Monthly Archives: August 2014

Not all Doom and Gloom

At last the competitive season has ended.  For the Nines team it has been an awful slog, with relegation from Division 1 a certainty for the last few weeks, making it just that bit harder to get motivated.  In the event we did pull ourselves off the bottom of the table to finish eighth out of ten teams, but the bottom three go down so the trap door opened.  At least we were a decent number of points (16) behind the seventh team – it would have hurt a lot to miss out by just a couple!

The last home game was against Ponteland, and at last, for the first time since the end of May, we got a win. An 8-0 win!  Why on earth we couldn’t have played like that against the lesser teams I don’t know, but anyway all three rinks played really solid stuff, and although there was a tight finish in each game the result reflected well on our determination against strong opposition.  Particularly encouraging was the way that every rink held on to leads which were being whittled away by strong comebacks by Ponteland.  For example, the pairs were pinned back from a 14-3 lead to just 14-10 with two ends to go, and then two shots down, at which point Peter Durnell drew an impossible shot to within an inch of the jack and the only task then was to protect that shot.  We did, and the result was a formality after that. 

The fours did almost the same thing – twice!  They raced into an 11-2 lead, which then became 11-7 three ends later, before re-establishing the nine-shot lead at 16-7.  Another three bad ends followed, and suddenly it was 16-15 with two ends to go.  This was the sort of position from which we had lost games all season, but this time a couple of twos completed a 20-15 win.

The triples, not to be outdone, managed to let a 7-2 lead disappear completely, so that after 14 ends they were 10-11 down.  If there was any worry here it didn’t show, as they then scored a five, and although they added only one to that it was enough for a 16-13 victory. 

Our re-arranged match with Gosforth should really have been sponsored by local business Down to Earth. We were a bit unlucky in that Gosforth needed to win the game well to make sure of winning the league title, and we realised the sized of the task when we arrived to find a team packed with County champions and international players.   The triples had a torrid time of it, saved from a seven on the second end only by the “one shot on first two ends” rule but then promptly conceding another seven soon after. After six ends the score was 16-0 and the game was up, thanks largely to the astonishing accuracy of the Gosforth lead.

The pairs put up a good fight without ever threatening to win.  Whatever we did, ex-Hexham skip Craig Cooper had the answer.  If we were lying two or three he would burn the end; if we put the jack in the ditch he would draw to within a couple of inches of the ditch; if we left a gap he would thread a bowl through it to draw shot.  It was terrific to watch, let’s be honest, and a bit of a masterclass.  If the score (9-22) was a bit harsh, the result was absolutely right.

The fours had an even closer outcome, going down 14-17 after being well behind early on but chipping away at the lead.  Unfortunately, against teams like Gosforth the chances of a count are very small, and so the ones and twos were never quite enough.  However, to come off the green irritated at not being able to clinch a win shows how close the fours were to pulling it off.  Disappointment was softened by the fact that Gosforth is the only club in the league with a bar, and it was good to have a chat there afterwards, especially as four of their nine are former Elvaston players.  It’s a pity they had to leave us after last season in order to further their County aspirations, as we lost a third of our team at a stroke, quite apart from the temporary loss of two other key players for health reasons.  We never recovered this year, but we just have to accept our place in the food chain, which for next season at least is nearer plankton than big fish.  We’ll be back!

Something to Cheer About

The Ladies went to Ponteland for their final Collins & Shipley match knowing that not only did they have to win but Seaton Sluice had to lose (or at least get four points fewer).  At least the first part of the equation was in their own hands, and it turned out to be a close encounter. One rink won 22-11 while a second lost 11-23, so everything depended on Shelagh Carter’s rink, which once again finished two ends behind everyone else – this certainly ensured a good number of very interested spectators.  When this rink finally got off the green it was with a 16-11 win which ensured a four-shot victory overall (10-2 in points, in this competition).

News soon came through that Seaton Sluice had not only lost at Whitley & Monkseaton but had been trounced 12-0 (no friendly neighbour act there!).  So after weeks of calculations and scenarios promotion was guaranteed, achieved with a margin of six points.  It was a great effort over the whole season, and all the sweeter for having missed out last year by one point.

There is a school of thought that the constant changing of team formations among the ladies is a disadvantage compared to the men’s strategy of keeping the same groupings each week.  You wouldn’t give this theory much room if you looked at the relative results this year – as the Ladies have gone up, so the men have been relegated from Division 1 of the Nines league, bottom of the table for the last few weeks and hardly able to win a rink, let alone a match.  That position wasn’t helped this week by having to go to champions and league leaders Backworth.

Backworth Welfare Club

Although we shall miss playing at Backworth’s superbly maintained green next season we shan’t at all miss the patronising attitude exuding from their teams.  Last night was a good example of both aspects.  First, there was a green that was beautifully cut and running true, set in front of the elegant Miners’ Welfare building.  But as we waited to start the match one of the opposition players came across to their pairs with the very audible advice that they should remember they really needed shots tonight for the league race. In other words, the eight points were sewn up, and only shots mattered.

To rub things in, there was a good deal of banter between the Backworth rinks during the game, although they didn’t deign to speak to the visiting bumpkins.  All in the name of more shots, I suppose.  Well at least we gave them a good run for their money, despite the triples leaking more shots than the South Yorkshire Police.  The heavy defeat was largely due to some superb bowling by the Backworth front end, “relentless” in the words of our long-suffering lead, though it included a seven which was maybe a bit careless. A pity, that, as the other rinks were quite close – especially the fours, with Darren putting in a great effort despite being clearly unwell. On the sixteenth end we scored a two to make it 12-12, then added a single to take a lead into the last end. At this point the Backworth boys could see not only shots but two points disappearing – to the extent that you could see anything in the fading light. David Barker produced a great first bowl, Ken Hurst followed it with an even better one, so that we were lying two halfway through the end.  We were still lying shot with only the skips to play, but somehow John Cleverlely got a bowl to hold a straight line when it looked certain to be lost, and it pushed our bowl out to leave Backworth with two shots and the game.

The pairs were always up against it, losing 10-15 in the end, but when you consider that the skip was one of several Backworth players to have been at the National Finals in Leamington the previous week, and preparing to go down again next week, this was another good performance on our part.  The damage was done over four early ends as a 3-2 lead slipped to a 3-9 deficit.  From that point, however, it was pretty close – at 6-10 we were lying three until the skip burned the end, and the margin was just four with four ends to go –  but even our best bowls weren’t good enough to beat opposition of this quality.  So it was indeed an 8-0 win for Backworth, and one can only hope they were satisfied with the shots count.

Meanwhile we still have a game to play at title challengers Gosforth, so for all our disappointments this season we could still end up as kingmakers, perhaps…


Tests of Stamina

After last week’s defeat against Gosforth the ladies bounced back really well with a maximum 12 points in the Collins & Shipley league.  The Tynemouth team’s bus driver happened to let slip that they were a bit nervous on the journey out here, and it’s true that one advantage of our position is that for a lot of teams this is an unusual distance “out west”, whereas for us the fortnightly trundle beyond the A1 is a normal feature of league bowls.

Whatever, the game was pretty close until at least the half-way point, with not more than a point in it on two rinks while Blanche set up a good lead on hers.  That latter rink carried on to win 19-8, but the surprising thing was the way that the other two home rinks pushed on in the final stages. Betty’s won 18-12 after very briefly slipping behind, and Shelagh’s rink, despite some pretty negative body language to match the robust verbals, romped home with a six on the last end to make it 21-12.  This rink, for some reason, finished three ends behind everyone else, so it was a close call as to whether the Tynemouth ladies would get a hot cup of tea before boarding the bus.

The High Heaton team who came for the Nines match also saw it as a long trip, and were a bit worried that an early abandonment for rain might mean a return trip.  Quite honestly, we may not have held them to it anyway, as survival in Division 1 is now a lost cause, but the rain was never hard enough to seriously threaten the match, which High Heaton won 6-2.

Our triples had a good win, remaining close all the way through but never completely safe, even when the opposition needed five to win on the last end.  The High Heaton skip built up the head very well, and could just have done something dramatic with his last bowl, but his miss meant a welcome win for our three.

The High Heaton skip in the pairs certainly managed something dramatic, quite apart from his incessant shouting and running up the green.  With the score 10-10 after 12 ends he fired, got a wick and took out our only bowl in the head (lying second), so that we lost a six.  Suddenly the game had changed, and after two more singles the gap was eight with just three ends to play. The shouting and running might have been a distraction but it couldn’t hide the fact that the guy could play a bit, while the lead was even better, so there was no way we could dig out a count. Sadly it was one of the heaviest defeats of the season for the pairs, 13-21.  

The fours also fell behind after being competitive for half the match, which rather fits a pattern of second-half collapses for our teams this season – last night the scores at the half-way point were 6-6, 7-7 and 7-7 on the three rinks.  If we were cricketers we would definitely favour T20 rather than 50-over matches! 


More Narrow Defeats

Anyone who has followed this blog through the season will have noticed a recurring theme of narrow defeats and hard-luck stories.  I know we shouldn’t dwell on the latter, but last week really was a perfect illustration of these close results that have gone the wrong way.  Get ready for the bad news!

The ladies had been having a great run for the last few weeks, beating the top teams to reach a position in the promotion places of Division 2.  Arriving at Gosforth to find a flooded green, they had to wait half an hour, during which the green miraculously dried out and play started.  The game may not have been a wash-out, but the performance was – only one rink won, and because Gosforth won on shots (42-41) they picked up the six bonus points and left us with a 2-10 defeat: The closeness of the game is certainly not shown in the score, although to be fair, when we beat the league leaders by a very small margin a few weeks ago we didn’t complain about racking up the points.

The next night the West Tyne league team played Alston in a delayed match from back in May. On paper we seemed to have a strong squad, but two rinks went down by surprising margins of around eight, and then, on the last of the 18 ends, two Alston skips earned shots with super bowls.  One of them ditched the jack with his last bowl to score two shots when we had been lying shot; the other drew a perfect shot with his last bowl when he was several down.  The fact that both these skips had merely rescued a shot or two, giving us wins of 21-18 and 27-11, seemed not to matter to the players concerned, but those who were doing the maths on the bank quickly realised that this had turned the match completely, giving Alston a 69-68 win.  

Ok, so it made no difference in the league placings.  We would have finished fourth even if we had won the match with a maximum 7-0 points margin, and Alston would have been fifth with anything but 0-7. But it did raise the question of what has happened this year to turn us round from being league and cup winners to also-ran status.  The personnel hasn’t changed, but the attitude somehow has. Lack of confidence?  Over-confidence?  Too many formations?  Not enough variation?  No one knows, but it was good to get the league over with.

Not that the close losses finished there.  In the Nines we played at Heaton Victoria, who always give us a really good game, and who would, I think, be the club that is closest to us in overall standard these days.  By coincidence we were both at the foot of the table before the match and in the end we got the result no one wanted – a 4-4 draw!

You won’t be surprised to learn that we were a whisker from winning it, though I guess the Heaton lads could have said the same. Our fours won easily, 23-15, but the other rinks were “so near yet so far”.  The pairs had been frustrated all night by a lead who seemed nearly always to get just one of his four bowls close, and even when he didn’t the skip found it easy to disrupt our winning positions.  One hand on the rink was absolutely dead straight, so that if anything needed shifting it was like ten-pin bowling. Two down going into the last end we managed to lie two shots with only one Heaton bowl to come – and after the distraction of being attacked by flying insects the skip produced the perfect straight bowl to sit on our shots and make it a three-shot win.  

The triples, like the fours, scored two sixes on the night, which was quite remarkable, and certainly seemed enough to get a win as they were two up with one end to go and then got a bowl just a foot from the jack.  Sadly the Heaton team beat it, twice, and ended up with a draw. You couldn’t hold it against them, as they were super bowls, but that sinking feeling at the end of the night makes the journey home seem even longer.  

There was some relative good news at the end of the week, as we hosted the West Tyne Gala Day.  The threatened wet and windy weather wasn’t as bad as forecast, at least while we were out on the green, though it was damp or wet throughout the day.  After a round-robin series of games against the five other clubs in the league we ended up second, with 14 points out of a maximum 20, and just one behind the winners, Haltwhistle.  Yes, I know, just one point – but given the travails of the summer, we need all the encouragement we can get… 

Settling some Scores

Note: This report should have been published back in the middle of July, but for some reason I failed to hit “Publish”.  Sorry.  It’s out of date, but maybe still of some interest…   

There seem to be as many scoring systems in bowls as there are leagues – certainly the three league competitions in which our club plays all have different systems. For example, the men’s Nines league gives two points for each of three rinks, with an extra bonus of two points for whoever wins on rinks; on the other hand, the Collins & Shipley league, for ladies’ teams, also gives two points per rink but then throws in an additional six points for the side with the aggregate shots win.

With such radically different approaches you get situations where similar scores have very different outcomes. A couple of weeks ago our Nines team won 44-43 on shots at Ponteland but lost 2-6 on points because of winning only one rink; this week the ladies finished 49-47 ahead on shots against runaway league leaders Whitley Bay & Monkseaton and the resultant six bonus points meant a 10-2 win. When added to last week’s 11-1 win in a re-arranged match against Chirton that has really boosted their chances of promotion from Division 2.

Bowlers and scoreboard

One to us!

It was a terrific match on a lovely afternoon.  After 11 ends we were leading 29-24 on shots, with Jean’s rink well down but both Shelagh and Blanche ahead.  Then, in the space of two ends the visitors scored 12 shots to just one, so that Blanche was just one shot ahead and Shelagh level.  Suddenly we were five shots down, but there was a further twist as a three for Blanche plus a five for Shelagh changed things again. With those two rinks finishing 14 ahead, Jean’s task on the last end to finish was to keep the deficit to less than 14. A single on the last end did the trick, and showed excellent match management.


The same couldn’t be said for the Nines team in the match against Wallsend Park the night before.  The triples were soon 1-9 down, and never recovered, while the fours collapsed, losing 16-17 despite having led 7-0 and 10-3. The pairs won 28-10, but it was no consolation to say that under the Collins & Shipley rules we would have had an 8-4 win on the night; the bald truth is that we lost yet another winnable match, and the 2-6 result makes relegation a very real possibility. For weeks we were able to say that the absence of key players was holding us back, but this week there was absolutely no excuse.    At least we weren’t as bad as Brazil were, later in the evening, in their 1-7 humbling  by Germany – but that’s not saying a lot, is it?

The season’s run of bad results continued in the West Tyne league, as we lost 1-6 to local rivals Hexham House.  Yes, another scoring system, with one point for each of the four rinks, and then a bonus three for the shots aggregate.  It turned out to be a bit of a mauling, but in fact after 11 ends we were in the lead (36-31) on shots, and on two rinks.  It was after eleven ends that the ladies blew a fuse the day before, and by an uncanny coincidence this was the very point that things went wrong here. All four rinks lost the twelfth end, including a three against Darren and a five against Trevor, and the ten shots conceded really swung the match. However much we might have complained about the state of the green and the lack of swing, the fact that we were ahead after more than half the match does rather suggest we shouldn’t have let it slip away.  But we did.

On the subject of letting things slip away, Jean and Trevor played the semi-final of the County Mixed Pairs competition against a pair from Willington Quay who brought an impressive number of supporters.    It looked as if our pair were going to coast home as they were 18-10 ahead, and lying another one with only three ends to follow.  However, neither Jean nor Trevor was alert to the danger of having no back bowls, and the opposition skip rattled the jack through to score a six, and rouse the travelling support. Another two for us calmed the nerves, but the opposition made a real fight of it: lying two down on the last end, and needing three to draw the match, the skip ditched the jack to score two shots, with a measure needed to establish that the game wasn’t tied. But a 20-19 win was enough to reach the Final (at Alnwick on Sunday 20 July).  At least there will be no debate about the scoring system in that one!