Author Archives: Fields

About Fields

We are a retired couple who lost our only grandchild, Grace, at the age of ten weeks. We would like to share our memories of Gracie, but especially our experience of bereavement.

A Summer Game?

Whether or not this turns out to be a record month for June rainfall, there seems never to be a day without rain. There is a particular irony in the fact that work started last week on the installation of our new irrigation system – ah well, at least it forced us to tidy the shed.

On Tuesday night, over in North Shields, it was the temperature that was the big feature as we ventured out of the changing room for a Nines match against Collingwood. The pairs certainly caught their hosts cold, picking up three fours and a five on the way to a 28-5 lead which was only slightly dented by the loss of a late five, so that a score of 30-12 was not flattering at all. The triples took longer to assert control, with neither side more than two shots in front until the half-way point (7-6 in our favour). Winning three of the next four ends put our team 13-7 ahead, at which point a random six for Collingwood levelled the scores with only four ends to play. The team remained so calm that you would never have guessed they had just lost a big count, and three ends later they went into the last end seven shots ahead, making the eventual 20-14 win look like a formality.

Meanwhile, the fours managed to control not only the conditions but also a determined opposition. In a rather low-scoring game, they were behind only on one early end (3-4), but never extended the lead to more than three, though in fact that margin occurred several times (8-5, 10-7, 12-9, 13-10). So for all the narrowness of the game, and the eventual 13-11 margin, they were clearly on top the whole time. The outstanding statistic of the night was still that the temperature was in single figures in the middle of June, but overall, an 8-0 win made the conditions bearable.

June was doing its best to imitate November the next night, too. The home match in the Clegg league went ahead – much to the surprise of our visitors from Astley Park – on the basis of a green inspection and total trust in an array of weather forecasts which proved to be very accurate in that rain arrived an hour or so after we finished. Not that it was totally pleasant out there, and we should thank in particular those who agreed to turn out at short notice when we were struggling to make a team.

As it happened, the teams worked together very well. Big wins (33-8 and 27-9) on two rinks made sure of the bonus points, with our complete dominance shown by winning 17 and 15 of the 21 ends respectively. It would be easy (and accurate) to say that the results here were never in doubt, but in fact after nine ends, at a point when the second rink was 13-4 ahead, our third rink was 13-3 in the lead and theoretically even more of a cert to win. However, that’s when 13 proved to be the “graveyard” it is known as in bowling circles, and Astley Park proceeded to win seven ends on the trot to lead by two shots. It’s as well the match wasn’t 18 ends, as we were still two down, but after drawing level with one end to go we scored two on the last to win 18-16.

The fourth and last rink was also well down, on paper at least, as they neared the end of the match, but here the opponents had an advantage by virtue of having only two players , each bowling three woods. The penalty was a loss of a third of the score, so after 16 ends, and the score at 10-15 on the board, it was actually a dead heat. Once again we proved to have more staying power, and despite slipping behind by one (or more precisely, two-thirds of a shot) on the next end a couple of solid threes meant that the final score was 17-17 on the night, translated into a win by something over five shots after the penalty. So here we were with a 14-0 win in terms of league points, pushing up into top place in the table. Once again, the blend of old hands and newer league players worked well, and thanks are due to all for turning out so cheerfully on a dismal night.

The ladies had seen their match at Gosforth postponed in the afternoon, and once the rain set in overnight on Wednesday it became pretty clear that we should call off the West Tyne game against Alston. This was in part precautionary, bearing in mind the number of players, the distance travelled by our opponents, and the good chance of rescheduling. However, the green had in fact held up well in the rain, as shown by Steve Bennett and Shelagh Carter playing and winning their County Mixed Pairs that night (23-13): this puts them in the quarter-final. Earlier in the week Shelagh and Jean had had a very good win in an early round of the pairs, while at the weekend Jean, Susan and Betty reached the final of the triples with a 16-13 win in the semi-final against a team from Ponteland. These successes clearly made up for any lack of action in the league!

There were mixed fortunes in the County competitions for the men. Philip and Craig lost to a notable pair from Newbiggin in the pairs. In singles competitions we had the unusual situation of two of our players (last year’s finalists) each playing someone from Morpeth St George’s. Steve Bennett went to Morpeth and won in the Open Singles, while Brian Elstob was at home to the very experienced Phil Harvey in the Champion of Champions. Brian certainly wasn’t disgraced, and the match went to 23 ends, of which he won 11. But it was a classic example of the old mantra about needing to secure second shot, especially in singles. Brian may have won 11 ends but they all came as singles, whereas his opponent had won four ends before scoring less than two, and by this point was already into double figures. As it happens, Morpeth St George’s are our opponents on Tuesday in the next round of the Top Club competition – eleven-a-side, and we can only hope that the temperature is into double figures as well…

“Top Draw” Performance

One of the oddities about bowls, and one which we have commented on several times over the years, is the way that almost every league involves a different scoring system, while even the various knock-out competitions organised by, say, Bowls England have different formats too. This week was a perfect example of the variations.

The ladies had a tough-looking fixture against Bedlington Dr Pit in the Collins & Shipley league, but got off to a good start, with two rinks leading 6-0 and 7-0 respectively after four or five ends – the picture was only partly spoiled by the third rink being 0-6 down at the same point. This last score was against the best of the Bedlington rinks, and things continued to slide so that at half-way we were 2-15 down. But as it happened one of the other rinks were trouncing the opposition by a remarkably similar score, so that the overall position on those two rinks was 18-17 in our favour. From then on our losing rink did well to limit and indeed restrict the deficit, so that our advantage on these two unbalanced rinks grew even more by the end. But at the same time our third rink saw their early lead whittled away until it disappeared altogether just before the end. The result of all this was that we won just one rink but also – crucially – managed to win the overall match on shots, thus getting the six point shots bonus and coming away with an 8-4 win. This was an excellent result, and with the two teams above us playing each other it should – barring a very unlikely set of scores – be enough to lift us off the bottom of the table. It was only the third case of an 8-4 scoreline in the 17 C&S results recorded so far this season.

There was even rarer result in the Nines league, played against Benfield in steady but bearable rain on Tuesday. The temptation was there to agree on a game of 11 ends before we started, but we took a chance on it – just as well, as at the 11-end mark we were leading by one shot on one rink and losing by a shot or two on the others! Most of the second half was tight as well, but the pairs drew ahead against a strong Benfield pair for a good 16-11 win. The fours had seemed to be in line for a great win, 13-13 after 14 ends, but then inexplicably gave away two fives and a three so that it finished with a most misleading 14-26 scoreline. One-all!

By this time you could just make out the players on the green, but the triples fought on, going into the last end one down, and then lying two until the Benfield skip promoted a bowl to make it one in our favour. It was now one of those situations where you have to either accept the draw or go for the win with a chance of failure; Matthew bravely tried to play their second shot out to restore the two-shot margin, but it was too tricky and we had to settle for a draw after all. So (with one end having been burned) here we were after 19 ends, all square on a rink that made the whole match level. The two-point bonus for winning most rinks was therefore split and the overall score was 4-4 – only the second occurrence in 35 Nines league results this season.

After these close games based on some very different rink performances, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to see a repeat performance in the West Tyne game against Hexham House A. Here two of our rinks went well ahead early on, but a glance at the other scoreboards showed that the overall game was actually going away from us. One of our winning rinks found themselves being caught, but held on well for a 17-14 win, while the other had a great night, racking up a 35-5 win, which might have been more but for a strange episode on the fifteenth end where each side thought they had agreed on a different number of shots. Two to us? Three? Without VAR there was no way of proving anything, so we settled for two.

It was pretty inevitable what was going to happen next. Despite this massive win, our other two rinks each lost by fairly large margins, though between them managed to score a vital three shots on the last end. And after the final scores were added it turned out as 72-72, so that the three points for shots had to be split, with the rinks also being split two-each. This result of 3.5-3.5 was the first time this season in the West Tyne, and there was just one such score in the whole of last season, so we really were into a run of rare or unique results!

These two drawn league games were remarkable, but at least in the Top Club competition against New Delaval the rules made clear that there cannot be a draw in any of the disciplines. In this best-of-five set-up it quickly became clear that the fours would struggle, and after levelling to 3-3 after just two ends they found the green as hard to tame as their opponents and fell way behind. Meanwhile Keith (Two) Woods fought really hard against his young opponent and would have beaten an awful lot of people, but still found himself going into the last of the 21 ends level – so it was “best of one end”, and Keith was just pipped to it. We were now two-nil down with the pairs level and the triples behind, having trailed for just about the whole game.

But the fat lady hadn’t even cleared her throat! Craig was keeping quite close, and so were the pairs, while the triples had been 4-11 down but playing ok, as proved by a five that followed. They then slipped a bit, but managed to be two behind with three ends to play, and then just one down with two to play. The penultimate end seemed to be going against us, but the opposition shot bowl was in such a strong position that it limited our options to one perfect strike, rather like those you see on TV when the commentator uses arrows to show what would happen in the best of all worlds. And of course, it duly came off, to give us a three and leave us two ahead. With the opposition now deflated and worried we took over on the last end, with front shots and even a precision blocker, and won in the end by five.

Meanwhile, over on the singles rink both players were giving it everything, not just in their play but in terms of the exuberant shouting (“Clean!”… “Drop!”… “Whiiiiite!”) and after slugging it out with great bowls on both sides Craig came through for a narrow but deserved win, to make it 2-2 overall. At this point Steve and Malcolm were 21-each with two ends to play, then lost a one. On the last end they were lying two before the New Delaval skip reduced to it to one with his very last bowl. So it all came down to the last bowl of the night. Malcolm and Steve talked about it for a long time, Malcolm thought about it for even longer, and the (by now) significant audience all had their own thoughts about what he might do. And finally a backhand rolled up the green to make the plant that Steve had advised, pushing one of our bowls in for a two and a one-shot win on the last end.

It really was a bit of a smash-and-grab win, as just twenty minutes earlier the home team might have been really confident of at least 3-2 and probably better. It was also one of the most exciting finishes we had all been involved in – after about 1250 bowls in the course of the night it all came down to the last one – well, at least it didn’t go to an extra end! It also meant that on three separate nights of the week the overall result in a match went to the very last bowl of the match. It’s also worth recording that the New Delaval lads were very fair and sporting throughout, even with the disappointment at the end, and contributed hugely to a really great night of bowls.  We now have a home tie against Morpeth St George’s on 18 June, in what is effectively, and unofficially, the Northumberland final for this competition.

Meanwhile, to return to the ladies, Jean, Susan and Betty had a very good and gutsy win in the County Triples against a strong Morpeth team, and the week was shaping up nicely. So after all that, it was a big anti-climax to have the Challenge Cup postponed on Saturday – the semi-final round was due to be held on our green, but heavy overnight rain, with more forecast, meant there was only a minimal chance of getting through the day. No one in any of the teams involved expressed any disappointment, anyway, and the day is to be re-scheduled for 22 June. If we have any more excitement like this week’s we’ll all be worn out by then…

Long to Rain Over Us

Apologies for the late posting this week – there is a lot going on as we move into June. But we can still review the last week of last month.

May is a famously unpredictable month in terms of weather, and the local conditions played a large part in our games that week. On Sunday, for instance, we set off in the morning for our Top Club match in Whitley Bay in light rain, and the promise of a few more hours as the rain tracked across from the west behind us. In the event, we got there as the sun came out, and had a lovely couple of hours with only the wind as a hindrance – the match report for that game was given last week.

The next day the club held its Queens Cup event in the afternoon, with all manner of outfits to meet the standard of red, white and blue garb. The winners were Susan MacDonald, Mark Terry and Michael Slade, a new member who must now think that winning things is par for the course.

By the time tea had finished the rain had started, which was bad news for the Senior Fours team playing against Rothbury. The bowls were immediately leaving trails of spray, and it was just a question of heaving them up the green more in hope than expectation. (There was general agreement that we didn’t need to chalk any touchers, as the chances of anything going into the ditch, even straight from the hand, were so small.) It was a pretty dismal night, compounded by a bad result – from pretty much level pegging at half way our team collapsed, losing just about every end thereafter, never by a lot but always enough. The Rothbury lads simply adjusted to conditions that much better, especially the way that the green changed pace as it got drier with use, and deserved the win.

The Clegg League game against Centurion Park was also played in light but incessant rain, with players spending as much time drying their woods as bowling them. We had a strong team out, but for reasons that may or may not have been rain-related, we struggled on all rinks. One rink won by three shots, having lost a 9-4 lead to go 10-14 down with five ends to go, before winning all five of those for 17-14. A second rink won 16-14 in a game where neither side led by more than three shots, with that lead of three lasting only for one end. Our third rink lost by five, having been behind basically the whole match, and hardly managing to score more than one shot on any winning end. So with two narrow wins and a slighter wider loss we were all square on shots. With Craig’s rink struggling early on, winning only four of the first 11 ends and trailing 10-11, things were looking as bleak as the weather, but from this point on they lost only one more shot, and 12 shots on the last four ends produced a healthy score of 31-12, with that 19-shot margin of course being the overall difference on shots. The league points tally was therefore 12-2 in our favour, but in truth that scoreline bears no resemblance to what happened on the green., and for a long time it looked as if the points were heading back down the A69. Division 5 was supposed to be an easy entry point for us, but it is proving much more difficult than anticipated.

Earlier in the day the ladies had played at Alnwick in rather better, though still not ideal, weather. The result was another 2-10 defeat, but once again the actual margins on the green were not that great, with the overall shots deficit just nine over the three rinks. As usual, they gave it a really good go, and no doubt will find that the exposure to this higher level improves the standard even if it doesn’t always lift morale at the time!

By Thursday the weather was still pretty miserable, and the West Tyne game against Haltwhistle had to be postponed. By mid-afternoon the green was starting to be a bit spongy, and the forecast was for more rain in the evening. At this point the chances of damage to the green, or injury to players, were growing, and it simply wasn’t worth the risk of wasting everyone’s time to come to a match that might well be called off half-way through.

Conditions remained very mixed into the next week, but we’ll leave that for the next post, hopefully more in line with our regular schedule…

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.

 

Final(s) Report

It always happens.  We put so much effort into preparing the green and the administrative side of the club, and start off the season looking at a long list of fixtures.  Then, at a certain point in August, it suddenly dawns that the season is just about over again.  If only the season could be stretched out a bit, to make it less frantic…

One of the obvious signs of nearing the end is the last league fixture for Bowls Northumberland, a home match against Ponteland.  It reflects on the packed schedule this year that having just the one Nines game in the week was a remarkable event.   The triples set off at a gallop, 11-1 up after five ends and 16-1 after seven.  As so often happens, however, the dominant team eased off slightly, with the opponents also making a comeback.  This revival was kept well under control, though, and although Ponteland outscored us slightly in the second half we were safe for a 22-13 win.

The fours also got off to a solid start, 4-1 ahead after five ends and then 8-1 after eight, but obviously that score relied on a lot of singles.  That was to be the downfall, as two ends later Ponteland had brought it back to 8-6, after which we scored just two more singles in the last eight ends to lose 10-15.

Apart from a brief early flicker when they won the first two ends the pairs were always struggling to impose themselves.  After five ends the score was 2-3, which already showed how Ponteland were starting to be consistent, and five ends later it was 5-13.  That was where the damage was done, clearly, as the margin of difference stayed much the same, for an eventual loss by 10-18.

Yet another 2-6 defeat!  That was a depressingly familiar scoreline this year – exactly half of the 22 matches (and six of the last eight) finishing that way.   Once again in this match the number of shots (42-46) showed that it wasn’t a walloping, but the ability to win two out of three rinks has just been beyond us.  Like the Team Sky cyclists we need some “marginal gains” to push up to another level.

A marginal gain in the form of one more shot would probably have allowed us to win the West Tyne Gala Day on Sunday.  With each club playing two triples games against each other club, and the result not clear until after the fifth and final round of games, it transpired that we finished second on seven (out of ten) points, with Hexham House A winning the event with eight points.  In fact, their only loss was to ourselves, but apart from losing to the other Hexham House team we drew 10-10 with Allen Valley – the only drawn match of the day and coincidentally the lowest aggregate score of the day as well.  But any small disappointment was offset by the fact of having done the League and Cup double – quite enough for one club to take home!

Events later in the week produced the chance of another double in the Ladies’ County competitions, as both Susan and Jean reached the final of the Champion of Champions, in 2-wood and 4-wood respectively.  This in itself was quite an achievement for one club. The finals were played simultaneously at Alnwick on a sunny morning and a lovely green.

Jean was two down after two ends but after then levelling went well ahead thanks to a four on the first full-length jack she played.  Since she had won the quarter-final and semi by 21-2 in each game, playing long jacks, it was a surprise that the jack length here varied so much – but if it was a ploy to unsettle her opponent it worked very well, and from 10-3 she moved to 15-7 without any alarums.  At this point there was some unexpected turbulence as a result of dropping two consecutive threes, and it needed a good saving shot to cut a potential four on the next end to two.  That made it 15-15, but whatever Jean said to herself at this point (and we were glad it was Saturday morning, not Sunday) she moved on to 19-15, just failing to score a two on the next end but rounding off with a four on the last for a convincing and deserved win.

On the next rink Susan started really slowly and was 1-7 down after just five of the 21 ends.  It proved difficult to get any real momentum but at least the game became more even, so that after 13 ends it was 7-12.  All the while, it seems, Susan was applying some good sports psychology, based on focus and concentration (apparently the role model was Harry Kane taking penalties) and with her opponent rather too willing to chase the shot – always a risk in the two-bowl game – she came back to 11-13 after 16 ends and 13-13 on end later.  Game on!

With one shot apiece on the next two ends it was 14-14 before a score of two took Susan to the brink of victory, 16-14 up and lying shot on the last end.  At this point the Amble player finally made a heavy shot count, and somehow nicked two, to level the scores and force an extra end.  Susan lost the toss but for some strange reason her opponent handed the jack over, and (helped by Harry Kane) Susan put her first bowl close enough to put pressure on immediately.  This time there was no escape for her opponent, and Susan was the new champion.

Well done, both!  And after a season when not everything has turned out perfectly let’s end our final match report with what we can with good reason call a winning smile!  See you in 2019…

cofc2018

We (don’t quite) have lift-off!

In the week that Nasa launched a space probe that for the first time would touch the Sun we failed to achieve much of a lift-off in the Nines fixture with Hexham House. And you wouldn’t have known there was such a thing as the sun either.

The fours did give us an initial boost, especially in the very early stages when they went to 8-1 after five ends. They were then more than matched by the home team, so that after the next five ends the scores were dead level at 10-10. Things got very tight after that, with an unusual run of five singles, so that after 15 ends we were 12-13 down. But to the great credit of the group a strong finish meant that we won the game 17-13. That meant three consecutive wins for Ken as skip of the fours.

The triples might have been confident of doing well, and managed to reach a lead of 9-7 before a couple of dropped threes made it more of a struggle. There were still six ends left, but sadly we had the unique experience of two consecutive no-shot ends – no amount of space-probing could separate the bowls – and that made the “run rate” much more challenging. Those close ends did show that we competed hard, but the outcome was decided on the penultimate end and a three on the last was no real consolation: we lost 12-19.

For the pairs it really was a question of “Houston, we have a problem!” as the pattern of the first five ends (1-6) was exactly matched by the second lot to reach 2-12. Parity on the next five did make it 5-15 but that was really as good as it got, with a 6-19 score to finish. For at least the third time this season Geoff Lamb was the architect of a defeat, and at this rate will have us all nervously scanning the team sheets in future fixtures.

After losing to Hexham House, whose season in the Nines competition has not been brilliant, we were apprehensive about the visit of New Delaval for a rearranged fixture on Thursday. New kids on the block last year, they have done very well this season, sitting in third position before their game with us and definitely still in with a chance of winning the league – quite some achievement.

The match started a little late as they had been held up in traffic, though judging by appearances it was hard to imagine that they had enough players old enough to drive. Even with a father-and-son combination their fours team were on aggregate about two hundred years younger than ours, and overall it was certainly the youngest team we have ever played. Perhaps that was why they were also startlingly noisy, talking among themselves during play and carrying on conversations between rinks that weren’t even adjacent.

In fairness, they could also play extremely well, as shown by the fours side, who hit the ground running and had our own rink 1-14 behind after just six ends. This had the makings of a cricket score, but gradually we came back into it, stemming the haemorrhage to make it 4-16 after ten ends, and then sharing shots again over the next five to reach 7-19. As darkness descended the last three ends were even more profitable for us, and eight more shots meant a final score of 15-19, with the guys ruing the tentative start.

The pairs were even more of a “nearly” team. They started well enough but then dropped some shots so that after ten ends it was just 7-8 in favour of the visitors. Some high scores for both teams in the next phase meant the deficit grew to 12-17 with three ends to play, but another late surge saw our pair come up to 17-18 by the end – that one-shot defeat meaning we had lost the fixture but in view of the quality of the opposition it was a really good performance on the night.

The triples seemed to be heading for a tanking, 1-8 down after five ends and struggling to catch the pace of the green. However, largely due to some excellent bowls from skip Steve Bennett we clawed our way back, much to the frustration of New Delaval, so that after ten ends it was 7-8. They then scored three but we immediately countered with a  good six to go ahead – at which point the momentum shifted entirely. Steve’s fine form continued, and we went into the last end five ahead, eventually winning 19-17.

Once again we had lost 2-6 on points – a remarkably consistent trend this year. But just as in the opening match of the season at New Delaval, where a 2-6 defeat was only 42-45 on shots, so this one was just 51-54 on shots. Three shots in both games against a team that – even after we pinched two points last night – are still in with a theoretical chance of winning the league! Despite our poor league run the results have not generally been hammerings, but very often narrow shots defeats. Apart from the obvious suspects in Gosforth and Backworth, only Ponteland have beaten us 8-0 – so we really have to try to ensure we get something next Tuesday from our last league game of the season, against Ponteland at home.

By which time Nasa’s Parker probe will be rather nearer the Sun, eventually travelling at about 430,000 mph. That would be London to Newcastle in just over two seconds – or, if you struggle with that comparison, about the same speed as one of Darren’s piledrivers!

Non-stop Bowls

Image result for treadmillEvery year we wait for the outdoor season, and when it starts we’re itching to get as many games as possible. Then, as fixtures accumulate, it soon seems like time for a breather. But when – as this week – there are competitive games every day, it definitely feels like a treadmill.

First up were Benfield, riding high in the league, in third place before our match, and with some notable players like Jim Taylor, formerly of Ponteland. By the end of the evening we rather wished he had stayed at Ponteland, as he had a great game in the pairs and was largely responsible for the Benfield win.

The pairs had a rather rural feel, with Woods, Field and Hill all taking part. The bowls was anything but agricultural, with some really tight heads. We were unlucky to be 0-5 down after five ends, but couldn’t complain about a terrific end from the visitors which earned five and left us 3-13 behind. From this point things improved, and at 10-14 with five ends left there was hope, but we then seemed to run out of puff. Overall it’s fair to say the visitors were better, but not 14-21 better.

The fours also had reason to say that the losing margin (12-21) was a bit harsh. They actually won almost as many ends as Benfield, but in our case almost every end was a single. The notable exception was when Steve prodded the jack through to the back to score a three and take us into a 7-6 lead. Unfortunately, it was like prodding a wasps’ nest, and Benfield were soon swarming all over us – in no time at all it was 7-16, and then 9-20.

The triples followed the trend of the other teams early on, going 1-7 down after five ends, improving to 8-12 after ten and then slumping to 11-16 after fifteen ends. At this point a two improved things but could not have prepared anyone for what happened next – a six on the penultimate end to make it 19-16 with one end to play. In fact, the Benfield skip hit our collection of six bowls pretty hard, but his wood somehow managed to run through and away without taking any of ours out. He also then had the last bowl of the match, with Benfield lying two shots and with his bowl potentially making it a draw, but he fell short, so we at least picked up two points on the night – a really gutsy performance.

It seemed no time at all before most of us met up again for the scheduled game against Cramlington. The fours started well with a six on the third end, and they looked after that lead all the way through with the minimum of fuss. Ken Hurst, skipping in a league match for the first time in a couple of years, has a tactical sense second to none, and it paid off here – or maybe the opposition were in awe of his multi-coloured hat.

So that was two points in the bag. The pairs started well, and needed to as the opposition were quickly out of the blocks. It was 3-2 after five ends, and then we started to pull away, reaching 11-3 after eight ends. On the next end we had a bowl touching the jack, so the Cramlington skip (the villain of the piece in our post of 9 June) blasted it, sending the jack literally up and over the back bowls, into the ditch for a three. We promptly made it 12-6, but from then on the visitors won five ends, almost all by a single shot, to reach 12-12 going into the last. Keith drew two good shots, at which point the other lead followed orders to ditch the jack, and did so. Another promoted bowl stopped just short of the ditch, and getting rid of this proved too much of an ask. A most unlikely 12-14 defeat left us shell-shocked.

This meant the triples had to win to give us a match win. The rink here meant that any wide bowls stayed very wide while anything tight pulled away inside the line. It had been a close game throughout, with our three overcoming an early deficit to lead 9-6 after ten ends. Things drifted away after that, however, and over the next five ends Cramlington scored eight shots to one, eventually going into the last end with a 19-14 lead. Maybe inspired by the thought of the previous night’s win our front end put several good bowls in and we found ourselves lying four shots with two still to come from Darren, but – just like his opposite number the previous night – he left both of them short, and we lost the game by one shot.

The result of this final anti-climax on two rinks meant that we lost yet another match 2-6 even though we would have won on shots, with the added irritation of knowing that just a couple of successful bowls could have made it a tie or even an 8-0 win for ourselves. It felt a bit like football matches where there is a winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time – but the result stands, and usually it’s full credit to the team that keeps going to the end, which the Cramlington pairs certainly did. It’s worth remembering that after ten ends we were leading 32-15, and while that is a great come-back from the visitors there has to be some concern about our own concentration.

The next night was a case of “It’s Wednesday, so it must be Throckley” – another catch-up game, this time against a team below us in the league with only two wins out of 19. So was it simply tiredness, or was there a touch of complacency as we saw the visitors go ahead on two rinks early on? Certainly the fours showed no weakness, with Ken again skipping and guiding the team to a lead which increased on a steepening gradient, all the way to finishing 24-9 with the minimum of fuss.

The triples found their game to be an uphill struggle, and took a while to get going. They were 3-4 down after five ends and this had slipped to 7-9 after ten. Once they reached parity at 12-12 and then edged ahead 13-12 after fifteen ends the mood was set, however, and a run of 3,5,1 on the last three ends made it 22-12.

The pairs also struggled badly to find the pace early on, losing three threes so that it was 6-6 after six and 9-9 after nine. It got even worse with another dropped shot on the next end, but at 9-10 they scored a seven, and then a few more ends on the bounce, so that Throckley won only one of the last eight ends and the match finished 23-11 in our favour.

The 8-0 score was fair enough in view of our overall dominance, but that slow start was worrying. After five ends we were 11-13 down over the three rinks; after ten ends it was just 26-25 in our favour; then, with a turbo-charged start to the second half, it was 54-30 by fifteen ends and 70-32 by the end of the match. Definitely one that will look easier on paper than it was on the grass. And we knew we would definitely have to play better at Haltwhistle the next night in the final of the West Tyne Cup, against Hexham House A.

It was a lovely evening at the centre of Great Britain, albeit with a chill in the breeze. One of the Hexham House rinks was considerably better than the other two, and Trevor’s rink definitely drew the short straw here. After a couple of ends Hexham House were leading thanks to a couple of lucky wicks (made worse by the opposition’s applause!) but thereafter there could be no complaints about the way we were mauled. The Hexham House lead played a blinder, while we merely looked peeky. A five on the seventeenth end took us into double figures at least, but the 11-22 score said it all.

Equally, Darren’s rink was ahead all the way, and did get to 22-2 before the opposition came back into the game a bit. Indeed, they pulled things back to reach 22-12, but by that stage there were only a few ends left and they didn’t have much left in the tank. Brian and Steve were just too accurate all through to allow any serious damage, and the result was genuinely never in doubt.

Malcolm’s rink was, for a while, the closest affair, with a score of 4-3 after six ends. After this we were able to open up a lead, and although Hexham House kept on trying, more than once lying two or three shots as the head developed, some excellent pinpoint bowls by Mark and Malcolm nicked the shot several times when the most that one might have expected was a good second. The lead increased to 11-3 after ten ends, then 17-6, and the teams shook hands after seventeen ends. With that the Cup was secured – a nice League/Cup double in 2018. And to make things even better, there was no game on the Friday!