Our early-season promise has turned out to be more like the famous promise on NHS funding recently made by a senior politician and soon re-defined as “a series of possibilities”.
One of the possibilities was a rapid bounce back to the top division of the Collins and Shipley, but this hope was dented by a disappointing visit to Forest Hall. The match started off well enough, and by the half-way mark Sylvia’s rink was 10-4 ahead with the other two rinks one shot up and one shot down. But having started as if we were the home team we fell away badly after that. It was hard to see what went wrong. Certainly on Sylvia’s rink there was a problem with short bowls – consistently nine of the first 12 bowls were short of the jack – but that of course affected both skips, so it wasn’t the sole reason. The pace of the green changed after one really heavy shower, but again that was the same for everyone.
Betty’s rink was always competitive while Thelma and Jean had notably good games at either end of their rink, but somehow in the second half the game drifted away on every rink. After five ends we were collectively half a dozen shots ahead, after ten ends that had been reduced to a couple, and by fifteen ends it was 41-42 against. The last three ends continued the graph, so that with Jean’s rink scrambling a draw and the other two rinks being four and five shots down it was another league loss.
On the previous night the men had also suffered on the road, facing strong opposition just down the road at Backworth. The fours had a torrid time, and would have given anything to have stopped the game after four ends, when they were 5-2 ahead. Unfortunately, they then lost the next eleven ends, conceding 32 shots with some very big numbers, and then another four towards the end even as they scored a couple to make it 7-38. The Backworth green is notoriously two-paced, but the fours clearly had bigger problems than that.
The pairs were soon 0-10 down, and although they then got into their stride the damage had been done, so that although they matched the scores after that the final score was 11-22, thus giving Backworth the bonus points. The triples for some reason got off to a flier, going 10-2 ahead and clearly getting the home side rattled by some pretty elementary tactics such as taking the mat up the green. Quite why it worked so well we couldn’t make out, but it did. The score continued to mount up, and at 16-7 with two ends to go it seemed a formality – until late panic set in, and Backworth sensed a chance to grab an unlikely win. They scored four on each of the last two ends, but we clung on for a 16-15 win. To have lost that wouldn’t just have been falling away; it would have been falling off a cliff. The overall shots tally on the night didn’t look pretty, but in the Nines that doesn’t matter: at least we came away with two precious league points.
After that result it seemed that John Lambert might be trying some new motivational technique when he turned up to take half the team to Alnwick for the Challenge Cup final, with the car radio playing a song called “Don’t Give Up”. But no, it was just one of his favourites, even if the next one on the playlist seemed to be preparing for a dejected journey home: “Don’t Speak”.
As it happened, the motivation wasn’t much required. As in the semi-finals last month the A team performed consistently better than the B team, but the important thing was that the B team never lost by very many shots at all. They lost the first two games (out of five) by four and three shots, then were down by three and two in the last two games of the day. Both teams lost to Willington Quay in the middle game of the day (irritatingly, the only game that Willington Quay won), but in three of the others the A team managed to win by sufficient shots to earn an overall victory. These winning margins were mostly very small indeed, but each one earned two points, and then with the last game came a 14-2 win which lifted our shots margin to +13.
Standing around for the presentation we noticed a smile from the County officials, but even then it was a genuine and total shock to hear that we had finished as runners-up behind hosts Alnwick. Since Elvaston has never won the Challenge Cup since its inception in 1932 we can safely say that this must at least equal the best performance in that competition.
Special thanks are due to Brian Elstob, who stood in as a replacement at very late notice (as in: 10 pm, the night before). We can only hope that his enforced change of plans will be compensated by the large coffee and walnut cake he had otherwise planned to take to a friendly match on the Saturday.
This good result followed Friday’s news that Jean, Betty and Susan had reached the semi-final of the Benevolent triples (to be held, with the final, on Tuesday 19 July), and of course those three, with Shelagh, are going to Leamington as winners of the County fours. Shelagh and Jean are both in the County final of the ladies’ singles, and therefore both going to Leamington, where Jean will also be playing in the two-wood competition. Altogether, and bearing in mind the difficulty we have in putting together teams from time to time, the club is definitely punching above its weight. Don’t give up…