Robert's Win is Cause for Concern
Congratulations to Robert Branford on his recent win in the British Under 21 Championship, but I'm sure his victory set alarm bells ringing for many around the UK. With all due respect to Robert, the result of this meeting is a stark reminder of just how far standards have fallen in this country. At the time of the meeting, he was without a berth in even the Premier League, yet was able (on the night) to prove himself the best of Britain's Under 21s.
A check on the history of the championship indicates that many former winners were already established top division heat-leaders when they won this title - Peter Collins, Michael Lee, Chris Morton, Gary Havelock, Mark Loram, Martin Dugard, Joe Screen, Scott Nicholls and Tai Woffinden for instance. It would be difficult to argue that Robert is likely to match the success that these guys went on to achieve.
Other winners have not scaled the same heights - including (the first winner) Graham Plant, Ritchie Hawkins, Ben Wilson, Savalas Clouting and Keith Millard for example. Their more modest on track successes paling when compared to those listed previously, but all were firmly established team men when they were crowned Junior Champion.
I will again stress that Robert was fully deserving of his win, he did the business on the track and reaped the rewards. My concern is around the general quality of the field that he faced.
That's not to say that Britain is without developing talent, some of the better prospects are simply already over 21 years of age. Craig Cook and Richard Lawson are two riders still making progress in their careers having made a late switch from Moto-X to speedway. Cook in particular looks to have significant potential to make an impact on the world stage, but let's not overlook the fact that he's 26 years old this month and older than the current world champion.
It's not so many years ago that Lee Richardson, Joe Screen and Chris Louis were able to bring the World Under 21 championship back to the UK, but it's now ten years since a Brit even made the rostrum. Are we likely to see another Brit on there in the near future?
This article was first published on 5th May 2013
"I was discussing this with friends at Brough Park last night. A lot of riders who were the next big thing at 17 years old don't seem to move on to the very top level and I wonder if burnout or boredom has something to do with this? If you are that good at 17 you have probably been riding speedway since you were 12 or so. I think the current crop of ex moto-X'ers may have a different outlook and certainly at Newcastle you can see the drive and determination in Richie Worrall and Lewis Kerr shining through. For some reason all of these lads can also gate very well, and as much as we all love our 'from the back' racers, being able to gate well is huge advantage in the sport. I'm not too hung up on the age thing as I think the extra maturity of getting into the sport at 20 means they take it a little more seriously and hey, they can wait until they are 40 to be world champion if recent years are anything to go by."
"This championship is open to all riders under 21 and Robert proved to be the best on the night. The fact he was unable to sign for a Premier or Nationsl League team prior to retuening to this country was due to him having the foresight to earn money to ensure he can continue to race in the UK . Robert has loads of talent and prior to his injury in 2012 was one of the top riders in the National League.
I am not surprised that the younger riders cannot emulate the feats of the former champions you list - British teams do not take enough chances on our youngsters (Robert included) being too fast to drop them from the team if they under perform in the first few weeks racing at Premier or Elite league level and far too eager to hand team places to young foreign riders. I have no beef with foreigners but their countries have regular training sessions at their clubs each week - local authorities do not extend the same allowance to British clubs. British under 21's have many disadvantages and none of the advantages that foreign riders have in their home countries "
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