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.