After their emphatic 56-34 home Premier League win over Newport last Friday, the Kent Sweepers Hammers roar into KO Cup action this week.

And it's the Reading Racers who provide the first hurdle to Arena's ambitions of gaining cup glory in 2002.

The first leg takes place at Reading's Smallmead stadium tonight (Monday) with the return leg at Purfleet this Friday (normal 8pm start time).

Live updates on tonight's match in Berkshire (Pre-meeting team news, halfway and end of match reports) can be dialled into via Arena's Clubcall line on 09066 555 938.

Arena Essex have already met "The Racers" as they are known, on a home and away basis this season in the Premier Trophy qualifiers, each side winning their home match. The 54-36 defeat Reading inflicted upon Arena at their circuit was, without doubt, Arena's worst performance of the season and the Kent Sweepers Hammers are determined to atone for that this evening. However having defeated the Racers 52-38 at Arena's place in the return, the Hammers are very confident indeed of being able to beat them on aggregate in this week's cup clashes.

Arena team manager Ronnie Russell has named an unchanged side from that which scored that marvellous home victory last Friday whilst Reading are at full strength too.

Reading will be no pushovers though as they have performed well in the past at the Hammers circuit and include one or two riders one might describe as Arena 'track specialists.' Looking at their 2002 line up, having seen last year's No.1 Charlie Gjedde recalled by parent club Swindon, the Racers' management thought they'd pulled off a major winter coup by landing the signature of Czech star Tomas Topinka on loan from Elite League King's Lynn.

Alas, on the eve of the season, the governmental authorities decreed that he wasn't eligible for a work permit to race for them in this country this year and the Racers were left in the lurch as it were.

They moved quickly though to sign Swedish star Anders Henriksson on loan from Newport and he has shown a distinct liking for the Arena circuit in the past so he could be something of a thorn in the Hammers side on Friday. Having overcome the blow of not being able to use Topinka, the racers were then dealt a further major problem when young Australian reserve Brendon Mackay suffered a double break of an arm in a crash during the course of their home match against Newport. Faced with the prospect of Mackay being sidelined for anything up to three months, the Racers management stepped in to sign Glen Phillips on loan from the Isle of Wight as a replacement and he has proved to be a high scoring reserve.

Although the start of the season could have been a whole lot better for them, the Racers have high hopes of challenging for the major honours this year and, looking at their squad, those hopes could prove justified. One familiar face missing from last year is Italian Armando Castagna who is now his country's national team manager but skipper Phil Morris, veteran Dave Mullett and Paul Clews have all been retained for this season.

Welshman Morris has suffered from one or two niggly injuries in recent seasons but he's the sort of rider who's always capable of causing problems to the opposition on the Racers' travels. Fellow heat leader Mullett, a former sheep farmer in Kent, has gone on record as saying that he intends to retire at the end of the season but with the points still rolling in for him, one wonders if he will indeed stick to that decision. Former Coventry mascot Clews finally appears to be 'coming of age' in speedway terms and is joined in the second string department by winter signing Jason Bunyan. Jason spent last year in the tough old world of the Elite League with Ipswich and admits he found the going tough and was delighted when Reading moved in for him in the close season. Completing their septet is Gavin Hedge, the son of former Hackney favourite Trevor, who was recently signed on loan from Elite League Peterborough as cover for broken wrist victim Chris Schramm.

The provisional teams for Friday's second leg at Purfleet are as follows:

Kent Sweepers Hammers: 1 Kelvin Tatum; 2 Shaun Tacey (C); 3 Colin White; 4 Andy Galvin; 5 Leigh Lanham; 6 Scott Courtney and 7 Lee Herne. Team Manager: Ronnie Russell.

Reading Racers: 1 Dave Mullett; 2 Jason Bunyan; 3 Phil Morris (C); 4 Paul Clews; 5 Anders Henriksson; 6 Glen Phillips and 7 Gavin Hedge. Manager: Pat Bliss.

Admission prices:
Adults - ?10 (including match programme)
OAPs - ?5.50 (including match programme)
Children (5-14yrs) - ?2.00 (excluding match programme)
First Race: 8pm.

Kelvin Tatum wins through...

Kent Sweepers Hammers No.1 Kelvin Tatum, former triple World longtrack champion, safely guaranteed qualification for this year's championship series by finishing sixth in the semi final held in Pfarrkirchen, Germany yesterday (Sunday).

He now goes onto contest the five meeting main series to determine this years World Champion. The first of those takes place at Bielefield (Germany) on Sunday June 9.

Shaun Tacey slips up in final...

Hammers No. 2, Shaun Tacey, was in grasstrack action yesterday competing in The International Battle of Britain meeting at Collier Street, Near Yalding in Kent.

He came second in his first race, won his next outing and then came third in his next heat to qualify for the final. In that final he tried to go through on the inside at the first bend and did a pirouette on the track falling in the process! He then remounted and finished last. After the race he went back to the pits and was quoted as saying: "I wondered why no-one else went on the inside!"

The Final was won by Ipswich's Jeremy Doncaster with Dutchman Maik Groen second and fellow countryman Uppie Bos third.

Jubilee offer for Hammers fans...

Keep your match programme from this Friday's match against Reading - that's the message from the Kent Sweepers Hammers management.

Yes The Kent Sweepers Hammers are pleased to announce a special inter-League arrangement for the Queen's Golden Jubilee Celebrations. Hammers' patrons who produce their Match programme from this Friday's encounter with Reading Racers will be admitted to the Eastbourne Eagles home match and giant firework display on Saturday 1st June, at the usual Arena admission costs of ?10 for adults and normal concessions for OAP's and children. The usual Eastbourne admission costs are ?13.50 for adults (excluding programme), so this represents a significant saving.

Commenting on the arrangement, Co-promoter Colin Brine said, "We have come to an agreement with the Eagles for this one-off event. It will give our fans a chance to see the Eagles in action against Belle Vue Aces and also see a spectacular firework display afterwards, all for the usual Arena admission costs. The concession is conditional on patrons taking Friday's Arena programme with them."

The action at Arlington on Saturday gets under way at 7.30 p.m.