Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Yo-yo Season


Down and up…

Decades ago, before money took over as the main determinant of football success, there were some clubs who were known as yo-yo clubs – too good for the second division of English football but not quite good enough for the first.  The prime example was Sheffield Wednesday, who were champions of Division 2 three times in the 1950’s but who tended to finish rock bottom of Division 1, if not the next season then very soon after!

Our own Wednesday performance in the Collins and Shipley confirmed the fears of recent weeks, as the ladies went down 2-10 to Amble and finished next to bottom of the division just a year after promotion. Your correspondent is in Canada, but thanks to the wonders of modern communication was able to receive this sad news before lunch on the same day!  Jean’s rink had a good 24-8 win, but the other two rinks each scored only seven shots while conceding a total of 42, so that there were no bonus points on offer either.  With only two points taken from the match the result of the Benfield match became immaterial, and the trap door opened.

The yo-yo worked in the opposite direction for the Nines squad.  After a couple of slips in recent weeks, things went their way when Wallsend Park proved unable to offer sufficient dates to play the game that had been postponed for rain the previous week.  We thus gained the full eight points, and into the bargain won the division in the first year after relegation.  There was a comment from one of our friends and rivals in a neighbouring club that we had won the league by default, but in fact the circumstances were just a fluke of timing.  As it happns, Hexham House had been gifted eight points by the same Wallsend Park contingent earlier in the season, on the grounds that they couldn’t find enough drivers to come to  Hexham, so really this just balanced things up – and since we had beaten Hexham House once and drawn the other match it seemed about right that we finished just above them in the table.

Anyway, with several new players now coming through we can be more optimistic about life in Division 1 next season.  There may well be some thumpings, but the all-round experience will be good for everyone’s game.  And as long as the ladies can have one last shot at the yo-yo to be promoted again, we shall – with any luck – lose our unwanted tag.

Thanks for your company.  See you again in 2016.

In the Balance…

Depending on how closely you read the sports pages you may or may not have noticed that earlier this week the cricket match between Yorkshire and Northamptonshire was abandoned because of rain, not long after the captains had tossed for the start of play.  No result.  Or technically no result – in practice, Yorkshire were able to qualify for the final stages of the competition in question, with Durham, who had no game, joining them simply because Northamptonshire had been deprived of a match.  Not only that, but Northants themselves failed to make the final stages, despite being on a roll after winning their previous five games.

What has all this to do with bowls?  The weather link, and the way that in some sports (generally ones that started in Britain!) the result can be totally determined by the weather..  After our loss to North Shields last week, caused in all likelihood by the arbitrary shortening of the match, we were told on Tuesday afternoon that the Wallsend Park green was unplayable so that that match would now have to be re-arranged, almost certainly at a time when our complete triples team is unavailable.  The frustration is increased by the fact that it is precisely Wallsend Park “B” who presented our Hexham House rivals with a walkover and eight easy points when they failed to have enough drivers to get here for a game earlier in the season.

In contrast, when we were offered the points by Wallsend Park “A” as they struggled to raise a team we said we would re-schedule – and when that match was played on Monday we duly lost 0-8.  Although the triples came close, just failing to get the count they needed on the last end, the other two rinks all suffered, so that not everyone was heart-broken at not having to go back the next night.

By Wednesday we were perhaps a little fresher for the home game against Throckley.  The pairs started slowly, and near the half-way point were just 7-6 ahead.  In only a few ends this had gone to 17-7, however, and the result was no longer in doubt.  This was just as well, as at one point the rain began to be so heavy that another early finish was in prospect; for a short while there was as much focus on the clouds as there was on the green.

The triples were even more intent on insurance against a Duckworth-Lewis decision, reaching 24-0 after 11 ends en route to a 36-4 win; for some reason the ladies don’t like playing on rink three, but the triples could do it with their eyes closed.  The fours did their usual balancing act, going 16-10 ahead, and then contriving to lose a one and a three so that there was just a two-shot lead going into the last end.  Fortunately Alan Thompson then bowled his best two woods of the night, and the resulting four shots made the win look easier than it was.  The final score on shots was 78-28, which our statistician Brain Norman pointed out was exactly the same score we had in the reverse fixture at Throckley.

Earlier in the day the ladies had struggled against a powerful Burradon team with several County players.  Not all the Elvaston players were intimidated, however, and there were some good scraps – Betty Boaden’s rink lost by only six shots despite losing a five and a seven.  The overall loss of three rinks meant another “nul points” return, so that everything now hinges on next week’s game against Amble.  A good win could mean continued Division 1 status next year, but it’s very much in the balance.

Finally, and back with the Nines, the re-arranged game with Hexham House took place on Thursday night.  (Although it was a home game the visiting supporters outnumbered us eight to one.  We had the one.)  Despite our moans about the end-result of other postponements, we would have to say that Hexham House were very good in agreeing to bring this one forward as we have several players away next week.  This one definitely worked in our favour.

The fours had a good start but faded a little in the middle to go down to a 10-15 loss.  Here as on all the rinks there were a lot of really good heads and close calls.  The triples went the other way, down 1-5 after a few ends but playing well enough to limit the early damage, and once they scored a four to go into the lead they accelerated through the evening gloom to win 20-10.  This game marked a fine début in the Nines for John McArdle.  The light faded really quickly, and the Pairs, who hadn’t dawdled, were last to finish in almost total darkness – but we could all see enough to realise that losing a one on the last end mattered not, as the final score was 14-10.   You may not have been able to see the detail of this game, but with a pumped-up Darren playing against Clive Knott you could follow the progress just by listening to the shouting.  “Cleeeean!”.   “Drop!!”.  “Oh man, I don’t believe it!”.

But at the end of the night we really could believe it – a 6-2 win had put us in guaranteed second place, with a chance of overtaking Hexham House at the top if we win the fixture against Wallsend Park B.  That’s as long as the weather doesn’t intervene…

“And in second place…”

This week saw two finals in the West Tyne League, as well as the final league fixture and – on Sunday – the Gala Day.

In the Singles final, Trevor Field played Steve Doneathy of Prudhoe, with the final for the first time being played as one match rather than over two legs. Rather oddly, the format whereby the two legs were each of 18 ends was maintained for this match in favour of the traditional 21-up, but once that was clarified the game got under way and threatened to be over in record time as Steve found line and length immediately to go 9-2 ahead.

Trevor eventually woke up from his early afternoon nap, and a four squared the match at 9-9.  From that point on it was very even (12-12 soon followed by 14-14).  On the seventeenth end Trevor drew what had seemed an impossible bowl to win the end with his last wood and go ahead 15-14.  However, this was not the first time he had had to do something special to foil an excellent opponent, and in the last end Steve again put two bowls close, forcing a departure from the steady draw that had served Trevor so well, and when the attempted trail missed Steve was the winner by a single shot.

Two nights later Trevor was joined by Keith Woods and Brian Norman for the Triples final against Haltwhistle (David Lee, Micky Rogan and Frank Robson), at Allendale.  They got off to a Doneathyesque start, going 8-1 ahead after five ends, but then disaster struck as they conceded 14 shots on the next five, including a seven, so that after ten ends they were 8-15 down.  Against such good opponents this was always going to be very hard, and although the shots after that point were shared (at least until the last end, when caution was abandoned as we went for a seven!) the game was up.  Keith was as solid and dependable as ever, but over the piece our line and length were not up to normal standard, and the Haltwhistle trio deserved to edge it – crucially David Lee was able to cut down several promising heads to a single shot whereas the Haltwhistle counts … counted.  So Elvaston finished runners-up in the two knock-out trophies.

After Hexham House’s result last week at Alston we were playing for second place in the league as well this week, needing just a point against Prudhoe to overtake Haltwhistle.  It turned out to be a very close match, and with 14 ends gone it could have still been a result to cause blushes.  However, David Ashworth made sure Steve Doneathy’s week was not one of total contentment with a 17-12 rink win; Brian Elstob returned from holiday with his understated skip’s style and also steered his rink to a five-shot win (16-11); while Darren’s rink made the most dramatic story, winning only one of the first eleven ends but still managing to come back from 4-13 to win 17-15.  Blanche’s rink, having rolled and coasted through the evening, lost a four on the last end to lose 15-19, but thanks to the vagaries of the league scoring system our eight-shot aggregate win translated into a 6-1 points win.  (The final league table will be on our website until the New Year.)  This made us runners-up to three different West Tyne clubs in one week.

Of course, a few weeks ago we lost the Cup Final to Alston,so that was a fourth runner-up spot.  There was therefor something inevitable about the Gala Day, held at Alston on the League Chairman’s green.  This was the usual relaxed affair, albeit with everyone trying to win, and at the end of five rounds and some rapid calculations it emerged that Haltwhistle had won the event with four wins out of five while we came second – of course – with three wins.  All other teams had two wins on the day.  It was certainly a good way to end the season, even if our record of finishing second in five competitions may take some beating!

Mixed Fortunes

Two top-of-the -table teams came to Elvaston on successive days this week.  For the ladies it was a visit from Bedlington Dr Pit, who arrived on a lovely afternoon with the green looking a picture.   Given that most observers would have seen the result as a foregone conclusion the home team played really well, and were entitled to feel hard done by in not getting a point.

At one stage, after about 14 ends across the board, we were actually leading on two rinks and level in the third.  However, it was at this point that the visitors’ experience and class told: there was no panic, just the same determination and relentless approach, so that we were on the back foot all the time.  This was best summed up on the penultimate end, when Jean (playing skip) came to the mat five down, then managed to rest on the shot bowl to make it one to us, before seeing that bowl in turn sent flying to make it five to the visitors again.  With her second bowl she hit the jack and sent it through to the “back pack”, but of course it ended up sitting on an away wood for a one-shot deficit.  That was an awful lot better than a five, but it still meant we were down.  The final result here and also on Blanche’s rink was 13-15, with similar near-misses: again near the end Moira put the first wood of the end on the jack, where it stayed undisturbed until the very last bowl of the end, when the visiting skip pushed it out to take the end.  With Betty’s rink losing by six it meant a ten-shot aggregate defeat, but in truth this was one of the best performances of the season and even one of the best results, bearing in mind the standard of the opposition.

The Nines team welcomed Heaton Victoria, who in many ways are the team most like us in the Division – always a good game, well contested and hard-fought  between clubs that have been yo-you clubs over recent years.  This one ran true to form, although we came out of it very well on points, with a 7-1 win that wiped out Heaton Vic’s six-point lead at the top of the table.

On the ground the story was different, though.  The Pairs had a close match throughout, although progress was difficult to chart as they were over on rink 6 while the other two games were on rinks 1 and 2.  Four shots up after five ends, and also after ten, they eventually won by five – obviously close all the way.  The Triples had a big win which was a counterpoint to the defeat suffered in Newcastle back in June.  On each night one team came away with a heavy defeat having played perfectly well, and this week it was our turn to feel pleased with a 21-9 win which no one would have predicted with the score at 8-7 after ten ends.

The fours, meantime, were at that same score after only five ends, thanks to losing a six and winning a five.  It seemed reasonable to imagine a high-scoring game, but not even the most enthusiastic spread-better would have wagered on the eventual outcome, which included conceding an eight while leading 16-10,.immediately followed by a five to be 18-23 down with three ends to go.  So 19 shots had been conceded in just three ends.  That might (and probably should) have been the end of the road, but the fours showed a similar attitude to the Bedlington ladies and came back to win the last three ends, including a great final bowl from David Ashworth, to wick gently in to seal a two on the last end, and somehow scrape a draw, 23-23.  This might well have been the largest aggregate score for any rink in the Nines league this season.

On Friday we may have scored the lowest such aggregate, although what the history books won’t record is that this is because the match at North Shields was reduced to 12 ends because of bad weather.  In fact, there was a lively debate before the match as to whether we should try for the 18 or else set the limit at the start.  The argument that a set number of ends would stop any, er, arguments won the day, but in the end we wished it hadn’t, as we lost two rinks for our first defeat of the season.

The fours started well enough but let a lead slip so as to go into the last end one shot down.  A few short woods on that end made life tricky for skip David Ashworth, and the trickiest problem of the lot was a clever blocker from the home team – sure enough, he hit it with the last wood.  The pairs were also ahead, 10-5 at one point, but North Shields not only drew level but took a three from the last-but-one end, so that a single to us on the last was of no use.  The triples had a good win, 14-5, with the opposition scoring only on two ends in the middle of the game; this game was notable for John Lambert’s league début, and he took to it like a duck to water – an appropriate simile on a damp night.  Despite the early rain it was a good enough night, though, and as it turned out the problem might have been early darkness rather than wet conditions.  It’s a long way home from North Shields when you’ve lost!

It was the final week of the West Tyne League, with so many different matches that they are best grouped in another post (to follow on Sunday).

Big Points Dropped

Our star performers this week were definitely Jean Allen and Betty Boaden, who were in Leamington for the National Finals.   Representing Northumberland in the Senior Pairs, they opened their account with an excellent 24-22 win over Oxfordshire, before losing 10-23 to Cambridgeshire.    In the Singles, Jean had a tough first-round match against an opponent from Bedfordshire who had a good number of supporters, but held on to win 21-17.  There was hardly time for a drink before going back on the green at noon for a match against a player from Cumbria, who won quite easily before herself being knocked out in the next round. At this point most of the players left were internationals of some description, so it was no disgrace to get so far – indeed, a great honour.

The only downside to these achievements was that it took Jean and Betty out of contention to play in the Collins & Shipley league, at home against Whitley & Monkseaton.  This was not the week to lose two such experienced players, especially as we were also missing Shelagh Carter as a skip. Although two rinks were narrowly ahead just after half-way, the visitors applied greater pressure as the match went on and by the last end we had lost one rink quite heavily and a second by a good margin, with only a draw on the third rink.  This draw was a highlight not only in providing our only point but also in the way it was achieved on the last end.  We were two behind on the board and one shot down when Susan (as second) launched a perfect running shot to send the jack into the ditch and remain close to the lip.  The opposition still had second shot, also a toucher, which of course had to be avoided, but – in the most difficult shot of the day – Christina came in firmly on the backhand to push our shot bowl into the ditch while remaining on the green as second shot.   That bit of teamwork deserved more than a draw!

The Nines team had finally managed to get a game the night before – postponements and byes meant that we hadn’t played for five weeks, and that rather showed in a ring-rusty performance at Whitley Bay against lowly Forth.  The triples even lost, having come back from a frail 6-13 after ten ends to level at 14-14 with two ends to go; despite that momentum both the last two ends were lost to a team which made a nonsense of their bottom-of-the-table position.  The pairs had a big win after an unsure start, but the fours seemed determined to ensure a close finish, going into a good lead before losing a five to make it 18-16 in their favour with two ends to go.  They were then two shots down until an excellent wood from Ken Hurst saved that end and with another two on the last they were home and dry by six shots.  Six points on the night, too, and after the late scare for the fours you would have to say that the mood on the way home was relief rather than excitement. This week we have a visit from league leaders Heaton Victoria, so we need to up our game.

After those National Finals, then local leagues in midweek, we were at the level of in-house competitions this weekend, and Sunday saw the Glenwright trophy – always popular as a knock-out singles event based on three sets (first to seven) per match.  It was especially good to see Jean and Betty turning out for yet another day’s bowls after spending so much time getting to and from Leamington.   The green was running well, especially for Brian Norman, who followed up a semi-final win in the four-wood singles on Friday by winning this tournament as well.  Nothing could put him off his stride, and he came from one set down to win the Final, finishing with a flourish and three bowls within a couple of feet.  Roll on Heaton Victoria!

We must be mad…

Albert Einstein is widely (and wrongly, it seems) credited with the remark that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, while expecting different results.  He – or whoever did coin the phrase – would have seen clear evidence of insanity at Alston in this week’s West Tyne Cup Final, as player after player tried to make bowls bend on a green which was clearly not going to allow any such fancy notions.  Indeed, if you caught the wrong edge of the slight slope the bowl would go right against the bias and end up in more danger of finishing on the rink string than on the jack.

It was disappointing to see how much we struggled with that situation, especially as we had had a practice session in the league fixture.  Having said that, the Alston players were also struggling to make bowls obey instructions, and the basic point was that once a lead or second had put an early bowl in close it was highly unlikely that anybody would move or replace it.  And despite the effects of the straight hand, firing was not an option because the slope and bumps meant that any slight deviation was magnified – a lunar probe heading off into a distant galaxy simply because of a slight miscalculation early on.

Do you get the impression we lost?  Yes, of course we did.  We were well beaten, with two rinks losing and the third salvaging a draw on the last end; and we should have played (or rather, thought things out) better.  Alston had already seen off Hexham House in an earlier round and will be delighted to lift the Cup.  There is a good tradition in bowls that one doesn’t criticise other greens, and of course we shall respect that tradition.  The point remains that in a game of line, length and luck, we all accept the luck element, but usually in the sense of rubs or wicks – there shouldn’t be any luck involved as to whether a bowl continues on its chosen line or reaches the target area.

We certainly had no luck in the Nines this week, as the game was postponed after about 48 hours of non-stop rain – nothing very heavy, but persistent and showing no signs of improvement on the afternoon of the game.  So yet another game is added to the backlog, and we now have four Nines matches on four consecutive evenings starting 17 August.  The match reports for that week may seem a bit repetitive.

The rain had not been bad enough to stop the last remaining Triples team from playing a West Tyne semi-final at Hexham House on Monday.  Trevor, Keith and Brian played a team including Shaun and Richard Blaylock and despite losing a five quite early on managed to keep the scores close enough before securing a six and an overall lead of four with just three ends to go.  Shaun was left with the last bowl to score four to draw, but despite his “hit and hope” finale the bowls were so well spread and mixed up that only a burned end would have done.  He scored a one.

The ladies were at Benfield in the Collins & Shipley, playing their nearest rivals in the race to avoid relegation.  Calling it a must-win game would perhaps make it sound too pressured, but a win would nevertheless have been very handy.  In the event only one rink won and the whole match was lost by six shots on aggregate, so that it finished 10-2 to Benfield, who overtook us in the league.  We are now below the dotted line again, albeit with a game in hand on one of the two teams above us.  To make matters worse, Amble pulled off a spectacular 12-0 win against league leaders Bedlington, while Cowpen & Crofton beat Ponteland 11-1: the latter result in particular sent them way ahead of us in the table.  With four home games now to come the challenge clearly is to perform like those home teams at Amble and Blyth – you don’t have to be Albert Einstein to know that anyone can be beaten on the day.