Monthly Archives: May 2019

We have lift-off…

The first round of the Jubilee Cup was played at Cramlington on Sunday, pretty well on the flight path for a procession of planes landing at Newcastle that afternoon. It’s fair to say that the majority of the passengers didn’t want to be looking down at us on the green – it later transpired that the heavy schedule of arrivals was the result of flights being diverted from Manchester after the airport there had to be closed!

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It was the usual format of three games of nine ends each, with added spice in the shape of our friends from Hexham House in the same group. We each got off to flying starts in our first games, anyway, with the scores after three ends being 11-0 to ourselves against Astley Park and 9-0 to Hexham House against Morpeth. From that point we increased our lead even more, winning 19-2, while the Hexham House game was fairly level, and the real battle started when we played one another in the second match of the group. This time it was the team in green who got a flier, with a five on the first end, and despite our apparent calm things were a bit nervy when we found ourselves two down on the second end with only the skips to play. Craig wrested one of the shots out, but it still left one opposition bowl a foot or so in front of the jack; and at this point Craig surpassed himself with a remarkable shot that caught the edge of the shot bowl to remove it and leave us lying four.

This not only gave the scoreboard a more balanced look, but – even more important – it deflated the opposition completely. We went on to score four on the third end and another two on the fourth to lead 10-5, and from then on it was simply a question of game management as we went on to win 16-6. The net difference in shots was now of the order of 27, and we had only to avoid heavy defeat in the last game to be sure of progressing. In the event, on a really difficult rink, we won by two, thanks again to a super final shot from our skip; the planes might still have been coming in, but Craig was certainly in no mood to be diverted. The Bowls Northumberland website records that we “edged out” our rivals from Hexham House – an interpretation which rather undercooks our achievement. But anyway, we are now in the final on 7 July, against Ponteland, Newbiggin and Health & Safety. No leaping over the sides of the green!

One Sunday later we were at the Rockcliffe club in Whitley Bay for a Bowls England Top Club match. In addition to pairs, triples and fours contests there are games for 4-wood and 2-wood singles, with the winners determined by who wins a majority of the five disciplines. On a sunny but very windy morning we soon had a two-rubber lead after Craig and Keith each won their singles games and after moving from 3-4 to 21-4 in the space of four ends (2,4,6,6) the triples were never going to lose after the half-way point. They duly won 26-11, which meant that the results of the pairs and fours were for added gloss only. However, both won (with the fours surviving a scare as they went from 2-12 to 12-12) and it was a 5-0 win. Our next opponents are New Delaval, away.

There was another win in the Nines against Throckley, though Malcolm and Darren went down to a surprise defeat in the pairs. After being well behind for most of the match they did get back to within one shot going into the last, but then lost a three. For the other two rinks it was “plane” sailing. The triples had a brief hiccup halfway through but then recovered to win 23-13, while the fours also reached 23, at the cost of only seven shots against. So another 6-2 win pushes up further up the table, well into the upper half now.

The Clegg team had every expectation of adding another win on Wednesday, but found the pace of the green as hard to find as it had been finding the actual green itself. The opposition at Innisfree had to send out search parties to direct us in off the main road. Things started well, which is about all you can say. With three of the four rinks leading after one end, then just two in the lead after two ends; at which point things went awry, and no rink of ours had the lead again until one rink, which we shall call A, got in front after 17 ends. Even then they almost contrived to lose the lead, going into the last of the 21 ends four ahead and losing a three (it was a measure for four) for a 23-22 win.

Clearly, from this description, the other rinks didn’t do as well. Rink B managed to get level with two ends to go, and were only one down going into the last before losing another single for 14-16; while C and D were behind the whole way. The rink was a bit spongy, but not outlandishly so. The real reason, if truth be told, was that we were not accurate and disciplined enough to be limiting the damage when the opposition put bowls in the head. There were too many wasted bowls, with not enough thought about ensuring second or, at worst, third shot. If this appears harsh, a closer look at the scorecards will show the essential problem. We actually won 43 of the 84 ends, But we finished overall 63-80 down on shots. Rinks A and B each won 12 out of 21, but Rink B managed to get only 14 shots from their 12. Meanwhile Rink D lost 12-21 but those 12 shots were amassed over 10 ends. While we were scoring mostly singles, Innisfree were picking up some big scores. Over the whole match, each club scored a five; the hosts scored two fours as opposed to one (trivial); they scored 12 threes as opposed to three (vital); the twos were evenly split, but the singles were loaded 31-21 on our side. So it is entirely in that imbalance between the singles and the threes that the game was won and lost. This really is something we have to work on if we are to make anything of this league.

The same problem was seen in the West Tyne league match against Hexham House B – all the more unfortunate as last week I noted how careful we had been in conceding shots in that competition. Two rinks lost quite heavily (8-21 and 10-22) so that there was no real hope of an overall shots win, but things could have been worse than that, with the other two rinks behind for the majority of the game and a whitewash looming. On the first of these to finish, with the score at 13-13 on the last end, we elected not to bowl the final wood and took a measure, which was close but clearly in our favour for a one-shot win; while in the other, we went into the last end 11-14 down but then scored an unlikely six to win the game by three shots. It was therefore a 2-5 defeat on points on the night.

We can at least bookend our summary of an up-and-down week for the club with a report of another notable win, as the ladies recorded their first victory in the Collins and Shipley. And a very notable win it was, 10-2 against last year’s champions Ponteland A. This was a good illustration of how to keep things tight, as the two winning rinks were not ahead by huge margins, and on other occasions we have seen a large loss on one rink more than cancel out such a lead. But by keeping the shots difference respectable we did ensure the bonus points and a very welcome win. Although at the time of writing the league table has not been updated, we are guaranteed to be off the bottom of the table (neatly, at the expense of Ponteland, but possibly Gosforth too); and while those clubs do have a game in hand the result is surely an indication of what we can do with so many County players and competition winners in our ranks. Could this be the point at which the ladies’ season takes off?

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Best Week in Ages

The week started with the first round of the County Senior Fours knock-out competition – well over 250 years of age in aggregate on our side anyway, though we all like to think (with some justification) that the game keeps us young.

Opponents Hexham House drew ahead in the early ends, with the emphasis on “drew” as they genuinely found their length better than we did. But they never got more than four ahead, and with almost all ends being singles the score was just 6-9 after 12 ends. At this point we scored a three by removing their shot bowl and were all square. They won the next end, but we levelled to 10-10 after 15 ends; they got another single and again we levelled to 11-11 after 17 ends. At least this significantly reduced the chances of an extra end! We then held the shot from the first bowl of the last end, but it was a vulnerable side bowl, and skip Richard Blaylock narrowly failed to take it out with his first bowl before pushing one of ours in with his second so that we scored a two for a 13-11 win. This was the only time in the match that we had been in front – the best time to do it! No doubt Hexham House thought they were hard done by, but overall, with nine ends apiece and 13 ends resulting in only a single shot, we would have felt the same if we had lost – it couldn’t have been closer.

The return of our thirty-somethings for the Nines match at Heaton Victoria the following night considerably reduced the average age of the team, but here too the result could hardly have been closer. The pairs started very well in the pairs, going 8-2 ahead after six ends, but after another six they had been pegged back to 9-9. From there they did get to 10-10 but then lost the last five ends to finish 10-17 down. The fours also got a good start, 6-0 after three ends, but they too were pegged back: after the lead changed hands a couple of times they were level with two ends to play before losing a shot to a fluke (it could have been worse, as the fluke initially left Heaton lying three!). But for the second night running Brian Norman got a pressure bowl in on the last end and we actually scored four for a 17-14 win.

This of course left the match in the balance, with the triples 15-13 ahead but with two ends still to play. Two shots on a very tight end gave us a four-shot lead going into the last, and although the Heaton skip rattled the head and moved the jack with his final bowl it was not enough to change the outcome. In blog posts in previous years we have had cause to comment on the closeness of games between Heaton Victoria and ourselves, and this was no exception – one of those where our 6-2 win could so easily have been 2-6, or even 0-8.

We then had to come to terms with a different scoring system for the Clegg league game on Wednesday. Here there are four rinks of two-bowl triples, with two points per rink and a large six-point bonus for the team winning on shots: 14 points in all. The visitors were Gosforth Central, and this time there was nothing close about the match at all, except for one rink which.we lost by one shot. The others more than made up for this, with a spectacular 34-3 win for Darren’s rink, and a total shots score of 98-43. Apparently we were in the Clegg league many years ago, but our re-entry in the bottom division represents a first experience for most people. The two-bowl format takes a little getting used to, and the importance of getting early bowls in the head is amplified. We shall certainly need a few more games before we can form a proper view of how well we are coping.

Chirton were the visitors for the ladies’ first home game of the season in the Collins and Shipley league, still in the format of three rinks of four despite various attempts by league clubs to reduce it to triples. Again just one rink won, and not by enough to make a difference on shots, so it was another 2-10 defeat. We just hope the season will echo Newcastle’s football progress – after a really poor, winless start they developed some confidence and picked up enough points to beat the drop with something to spare. Who’s going to play the part of Rafa Benítez here?

Certainly Rafa would have been pleased with our defensive organisation in the West Tyne game against Prudhoe Castle on Thursday. It wasn’t a runaway victory – certainly not compared to the massive 118-41 racked up by Haltwhistle on the same night – but we kept things tight on all rinks and limited Prudhoe to 48 shots in all. Our total of 72 was very respectable, but as in previous years it was the ability to keep the opposition scores low which made all the difference. On both Trevor and Malcolm’s rinks Prudhoe won eight ends but only nine shots, while our own sides scored 16 and 26 respectively. The other two rinks finished 16-14, one for each club, and even if it was vaguely disappointing to see us lose that one rink you simply had to feel pleased for the Prudhoe skip, proud to be still playing at the age of 94. As he should be. And to think that the senior fours thought they were doing ok for their age…

 

Postscript:  It was interesting that within days of our description of a super-senior player, The Times carried an obituary of Gerry Ells, over-85 tennis world champion in singles and doubles, and – while in his nineties – still playing two hours of tennis daily and cycling on his own.  His widely used nickname was “the Freak”, and while no one would wish to use this word, however affectionately, for our friend from Prudhoe, the performance is still very noteworthy.

You’ll Never Wick Alone

After a busy first week of competitive action last week the league fixtures dried up this week – more than could be said for the weather.  By lunchtime on Wednesday we had already been informed that our scheduled début in the Clegg league had been postponed (“My prayers are answered”, was one reaction to the news).    But the ladies had no such intervention, divine or otherwise, and travelled to Amble in steady rain.  Against all expectations the green remained playable, even if it was bitterly cold; and despite a 2-10 defeat the team came away in good spirits.  “At least it was two points better than last week”, was one opinion – a good definition of a glass half-full sort of person.

The Nines game against Cramlington had also beaten the weather on Tuesday, somehow finding the one dry window between an afternoon soaking and more overnight rain.  Both the pairs and the triples got off to good starts, with the triples notably taking the first end with an outrageous wick and then going on to lead 14-0 after eight ends.   After eleven ends the score on both these rinks was 17-3 in favour of the home team, and the match points were already looking safe.  At the very same stage there were also 17 shots on the board in the fours match, but unfortunately ten of them were to Cramlington.  This got a little worse (7-12, and then 8-15 with two ends to go) before a well-earned four in our favour made it 12-15 with a glimmer of hope.  That hope was soon extinguished, as a collapse on the last end meant we lost a six – too much excitement!  Meanwhile, the other rinks had progressed steadily, picking up a number of threes, to record wins of 23-6 and 27-7.  Even allowing for the fact that this was not the strongest Cramlington team we have faced over the years, it was a good win, especially as we had several absentees ourselves.

We had already agreed to postpone the Nines fixture due on Friday against Hexham House, but at least there was one semi-competitive match against them, in the form of the friendly on 5 May, the first game of the two-leg contest for the famed Courant Vase.  Two of our rinks won, albeit very narrowly, and two lost by larger single digits; crucially, however, on the fifth and final rink we lost by some 18 shots, for an overall deficit on 27.  A couple of years ago we overcame a loss of 14 shots to win overall by just one, but this year a win looks even less likely than Liverpool’s chances against  Barcelona on Tuesday.  But hey, look how that one turned out…

A New Season

Here we go again!  This year we have an extra league to report on, the Clegg league which involves four men’s (two-bowl) triples on Wednesday nights, and as several of the greens involved are totally unknown to us there will be all sorts of new material to report.  However, the Clegg doesn’t start until 8 May so for now we have an update on the usual suspects.

The Nines programme started with a game at Hexham House, and we had every reason to feel confident with the return of several younger bowlers who had left us for various reasons years ago.  The pairs certainly blew the opposition away, winning 28-5 after taking a 15-0 lead.  Unfortunately the fours went down by an almost identical score (29-5), winning only three ends although they should have called a halt after four ends, while leading 4-2!  This meant that the match result hinged on the triples, who were 9-6 up at the half-way point but then fell slightly behind over the closing stages and eventually lost 15-17.  The scoring system for the Nines meant a 6-2 points win for Hexham House, but it had clearly been a very balanced match overall.

Ponteland was the next away game, on Tuesday of this week.   The pairs and triples remained the same, with a couple of adjustments in the fours.  The triples were once again close for most of the match, but thanks to a seven on the ninth end moved ahead into a position where they could control things; seven shots on the last two ends, including a final flourish of five, made for a comfortable scoreline (25-17), though the ends were shared equally in an otherwise tight game.

The fours also had a very close encounter, edging ahead at the half-way mark before losing several ends to go 7-10 down.  At this point they too scored a seven, and however close the match was after that they were able to hold on to the lead in the gathering gloom.  The last end, indeed, was largely guesswork in the dark, so it was as well we were leading. In all, we won only eight ends, with Ponteland winning nine and one no-shot, but three trails of the jack picked up a four, a seven and a two, so Ponteland might have felt a little hard done by when we won 18-14.

The pairs were up against an excellent pairing and after edging a lead through most of the first half saw the lead disappear with a strong run of seven shots in three ends.  But from 7-12 down after 13 ends we came back to lead 13-12 after 16.  Ponteland then scored a single and the last end, played with the score at 13-13, finished with a no-shot as Craig’s final wood finished agonisingly short of being shot; with each side winning nine ends it absolutely could not have been closer.  Whether it was a point gained (from 7-12) or a point dropped (from 13-12) was a moot point – it was a cracking game all the same, and of course the overall score was 7-1 in our favour.   This was a great result away against a strong team.  In recent seasons we have been on the wrong end of those scores despite often playing well, so it was satisfying to see the cookie crumbling our way this time.

Things didn’t get any easier by the Friday night, as we were again playing away, this time to an even stronger side in the shape of New Delaval.  The weather in Blyth was quite bright, with thankfully light winds, but most of us were still wrapped in three or four layers – unlike a couple of the local lads, who obviously relished the balmy single-digit temperatures in short sleeves.

The fours started with a couple of good ends, notably scoring a four on the third end with a nice take-out; sadly, the New Delaval skip did the same thing on the next end to score a five, and that pattern became even more pronounced as the night wore on.  It was one of those games where the result becomes obvious soon after half-way, and no matter what our four did the opposition did it better.  It was just a steady compilation of ones and twos, to give a result of 10-23.

Both the triples and pairs were in with a shout until the very end. The triples match had a very even start, with each side having their first three scoring ends as 1,2 and 3, in that order.  From 6-6 we fell behind to 7-14, then in three ends levelled at 14-all after 15 ends.  But by tight margins New Delaval squeezed us out on each of the last three ends, so that we lost 14-17.  The pairs had a similar story, recovering from 1-9 to reach 9-9 after 12 ends and actually go into the lead 10-9. But at that point a dropped four gave the home team some breathing space and they held on to that three-shot advantage to the end: Darren was left with a death or glory shot with his final bowl, and it finished as death (13-16).

Overall we could comfort ourselves with the thought that this was a very strong team playing on a green that they all knew very well. We certainly weren’t disgraced.  Neither were the ladies, who travelled to Burradon in the Collins and Shipley league, and despite fearsome opposition ended up losing two rinks by six shots each and the third by 11.  Considering the serial success of Burradon over the years this was not a bad effort at all, and it was a pleasure to play on such a lovely green.

The final match to report in a busy week was the West Tyne match against Allen Valley.  We may joke about the cold weather in Blyth, but Tynedale was no place for the faint-hearted on Thursday night, and those rinks that got a move on almost certainly had one eye on the cup of tea afterwards.  Brian Elstob’s rink had a big win which almost sealed the bonus points on its own; Steve Bennett’s left it late before nosing in front while Trevor’s rink was coasting before being ambushed and had to rely on a good final end to stay in front; Mark’s rink had to contend with Penny and Sam Little, and although they played well it was generally agreed that the Allen Valley team played even better, to win by several shots.  Overall, then, we won three rinks, and (with a 69-47 shots margin) by 6-1 on league points.

Cautious optimism seems to be the watchword at this very early point in the season.  We’re not going to win every game, by any means, but with the enthusiasm of our new or returning players our team spirit is second to none.  It’s going to be an enjoyable summer.