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…