LIFELONG Workington Comets fan Laura Morgan has vowed to bring speedway back to Cumbria next year but is going to need a little help from her friends, even though it’s cost her personally £750,000 over the past six years.

The bottom line is that she is going to need £75,000 of help if the bikes are going to be flying around Derwent Park again, even though she expects it to cost her a lot more.

After purchasing the club from Keith Denham, for what is believed to be a six-figure sum, success has been costly for Laura. And a few weeks ago, it was decided to put the club ‘on ice’ after their most successful season ever.

In August 2007, Laura was involved in an horrific crash in Denmark. She was sat in the back of a vehicle that was hit from behind, an accident that left her with terrible injuries. Laura was left as a tetraplegic, meaning that all four limbs are paralysed, and she is wheelchair-bound.

With some of her compensation from the accident, she hunted down Keith Denham when she heard that the club was for sale.

“I first went to Workington when I was six with my dad, when Ian Thomas was in charge and fell in love with the sport,” said Laura. “I bought the club from Keith [Denham] after he hinted in the paper that he was going to close it down. He eventually came to see me, and the deal was done.

“We were aware from day one that it wasn’t something we could make money from, but we did think that we could change around the fortunes of the club and break even, subsidising it a little bit. I think it would have shut down if I hadn’t of bought it – it’s not as if there were people queuing up to buy the Comets. We committed to two years originally and got bitten by the bug again, and it turned out to be five years, then more.

“But, at the end of 2017, we sat down for a serious conversation and, if we were all honest, we should have decided to call it a day. But speedway is more than a sport, it’s a community, a family. It’s very difficult to take that away and I still wanted it for myself.

“We were so close to not running it [for the 2018 season] but we thought we had something extra special there and we could win the SGB Championship.”

The Comets stunned the speedway world, winning the Championship, the Knockout Cup and Championship Shield in 2018, their first major silverware in the club’s history.

But, amazingly, no prize-money came with those trophies, the cost of the extra meetings costing dearly, the club even having to buy medals for their own winning riders.

Laura continued: “At the BSPA [British Speedway Promoters’ Association] annual general meeting, we vowed to ride again in 2019. Various promises were made, offering sponsorship, but they never came to fruition.

“We had signed a team up and left it until the wire to announce that we were not going to race this year. We had to let the BSPA know our decision on the Monday and left it until the night before, the Sunday, to give them our decision.

“Tony [Jackson – team manager] and I both spoke with each of the riders. It was probably the most traumatic thing I’ve ever had to do. It was horrible. We rang riders in Australia, New Zealand and Europe and I think the riders respected us for telling them as it was.

“We were telling them they didn’t have a job and it’s not as if they could nip down to the job centre and look for something else. It’s a specialised thing and a lot of the other teams had already signed all their riders up.”

Budgeting is always guesswork to a certain extent.

But, based on figures from 2018, should racing have gone ahead for 2019, the expenses incurred throughout the season were estimated to be in the region of £220,000. That included such things as: Riders £111,000; £5,000 staging costs; £8,000 tyres; £10,000 for paid staff; £15,000 for medics and ambulances; £7,000 insurances; £15,000 for van hire for the riders; £30,000 miscellaneous (to include, referees, living costs for riders, licences, admin).

The income from gate money was expected to be a maximum of £145,000 and £6,000 for catering. And that was based on an average season. And to give you an idea of their successful run last year, riders costs, and their fees are based on points gained, was £172,000.

Crowds for home meetings last year averaged in the region of 500, and team manager Tony Jackson was quick to point out that, had the gate averaged 250 more, racing this year would have gone ahead.

“The extra 12 matches we had, due to the club’s success, contributed to £35,000 of our overall loss. We have lost money every year during Laura’s tenure, but last season cost us twice as much as any other year due to the success,” said Tony.

“The more points the riders score, the more money they earn. Money flow hasn’t been easy. We only completed eight home fixtures from April 1 to August 31, and then ran seven from September 1-29, a total imbalance. The fixture list caused a big problem. In the play-off final, the biggest race in our history, we didn’t know until the Wednesday before meeting day on the Sunday, who we’d be racing.

“That gave us hardly any time to promote such an important and prestigious meeting, which obviously had a detrimental effect on the attendance and so cost us further income.

“We ended up with three finals in five days. People don’t say ‘there’s no speedway this weekend, so we’ll put that money in a tin’. They live their lives and people were picking and choosing which meetings they wanted to go to. We had 992 spectators for the play-off final and, if it had been held a month earlier when it was a bit warmer, we could have added 500 to the gate.

“There was a period when we had one home match and seven away matches in seven weeks. So, it absolutely killed the cash flow.

“The rot really set in due to that fixture list and the average wage bill for an away match was £4,000 to £5,000. One weekend, we had a wage bill of £11,000 after two large away wins without a home match to provide any income.

“We got so far behind and the BSPA stepped in, and said ‘you owe the riders money’, to which we replied, ‘but we haven’t had any home matches to pay for them’.

“Due to our imbalance of home and away fixtures, and with the resulting lack of income, the money owed to the riders reached a level where we were on the verge of being closed down by the BSPA. We managed to scrape money together from various sources and escaped closure with less than one hour to spare. It was that close!”

Laura added: “We knew, at that time that we had a very good chance of winning the league and managed to pay them. We borrowed money and they know they will get paid. We did it for the fans not just for ourselves.”

If the Comets are going to ride again in 2020, there is going to be a ‘minimum shortfall of £75,000’.

Laura said: “We need to know that we’ve got that £75,000. We know it’s going to be more than that but if we can find that sum, through sponsorship or other investors, then we can go ahead. There’s also monies owed at the moment, not a vast amount, and that will be paid. The decision to put the club ‘on ice’ has giving us a little more time to sort that.

“Putting the club on ice was ultimately done with the aim of saving the club as, if we hadn’t done that, we would have been closed down because we weren’t in a financial position to carry on by the time the BSPA needed assurances that we were.

“We waited to give it every chance as we all wanted to continue if we could. By giving that chance, it cost us £5,000. To put the club on ice at the AGM would have cost us nothing but to do it now, after the AGM, incurred a £5,000 fine.”

It would be a huge shame if speedway was to disappear from the Cumbrian sporting scene. But with Laura and Tony doing their damndest, there will be no surprise if Workington Comets are back in 2020.