Wolverhampton Speedway - 1997/8
It was always going to be a hard act to follow and 1997 was a huge disappointment. The league had once again restructured and the top ten teams became the Elite League. With team strengths reduced to six riders, Wolves struggled to cope with teams with more top-end strength. Correy and Peter Karlsson both lowered their average, while Mikael Karlsson took over as Wolvesâ€™ number one. In mid-season Charles Ermolenko was replaced by Jesper B. Jensen, who went on to become the second Wolves rider in four seasons to win the World Under-21 Championship.
Chris Van Straaten declared that things would be much better in 1998 and responded by loaning Ronnie Correy to Belle Vue and leaving Peter Karlsson out of his team-building plans. They were replaced by Mark Loram, an out-and-out number one with Bradford the previous season, and Wolves legend Sam Ermolenko, whose job was surely to boost the flagging spirit in the Monmore Green pits.
It is easy, with hindsight, to criticize these moves, yet both were ostensibly a failure. Loramâ€™s average sank while Ermolenko fell out with the management publicly following Wolvesâ€™ Knock Out Cup semi-final defeat at Coventry. It all led to a depressing end of season for Wolves fans, with the team finishing sixth out of nine in the Elite League.
Van Straaten and Adams were determined to put this right in 1999, and started the season with a young, exciting team. Loram and Ermolenko were released, Peter Karlsson, Richard Juul and Craig Taylor were brought back and Newcastleâ€™s sensational Dane Nicki Pedersen was signed.
All started well, then Wolves lost Pedersen, George Stancl and Jesper B Jensen in a week. Although Jensen returned, and proved something of a revelation, Wolves struggled from this point on and with both Karlssons failing to live up to expectation, Wolves slumped to their first wooden spoon since 1951.Sam Ermolenko, Ronnie Correy and Wayne Carter were brought back in the side for the 2000 season, and with promising Danes Jesper B Jensen, Nicki Pedersen and Charlie Gjedde coming on board, all looked rosy for the coming season.