eastbourne, it’s time for the whole Kent side to stand up to be counted and this vital TPTNL match is a very good place to start.

The match Kent vs. Coventry is at Central Park Stadium on Monday 25th. June – 6.30pm start time.