After so many consecutive byes we had to remind ourselves of the rules in the Nines competition – one shot on each of the first two ends – as we played our last scheduled match, against Hexham House. This home game was a repeat of last year’s final fixture, and once again it ended in near darkness despite the 18.30 start.
Dark it may have been, but our mood was considerably lighter. We started the night six points ahead of Hirst Park, who lay bottom of the division, and badly needed another win to stay ahead of them whatever they achieved against Cramlington. If that match was a near-derby our own game was very much one, and as ever the rivalry was intense but the general spirit very positive and friendly.
It didn’t look as if we were going to do very well at the outset: the pairs were soon 0-5 down while the triples let a 5-0 lead evaporate to fall behind; on a middle rink between the others the fours were 1-8 down after five ends, so all in all the scoreboards were looking bottom-heavy.
The pairs gradually pulled back, however, and took charge between the tenth and fifteenth ends, moving into a lead of five. As the light faded Darren and Keith got stronger, and with two ends left they led 15-11, such that they were quite happy to accept the loss of a single on the penultimate end – not only was it the safe option, but it also gave Darren the last bowl, if needed. In fact, it wasn’t, as we scored two and despite Clive Knott’s great efforts to shift the jack towards his back bowls the result was ours 17-11.
The fours had meanwhile gone down by more than 20 shots in a game where very little went right. A visitor from another planet might deduce that to have four Davids in one team is not a good omen! In fact, of course, they all tried as hard as they could, but it didn’t work on the night and that’s all there is to it.
After the triples lost their early lead they really struggled for several ends, but managed to keep the deficits down on each end, so that when – out of the blue – they bagged a six it took the score to 13-10 in our favour. From this point it was again nip and tuck, although we did have a potential five snuffed out by Norman Brotherton’s excellent saver, which even earned him the shot. By the same token, we went into the last end 17-13 ahead only to find ourselves four down as the skips went to bowl. By a mixture of luck and judgment our final “pressure bowls” produced the right result and we were also happy to drop just one shot on that last end.
The result was therefore two rinks to one in our favour. Under the scoring system used in the West Tyne or Collins and Shipley leagues we would have lost the game as a result of a bad result on one rink, but the Nines go on rinks won and that’s all that counts. One oddity about the result was that whereas in the game at Hexham House (21 June) our pairs and triples lost narrowly while the fours won well (17-4), tonight was exactly the opposite – so in each fixture the home team won 6-2 on points despite losing on overall shots because of a large defeat for the fours.
The ladies had played their last (rearranged) match in the Collins and Shipley on the same day, but there was no need for any maths on the shots as all three rinks lost. With promotion assured it was maybe a case of being mentally “on the beach” as the footballers say, but for whatever reason Seaton Delaval ensured that they exacted full revenge for the 12-0 score we enjoyed back in June. You could have got good odds on a home win: before the game we were second in the league, with plus 118 shots; Seaton Delaval were second bottom with minus 116. This symmetry of shots and league position was maintained after the result. Thankfully the ladies won the games that really mattered, most notably against Morpeth, and they can now start preparing for life back in Division 1. Pre-season training starts on 1 March…
A further bit of symmetry involved the coincidence of our two winning skips in the Nines playing one another in the final of the men’s singles. This was arranged at the last minute, so that even Jeremy Corbyn could have found a seat, but on a calm, sunny evening the few spectators saw Trevor beat Darren 21-13, having never been behind. Darren did score two consecutive threes to bring the score to 11-10 against, but from then on he was restricted to singles. After a good deal of use for various competitions in recent days the green was running very well – a little ironic with the season about to end, but a credit to all David Ashworth’s unseen work.
With Trevor and Darren’s winning rinks each having scored 17 shots on Tuesday it was mildly intriguing that the pair then scored a total of 34 shots in their singles final. But that number was due to reappear, as we played a friendly at Haltwhistle on a night that could have offered a definition of the word murky. Only one of our four sets of triples won (making David Ashworth feel a lot better!), and indeed it was the only team to make double figures. Such was the struggle that we totalled only 34 shots across the four rinks – the trouble being that Haltwhistle scored 34 on rinks one and two, and exactly 34 more on the other two. Well, they are the league champions, cup holders and Gala Day winners, after all! Just wait till next season…