The week started well with a win for the Nines team – our first this year.  The pairs had a good tussle in the early stages, 3-3 after five ends and then 7-8 after twelve, but then scoring a 3 and a 6 gave them breathing space and the final result was 21-11.  That left Darren undefeated in the pairs games this year.

The triples were also in a close game early on, 4-4 after six ends and 9-9 after twelve, but they came on well after that to win 16-12.  Some little credit is due to the team selectors, who adjusted the team formations on the night to give just the right balance: those two wins were enough to seal the overall win, but even had one of them lost the fours chalked up a 23-11 win that was actually even easier than the score suggests.

So that was an 8-0 points win, and the ladies improved on it next day (numerically, at least) with a 12-0 win against Ponteland.  We have no details of this win, which was clearly also three rinks to none, other than the fact that one of our teams was a player short – so that particular win must have been big enough to allow for losing a quarter of the score.

The next night (Thursday) we travelled to Allen Valley, who were no doubt buoyed by their win at Haltwhistle the previous week.  Our star-studded line-up is captured on the new cover photo for our Facebook page, and the FB photo montage shows it as being a nice, sunny evening albeit with several fleeces on view.  In the end it was the home team that was fleeced:  after 15 of the 18 ends we were actually 44-46 down, but a really strong performance in the last three ends meant that we won 65-50 overall, with three of the four rinks winning.  The game was obviously much closer than that 6-1 result suggests, but whatever, it meant three league wins out of three in the week. It’s a while since that happened!

With those wins out of the way, a friendly at Gosforth on Friday was, well, just a friendly. Despite having some strong sets of triples our teams might seem to have had one eye on the mouth-watering tea provided by our hosts, and two rinks went down by exactly 20 shots each.   Perhaps we had better just stress that it finished three rinks apiece and that we won the tie=break by securing all three raffle prizes.  Another hat-trick…


We’re Back!

After the cold winds of April had made us wonder whether the green would be ready in time for the new season the sun came out at the end of the month for our first club sessions at Elvaston.  Unfortunately for those who had put themselves down to play in the Nines, the first match of the season was over at Blyth, against New Delaval, and it was a cold, wet evening by the sea, with the rain relenting only in the last fifteen minutes or so.

New Delaval had won Division 2 of the Nines at a canter last year, and we therefore expected a tough game.  It did indeed turn out to be very close.  The pairs started well, and even after losing a six, and then a four, managed to be just 15-17 down with two ends to play.  On the penultimate end there was a strong shout for it to be our shot, but the measure showed it was New Delaval’s by a quarter of an inch, so that we needed three on the last to make a draw, but got only one.

New Delaval fielded a very young team on all rinks, but really rubbed it in with a 13-year old playing lead in the fours. We were 1-8 down at one stage but then came back strongly to lead 12-10 with just three ends to go.  However, one unfortunate end let the opponents back in, and we actually lost the last three ends to finish 12-14 down.  So two rinks had lost by two shots each.

That meant that the overall match was lost, irrespective of a narrow shots margin which became even narrower when our triples won by one shot.  We led all through until end 14, but then pulled back a small deficit to make it even after 16 ends.  A three on the next end gave us breathing space, and although the opposition skip moved the jack with a bold shot on the last end it produced just two shots, so at least one rink had earned a win.

High Heaton had postponed the match due for the Friday, so our next opponents were even more difficult than the first, in the form of Backworth.  Again the pairs match was close, level after five ends and again (14-14) after 16 ends.  We then scored a one and a three to win 18-14.

The triples found it hard to get going, the more so in light of being on the wrong end of a couple of absurd flukes for which the opponents (to their credit) apologised.   An early 0-7 score was reduced to 5-7 before another bad spell (and two more flukes) meant it was 5-17, before finishing at 11-20.

The fours had the classic game of two halves, playing well early on to lead 9-8 after 10 ends.  But somehow, when no one was looking, Backworth took over, and we scored only one more shot to lose 10-23.

That meant another 2-6 defeat on league points, but the fact that New Delaval beat our local rivals at Hexham House 8-0 shows that they are going to make a big impact this year, while on the evidence of recent years it is an achievement to get any points at all off Backworth.  So let’s see how things go in May as the teams start to gel.

In the Collins and Shipley the ladies went to Morpeth with only 11 players.  One rink therefore played one short and lost a quarter of their score as a penalty.  Despite that handicap the other two rinks did very well to ensure that the final aggregate score was in our favour, and we came away with an 8-4 win on points.

To finish this first, elongated week of the league season we had a home game against Alston in the West Tyne league. This time it was our turn to be playing with a full team against a depleted visiting side.  The advantage for the short-handed rink is quite great in playing terms, as the two Alston players each had four bowls while one of our team (Keith, as skip) had only two.   On this rink we led for almost every end until the sixteenth of the full 18, at which point, leading 12-11, the Alston skip fired for the umpteenth time in the match and managed to turn a likely deficit on the end into a four-shot score.  Alston then won the other ends to “win” 18-12 – which is where the penalty of one third of the score came into play, reducing their total to 12 and making it a draw.

That was the only (half) point that Alston scored on the night, but in fact the match was much closer than the points score would suggest.  Darren and Malcolm Cooper’s rinks each won by three shots, but they were both trailing with (respectively) two and three ends to play.  Steve Bennett’s rink had the most comfortable win, 24-11, although this was also the result of a late surge after being just 8-6 up after ten ends.

Other results meant that after one whole game we are top of the embryonic league table.  But then, West Brom were unbeaten after two games this season and that didn’t finish well, did it?…

End of Season

We may not be at the end of the playing season, as such, but the formal league season is now over.  Some might say “Just as well” after another loss tonight in the Nines, against Ponteland , but in general the week’s results were on the positive side, so we should perhaps note them in order to take some encouragement into the close season.

First, for the Ponteland match we played our “Leamington Four”, and after a slow start where they remained in first gear to 5-5 they rather ran away with it, winning 28-11: that was good practice for the nationals next week.  The triples, on the other hand, went down heavily despite some very good opening woods from John Lambert, and the 4-30 score showed how well the opposition were playing.  The pairs also had their work cut out against a lead who played like a machine, but never gave up and won some crucial ends to bring the score back to 12-14 with three ends to go; sadly things slipped away, especially chasing shots on the last end, and the result was 12-24.

Last week’s Nines game against Gosforth had been even less encouraging in terms of the score (0-8), but given the high calibre of the opposition and the totally different pace of their excellent green, the performances were good enough.  Indeed, Keith and Darren came very close to winning the pairs match, with Darren in with a shout of making a draw or even a win with his last bowl; sadly it trailed off into the gloom of a dark, wet evening and our 16-20 defeat was confirmed.

There was serious discussion before the match as to whether it should go ahead, and there has seldom been a more reluctant set of bowlers (on both sides) emerging from the clubhouse, but we all managed to overcome the damp conditions. The triples, without playing badly, were well and truly beaten (13-30) by a trio who had won the County triples and will soon be down to Leaminton Spa for the national finals.  Put like that, could we have reasonably expected to win?  The fours also faced strong competition, and while their result was slightly better (12-24) it was never in doubt.

Two days later we travelled to Alston on a beautiful evening for the last game of the West Tyne league season.  Not only was the weather a total contrast, but so was the green – sublime to ridiculous, as Alston is surely the worst green any of us has played on.  That is not a criticism of anyone; it’s just a statement of the obvious, with Alston players openly apologising for the state of the green.  It’s not enough, either, to say that “it’s the same for everyone” – it’s not the same for someone who is used to such a surface and to the fact that a drawing weight bowl will never arrive because it is deflected by bare earth or bumps.  There is an art to hurling bowls, after all.

None of this is designed as an excuse – the one rink that lost had drawn back from 2-10 to 10-10 by about halfway, and should therefore have had every reason to go on and win.  Instead, everything went Alston’s way and the result was a 12-19 defeat.  Other rinks won more or less comfortably – more for the 24-9 and less for the 18-17, where David Ashworth used his last bowl to successfully reduce Alston to one shot.

Before going to Alston we knew that a 7-0 win would get us second place in the league, as we were level on points with Hexham House B but the best part of 100 shots ahead. Anything less and we would have to depend on their result.  Well, we did get less (6-1) and sure enough, we later heard that Hexham House had won 6.5-0.5, thus beating us to second place by half a point.  When you think of the number of ways in which we might have got that half-point it is a little frustrating – but at the end of the day, it’s doubtful whether the lives of millions will be affected by our third-place finish, and for several of our newer members the trip to Alston will have been a good learning experience, memorable not only for the scenic ride.

There have been several reports this year of tight finishes.  David Boaden makes a speciality of these in the  Handicap, beating Darren 21-20 (after leading 17-3) and then winning 21-19 against Mark in the semi-final.   Mark had at least been part of the first Elvaston team to win the West Tyne Triples, with Keith and Trevor against Jean, Darren and Malcolm in the final.  This was another game where a sizeable early lead was pegged back to 10-10 before the winners took off to win most of the remaining ends for a 22-11 score.

The ladies played their last Collins and Shipley match against top-of-the-table Bedlington and surprised the visitors – and maybe themselves! – with a 9-3 win.  With one rink well up and another losing narrowly the bonus points were assured whatever happened in the third rink, as they entered the last end two shots ahead.  Despite losing two on that end for a draw it was a healthy overall win, and Bedlington players expressed surprise that we were in our lowly league position.  But we are, and that’s how it is.  Just wait till next year!

A Week to Forget

Perhaps the fact that this post is written a few days later than normal gives the game away: it was not a great start to August!  In truth,  other events have delayed the regular update, but if you were waiting for stirring tales of glorious wins you had better find some other reading material.

The ladies had two games in the Collins and Shipley league, one of them a re-arranged fixture against Burradon and the other a standard issue visit to Chirton.  The latter was a 0-12 wipeout, but at least we managed two points against the stronger Burradon team, albeit with a one-shot win!  Next up are league leaders Bedlington Dr Pit – a home visit by the Dr, as it were – on Friday.  It has been a long, hard slog this season, but with several new members things should be rather easier next year.

In the West Tyne league it was another case of playing the league leaders as Haltwhistle came to us needing only a point or two to seal the title.  In the event they won by a whopping margin (51-83) and took 6.5 of the 7 points on offer: nothing like doing it in style.  In fact we started very well, and just after halfway (on ten ends) three of our rinks were winning, and we were 37-33 up.  This was despite Trevor’s rink being ten shots down after trailing 0-12 after seven ends, with one rink seven shots up and another leading by six.

From then on it got worse – much worse.  After 15 ends it was 48-68, with three rinks now trailing, and after 18 ends the deficit was 32, with our all-female rink (Susan, Sylvia and Blanche) getting a 17-17 draw amid much excitement.  They were a whisker away from winning the game, which would have been a good reward for efforts even if it wouldn’t have spared us a big defeat overall.  To have lost 14-50 on the last eight ends across all rinks was pretty bad, and losing one rink by 19 shots made the overall result a formality. But the Haltwhistle men wouldn’t be where they are in the league without being very good, and the way they stuck in after that slow start was very impressive.

We go to Alston this week for the last game of the season, needing maximum points to be sure of runner-up spot in the league.  A large improvement is required…


Hexham House, Hexham House, Hexham House…

At the start of the week it looked like games were piling up in a bit of a logjam.  We had two games in the Nines on consecutive nights, against the same opponents, and had it not been for Hirst Park’s withdrawal from the league there would have been a third night on the trot.  That was without the prospect of a couple of friendlies and some West Tyne Cup matches.

The Tuesday game against Hexham House was a scheduled match.  They had their usual strong team, but the game could hardly have been more even.  Our pairs lost, having been behind all the way to a very strong pair in Mike McConnell and Clive Knott – however, the margin was always quite close (four after 15 ends) until Mike and Clive won the last three ends to make it 10-18 viewed from our angle.

The triples had a real game of two halves.  It was close for the first half, with the score reaching 9-8 in our favour after 10 ends.  Each side had by this point scored a four, which meant only nine shots on the other eight ends – and there was one burnt as well.  Somehow at this point we started picking up shots, and indeed won six of the next seven ends for a 22-9 win, rather uniquely for the Nines agreeing to finish after 17 ends as shots don’t matter in any practical sense.

Perhaps we should say “didn’t matter”, as the hosts had just won the Fours by one shot. This one, if anything, was a game of three halves: Hexham House won the first six ends to lead 7-0, then we won the next nine to go 11-7 ahead (no, me neither!), at which point it seemed that simply to win one of the last three would take our rink over the line. Instead of which they lost all three, including two shots on the last end to go down 11-12.

The result in league terms was a dispiriting 2-6 in points, which was all the more disappointing in that we won 43-39 on shots.  Even one more shot for the fours and we would have won the match on points – but “ifs” never did anyone any good in bowls.

They certainly did no good the next night either.  We played Hexham House again, this time a re-arranged fixture from early June, on our own green.  With the Coopers père et fils away we decided to change the format completely and see if we could tip the balance in the fours.  The theory looked good, but in the event the opposition played rather better than the previous night and the fours lost 13-19 after trailing by a few shots for most of the game.

David Robertson and Brian Elstob formed our new pairs partnership and turned in the star performance of the night against the pairing who had done for Darren and Keith the night before.  After five ends they were 1-13 down, and things looked bleak, but with a terrific fight-back they brought the score back to 9-14 after ten ends, then from 13-20 came back again and scored a four and a single to make it 18-20 going into the last.  The rink suddenly became very quiet!  Sadly they lost a single on the last end, but 18-21 was a great result in context.

The triples once again had a good run in the second half of the match, but this time it followed a poor start, and the revival began only with the opposition in the “graveyard” of 13 shots.  From 3-13 after nine ends we came back to 13-13 after fifteen, then exchanged singles for another level scoreline (14-14) going into the last.  Really good bowls, plus nerves from the opposition had us lying four until, with the last bowl, Shaun Blaylock played his worst and wildest shot of the night; on its way towards Scotland this misdirected drive caught an outside bowl and chipped it across into the head.  Out came the calipers, to confirm what we suspected – after all that effort an eighth of an inch had determined the result.  But who ever said bowls was fair?

The ladies’ match with Bedlington Dr Pit had been called off as a result heavy rain in the morning of this Nines match.  The cancellation came on the same day as news that the men’s friendly with Portland (on Friday) was to be cancelled because of poor numbers on both sides, and just a day after we’d learned that Wooler were pulling out of our friendly due for Sunday.  Suddenly a crowded week was looking rather sparse.

Thanks to Hexham House, though, our recent schedule has been busy enough.  Last Saturday one of our West Tyne Triples teams (Jean, Malcolm, Darren) played a Hexham House team in the semi-final.  They opted to play down at the Abbey instead of going for the neutral green allowed – indeed stipulated – in the rules, and their confidence in choosing an away green was justified as they won by eight shots.  They also did well to start early in the evening, as by the time they finished it was almost dark and the first drops of what was to be a downpour were falling.

Then on Friday Mark, Keith and Trevor finally managed to coincide on dates with yet another Hexham House trio for the other semi-final , in this case choosing to play at Haltwhistle.

The Prize is Right

On the day that the BBC came in for heavy criticism because only a third of its top earners were women, HEBC managed the same proportion in the West Tyne game with Hexham House: four of the 12 players were female, one on each rink.  At least all were on the same pay scale as their teammates.

One in particular deserved to be a top earner:  Christina played what she happily agreed was her best game ever, nailing the jack so often that we almost needed to send for extra supplies of chalk.  A few early ends went against us, so that after eight ends we were leading just 7-6, but once Christina started sending in her guided missiles we won all the next ten, scoring 20 shots for a 27-6 win.

David Ashworth’s rink had almost as big a win, also being 14 shots ahead after 15 ends, but this lead was pegged back a bit in the closing stages so that it finished 25-14.  Here too it was in the middle period that things clicked, with David Boaden getting the hang of his borrowed bowls:  the score went from 9-7 to 22-8 in the course of five ends.

The other rinks were much closer – in both cases the teams went into the last end level.  Brian Elstob’s welcome return to action had promised well (his was the only rink to be leading after five ends), but Hexham House caught up, and with the scores on 13-13 our rink was holding shot until the last bowl of the match, when Pat Thompson drew the shot.

Darren’s rink finished well after all others, partly because of some confusion about scores and measuring, not to mention a burnt end.  They were tied 13-13 after 15 ends, then 14-14 going into the last but after a relatively low-scoring match suddenly lost a four to make the defeat look bigger than it should have been.  However, with the overall aggregate safely in our favour it was a 5-2 win on the night against the only side now able to chase us for runner-up spot in the league.

The Friday night saw our Senior Fours play in the County semi-final against Portland, at Gosforth.  The forecast had been for gloomy and damp weather, but as the match started the sun came out, making life a bit tricky for anyone not wearing a cap, at least in one direction.  That problem was not as difficult as the rink – not because of any imperfection, but because of the extremely fast pace.  Portland, of course, play on a fast green themselves, and settled much quicker than our team.  The score was soon 1-12, but to the great credit of the HEBC four they came back to 10-14.  In the next ends a few crucial shots went against them, and the “run rate” went up until it meant getting a five on the last end simply to draw – and some well-placed bowls by Portland ruled that out.  It is fair to say that, on the night, the better team won, but reaching the inaugural Final of this competition was still a great achievement.

Brian and Keith were back for more on Sunday, at Alnwick, in the semi-final of the County fours with Darren and Malcolm.   In fact, they almost had a fruitless journey, as it was raining so hard on arrival that they had to shelter in the car for a while, and when play did start the conditions became bad enough for the players to come off the green. At that point our team were leading, but after the resumption they fell behind for the first time in the match (14-17).  At this point they scored a four, then added a few more over a couple of ends, so that their opponents from Morpeth needed a five on the last end to draw – a precise re-run of Friday’s finale, in reverse.  Not only did our team avoid the five, they scored one themselves for a 23-17 win.  This puts them in the final next weekend – Darren will be playing against his brother Craig – and it also guarantees a trip to Leamington Spa for the national finals.  Well done, all.

On an adjacent rink two of the winning Portland team from Friday were in a semi-final of the triples, and leading all the way through until they lost a seven – and the match – on the last end.   Well at least they’re already booked for Leamington…

While all this was going on we had a friendly at Consett, where the rain arrived rather later but allowed us – just – to finish the match.  Soaked as we were, it was an enjoyable game with a magnificent spread afterwards.  Our top rink comprised new member Isobel Adamson, Christina Auld (clearly unstoppable just now) and Richard Hart-Jackson, whose joke-telling at the après-match tea was as impressive as his bowling.  They each received a miniature bottle of wine for their efforts – so at least HEBC can say that our ladies get equal rewards for doing the same job!

Turning the Tables

After a mere two-day gap between the two previous posts, it’s been almost two weeks since the last one – fancy real life getting in the way of bowls, eh?  Rafa Benítez has apparently described football as “the most important of the least important things in life” – maybe he hasn’t heard of bowls…

Last week’s West Tyne league fixture survived the weather, although there had been fears of a postponement for a while with really heavy showers late afternoon.  Two of our players played the entire game with full waterproofs on, although in reality it didn’t rain once the match had started and after a few ends it wasn’t even necessary to dry the woods. However, with the moisture in the air the appearance of the Allendale midgies was even more predictable than normal!

Steve had a fairly comfortable win, leading throughout and finishing 18-12 up. David Boaden relied on a late charge, winning 27-15 after leading just 9-8 after eight ends. Richard Hart-Jackson’s rink came back from 4-10 down to 10-all, then led 12-10 but lost 7 shots on the final 3 ends to go down 12-17. The sub-plot here was that they were lying six shots on the 17th end until the Allen Valley skip moved the jack and scored three.

The fourth rink was even closer at the end, after being tight all the way, with seldom more than a couple of shots in it.  Elvaston led 11-10 with two ends to go. On the last-but-one Allen Valley skip George Little took the shot wood out with his last bowl to claim a three and go 13-11 up. On the final end, Allen Valley were lying shot but had no back woods. David Ashworth moved the jack back with his second wood and George’s final wood stopped short. So we got a three in return to steal it 14-13 with no need for the final bowl. The overall result was therefore a 6-1 win (71-57 on shots).

This week’s Cup semi-final at Haltwhistle went less well.  Cup matches are decided on rinks won, not shots, and our line-ups were strong enough to give us hope of nicking at least two rinks.  However, Malcolm’s rink were behind for most of the match, losing by eight shots; Trevor’s rink started well but failed to recover from a dropped five, losing 12-17; and Darren also lost a count towards the end, losing 13-16.   Three single-digit defeats tell a consistent story, and we have to admit that Haltwhistle were just too accurate for us when it mattered.  As ever, it was a fixture which was both competitive and friendly – and at least the rain held off until we were in having a cup of tea.

This week we heard that Hirst Park have dropped out of the Nines league, thus reducing the original eight teams to just six.  Hirst Park were on our list of re-arranged fixtures, so that reduces the congestion but it is still a disappointment – and even more of a disappointment for those clubs who have already played Hirst Park, and now lose any points earned.  At least we had no points to start with, not having played them, but of course we were still bottom of the table going into our game with table-toppers Backworth.

It’s possible that Backworth were just a bit complacent  – who knows? – but for whatever reason all our rinks started well.  The pairs were soon 10-2 up, and the triples picked up a seven – almost unheard of, even against lesser teams – so that with everything going right for the fours we were leading on all three rinks after 14 ends.  From here on things became quite tense – though not for the fours, who took full advantage of what even they admitted were a couple of lucky breaks to build up a nine-shot lead with two ends to go, then added another two to hold an unbeatable lead going into the last end, achieving a final score of 19-9 .

The pairs had inched ahead in a low-scoring match, increasing their lead from one, to two, to four shots by the fifteenth end before losing a four that made the score 12-12 with two to go; but they then won both of those ends to make it 15-12 and seal the overall match result.  The triples were also pegged back to equality (16-16) with four ends to play, before each side scored two to reach 18-18 and then a single shot each for a 19-19 draw. So overall it was a 7-1 win, a result that would have fetched long odds at the bookies’, but which confirmed our earlier contention that form and teamwork have improved a lot over recent weeks.  We’ll still be bottom of the table, for sure, but not by very much, and now with some momentum to take us into a busy period of re-arranged matches.

The day after this upset, Alnwick were the visitors in a Collins and Shipley league game.  Here too our ladies were bottom of the league while Alnwick were top – by only one point, and maybe thanks to a lot of home games, but top none the less. So here was another challenge.

Rather like the men in the Nines, the ladies seemed to be encouraged, rather than put off, by the quality of the opposition.  After about ten ends, one of our rinks was 5-10 down and another was losing by three, with the third rink ahead by seven.  From that point on the various scores changed quite a bit, but the overall closeness hardly changed until the last end. Blanche’s rink were reeled in but still won by two shots, while our second rink came back to be close to a draw until our final bowl gave the shot to Alnwick, who declined to bowl their last one and took a one-shot win.  With Elvaston therefore winning by one shot on the two completed games, all eyes turned to Betty’s rink.  Having already come from 5-10 down to move to 15-10 ahead, they would clinch the match by avoiding a six on the last end – but when the Alnwick third trailed the jack to give them a very solid four, with two bowls still to come, things started to look ominous.  Betty’s first bowl was caught up in the traffic, but her second was perfectly judged, hitting her first full-on and promoting it not just to save a count but actually to get the shot.  To win this match 10-2 on league points was a major achievement – and there would certainly be no point in trying to persuade the ladies that this was one of the “least important things in life”…