Elitserien: Is Greg Hancock on his way to crisis hit Piraterna?
Elitserien: Is Greg Hancock on his way to crisis hit Piraterna?

Elitserien: Is Greg Hancock on his way to crisis hit Piraterna?

Motala Piraterna had an average season in the Elitserien in Sweden in 2019. They failed to reach the playoffs with a late season slump in form. But their double Danish signings from 2018 champions Smederna more than paid off - they witnessed Mikkel Michelsen race his career best season and win the SEC, whilst Niels-Kristian Iversen delivered with a heat average of 1.812.

Everything appeared normal as the off-season began Pawel Przedpelski re-signed his contract and a new manager, Stefan Andersson Skill returned to the club where he had won the Swedish championship with Greg Hancock (pictured above in 2015) in the team.

But by October the truth got out – the club was facing bankruptcy and had not paid the riders since August. It turned out the club had based its finances on 2700 spectators coming to the matches where the reality was nearer 2000, as all clubs in the Elitserien suffered from a downturn in attendance in 2019.

When the club sent invoices to Motala Council for 3.4 million SEK (c 340,000 EUR) rumours spread that the debt was this amount – but it later came to light that it was closer to 800 000 SEK (c 80, 000 EUR). They local authority had already helped the club just two years ago in 2017 to the cost of 6.3 million SEK (640,000 EUR) and said they were unwilling to help again now.

It seems that Piraterna’s management and the local Councillors fell out and another ugly truth came out – although the Council owned the site and the speedway club used it, no contract was ever signed. Piraterna said a verbal agreement had been made they could hire the venue for free if they took care of it for the Council. The Council denied this and so the speedway club sent invoices for the work they had done – estimated at 3.4 million SEK – to the Council – more out of spite than in the hope that they would get any money.

With no help from the local government, the Piraterna’s management turned to the supporters and private investors asking for help.

But by this time panic and rumours were spreading everywhere and no one really knew the exact details, and there seemed to be an unwillingness to help the club again - in one week the supporters’ club raised just 1000 SEK (c 100 EUR).

All this was going on and the other Elitserien clubs were negotiating contracts announcing their new signings. It was too much for Stefan Andersson Skill and he decided to quit the job before he had even started. Then the mass exodus began Michelsen, Iversen, Linus Sundström even Polish 0.500 rider Daniel Kaczmarek all signed for other clubs. That left Przedpelski as the only pirate left on the sinking Motala boat.

The club decided to go public again, focusing on local businesses – and with some success this time – 200 000 SEK (c. 20,000 EUR) came in including one gift of 100 000 SEK (c. 20,000 EUR). There was then some positive talk from the board of a “big thing” that could come in and save the club. However, when asked by local journalists what this “big thing” was, all they said was, “We cannot tell you until it comes off”.

The deadline to pay the debt, Friday 1 November, came and went. And not a word was said by Piraterna or SVEMO (The Swedish motorsports association) who had said that the club would be demoted to the second division, Allsvenskan, if the riders were not paid.

Five days of silence were broken on Wednesday 6 November when a letter from the board appeared on their Facebook page addressed to “Piraterna supporters”.

Much of the details remain the same – a further request for fans to give a donation. The “big thing” was again mentioned but again without any details of what was involved except that if it comes off 75% of the debt will be paid.

The new information was that they seemed to negotiated a two-week extension and current rider Daniel Davidsson, who together with his brother Jonas are from Motala, is being put forward as the next team manager. It turns out that this had been the plan at the beginning of the year until Andersson Skill became available.

But perhaps the most startling revelation of all was that if Piraterna remain in the Elitserien four times World Champion, Greg Hancock will return to the club.

The veteran American was the club for seven years between 2010-2017 during which time he won three of his World Championships and the Motala club won their first and second Swedish championships – in 2010 and 2013. In 2018 when the club was demoted to the Allsvenskan after financial trouble and Hancock moved to Dackarna. However, in 2019 the talented American withdrew from racing anywhere when to his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.

But now Hancock have been given a chance to return to the sport. He is due to return to racing in 2020 as an SGP permanent wildcard, but no league clubs have yet to be confirmed by the American who will turn 50 next year. But Motala have gone public and claimed the four times world champion as their own, if they survive.

What the real state of affairs is and how realistic any of this is remains unclear. How big is the debt, what is the “big thing”, how can they afford Hancock, will anyone want to ride at a club with a bad financial record, will the board be reinstated and so on – many questions remain unanswered and only time will tell what really is going on.

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