2020 - Present
(Season was suspended due to Covid-19)
Decision made to step down for the start of the twenties, there followed a year's delay as the 2020 season was wiped out, domestically, due to Covid-19 and there were doubts in the early months of 2021 that Poole would ever be able to get their 'step down' off the ground, as the stadium's only occupants were the Pirates once the Greyhound operation had been moved to Swindon.
Determined though to race on, Dan Ford, assuming the day-to-day reponsibilites with father Matt 'locked out' due to travel restrictions, was about to embark on a baptism of fire. A change to team building policy meant the Pirates had to release one of three Australians they had brought in, initially for 2020, and it was Josh MacDonald who was the rider to miss out. There was a further change of direction when Polish legislation meant Adam Ellis had to choose between riding in the Premiership with Swindon or Poole in the Championship. With the top flight his preferred option the Fords had to seek out a suitable replacement, a bill that Rory Schlein, the reigning British Champion, inspite of his Australian heritage, met perfectly, after he became available when Somerset announced their intention not to operate in 2021, a decision that later became a permanent measure. Schlein was in his swansong season, his 21st in the UK but still bolstered the Pirates' top end, joining a former British champion, Danny King and top championship performer Steve Worrall. UK debutants Ben Cook and Zane Keleher were the two Australians who kept their places from the planned 2020 team, with Stefan Nielsen returning too, after a 2018 injury curtailed his earlier Pirates career. To comply with the Rising Star scheme, Danyon Hume was signed up and the Pirates were being strongly fancied in some quarters but written off in others.
The season eventually got underway in May although not at Wimborne Road, as stadium access was still an issue. Returning from Eastbourne with a league point was a disappointment as Poole were in command for much of the meeting and then a trip to Glasgow, behind closed doors, left Poole a man down when Schlein crashed out in the opening heat. The first home meeting was 'celebrated' against Berwick on June 4th and was Poole's first win of the campaign, a comfortable one at that, just before the season was to be further hit by delays amids increased Covid-19 outbreaks.
The Pirates' KO Cup fixture pushed back from mid-May was held at Plymouth and an eight point win set the foundation for a cup run, but it was to be the end of June before Poole raced again, recording another big home win, with Schlein fit again and Kent sent packing along with Zane Keleher, with Czechian Ondrej Smetana being signed as his replacement, although travel restrictions prevented him from taking his place in the league fixture at Plymouth, where Keleher was lining up for his new club. Poole came away having secured an away draw at Plymouth, yet again the points yield should have been greater.
With the hope of a more regular run of meetings, Poole began by finishing off that first round cup tie against the Devon club, hitting the sixty mark. Away league victories at Leicester, where home defeats were as rare as hen's teeth, and Kent, the first time ever a Poole team had ridden at Central Park followed and a swift double completed against Leicester as Poole began to put some form together.
By this stage of the season, the Pirates had given up on the problems of getting Smetana to the UK and turned their attentions to an unknown Dane, Ben Basso. In line with all the frustrations that young Ford had encountered in his first year at the helm, Basso's next contact after the ink had dried on his contract was a call to say that he had tested positive for Covid-19 as he was about to head over to the UK, and therefore wouldn't be able to join his new teammates on the Northern tour, which was due to happen 48 hours after fending off the visit of a spirited Edinburgh side, who left Wimborne Road with a consolation league point.
A turn in the weather caused the first leg of the Pirates three stop tour, Edinburgh, to be rained off, the second stop at Berwick yielding a point, before they trounced Newcastle on what might well have been the last ever meeting at Brough Park, although subsequently the Diamonds were saved and are expected to be back at tapes in 2022.
The victory moved the Pirates into second place in the table, matches in hand on leaders Glasgow and third placed Edinburgh. An outbreak though of Covid-19 infections amongst stadium and track staff forced an unwanted postponement of another home meeting, Redcar who at the time were on a southern tour, unfortunately having to reschedule. A week later when racing resumed, Poole dealt firmly with Scunthorpe and then headed off to the north-east again to face Redcar, complete with Basso in tow, and he rapidly made a name for himself. This was another fixture Poole should have won, allowing an early lead to be overturned in the latter stages, but they did hold on for an away point which enabled them to go top of the table, as no fewer than five clubs - Poole, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Redcar and Scunthorpe - standing on 31 points.
They were to be spectacularly separated without turning a wheel, as news broke that Eastbourne had hit financial difficulties and were shutting up shop immediately. Poole lost just one point, Redcar and Edinburgh unaffected, but Glasgow and Scunthorpe have three points each deducted. With Poole claiming a double over Newcastle and then returning to Scotland to defeat Edindburgh convincingly before maintaining that home form with a solid victory over Birminghan, the league tables published for the end of August had the Pirates a healthy five points clear at the top of Redcar, with Glasgow a further five points back in third place but with meetings in hand.
September started disastrously for Poole, a defeat under extremely difficult track conditions at Birmingham in a meeting that saw Stefan Nielsen's season come to, yet another, premature end as a Pirate. Significantly, the transfer deadline had just passed and that meant no chance of bringing in a permanent solution to cover his position and so there would have to be a reliance on guests. Home wins over Glasgow and Plymouth, with the Pirates hitting high fifties in both preceeded a defeat at Scunthorpe before a mid-month cup semi-final first leg defeat at Leicester, but only by eight points, a margin they were able to overturn less than a fortnight later at Wimborne Road to guarantee a shot at some silverware against Scottish opponents, as Edinburgh and Glasgow were the other semi-finalists.
In between that cup-tie the Pirates completed their league campaign with a home win over Redcar, ensuring a semi-final place in the play-offs and choice of opponents. Leicester were the selected side but with dates rapidly running out, the Pirates had to forego the right to have the second leg at Wimborne Road. They did beat the Lions by six points and sensationally turned the Leicester side over yet again in the East Midlands and there it was, another final and unbelievably, again, it was certain to involve a trip to Scotland.
Edinburgh prevailed in the Knockout cup and a great performance at Armadale saw the Pirates bank a five point advantage and on 27th October they finished the job in style, beating the Monarchs by twenty-four points in the second leg. The Knockout trophy that effectively they had won back in 1990, was back in the trophy cabinet. October was quickly drawing to a close and the play-off final, in which Glasgow were eventually confirmed as fellow finalists, still had to be completed. It was apparent that with a downturn in weather - Scotland suffering major floods just days before hosting the COP26 Climate conference - an extension to the season was required and so into November the play-offs went.
November 2nd Poole travelled to Glasgow and came away having been defeated by ten points. The league and Cup double looking under threat, but the Pirates class of 21 was nothing if not resilient, and they rose to the occasion perfectly, had pulled back that first leg deficit after eight heats at Wimborne Road and sealed the title with a race to spare. It was a fitting end to a season that saw great character from a solid Poole Pirate outfit and resolute in making 2021 his last season, Rory Schlein could lay claim to being a double winner to sign his UK career out on.