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.
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…