FORMER Pirates star Antonio Lindback said owner Matt Ford and team boss Neil Middleditch were “very special people” for him and added: “They will be my friends for the rest of my life.”

The Rio Rocket recently announced his retirement from the sport – bringing down the curtain on a glittering 20-year career, which included 110 Grand Prix appearances and two World Cup wins.

Lindback, 35, was an Elite League champion in England twice, both occasions being with Poole in their double winning seasons of 2003 and 2004.

When aged just 18, he roared on to the British scene with a seven-ride paid maximum in a British League cup fixture against Exeter and went on to score 1,156 points in the skull and crossbones.

Lindback last rode for the Wimborne Road side in the 2016 play-off semi-final against Wolverhampton, after answering Poole's call as a late replacement for the injured Hans Andersen.

And the adopted Swede said how Ford and Middleditch had played a big part in his progression in the sport.

He told Speedway GP: “Matt and Middlo are very special people for me. I have so many good memories from that time and they will be my friends for the rest of my life.

“Working with them was so much fun. They helped me when I had bad meetings and kept pushing me to keep going and keep getting better.

“I want to say thanks to all the fans in Great Britain. It has been so much fun to have them there with me.

“I am really grateful for all the support they have given me over the years and I would also like to say thank you to all the guys at Poole for the years I raced there. I hope I will see them again soon.”

Lindback first arrived in the UK in the same Poole team as legendary figures Tony Rickardsson and Leigh Adams.

And he insisted being around two masters of the sport provided him with a first-class education.

He said: “I learned a lot of things, being around Tony and Leigh.

“They have been really important people for me in my career, especially at the beginning.

“To say I raced in the same team for so many years is something really special. It’s something I will keep with me for a long time.”