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.