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.