Wednesday, March 07, 2012

And it is on to New Horizons

With a bit of trepidation I have started a new independent blog to this one so I hope to relieve Bob of having to upload all my postings - I have just launched it tonight - follow me at where hopefully I will continue to post items of curling information that will be of interest. And over the ensuing weeks maybe I will be able to play about with the design as well!! Look out for news from the ECA Mixed Championship this coming weekend at Fenton's

Sunday, February 12, 2012

And this week the snow stayed away

The weekend after the English Men’s Championships escaped from being snowbound by an early finish, the English Women’s Championship went all the way through from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon as two teams battled for their trip to Sweden. A light flurry of snow on Sunday morning as the teams arrived at the rink came to nothing and battle continued.

Mind you when we all left the rink on Friday evening it was -9 degrees and that was probably why the teams were wrapped up in multiple layers the following day having experienced the bitter cold on the ice the previous evening.

So who was playing? Well originally it had been going to be Anna Fowler’s Junior team against Fiona Hawker who had recruited a team older than herself this year since two of her team from last year had defected to the juniors. However, a mix up over dates saw two of Anna’s team drop out and she recruited her mother, Jules, to join Angharad Ward and Lauren Pearce in her team. Fiona had her lead from last year, Debbie Hutcheon, together with Susan Young and Alison Hemmings.

The first game was nip and tuck all the way and it was 3-3 after five ends (remember those numbers) but Fiona had last stone at the tenth and she used it to win 6-5. Game 2 on Saturday afternoon saw Fiona jump into a 3-1 lead before Anna pegged it back to 3-3 after five (again). It was still close at 5-4 to Anna after eight but a three for her at the ninth saw handshakes from Fiona and her team. So one game all.

Saturday evening and once again Fiona got the early jump to 3-0, but once again when it came to the fifth end break the score was….3-3! It was then 5-5 after eight and this time Fiona was unable to make last stone at the tenth count and a steal for Anna saw her win 7-5 and take a 2-1 lead overall.

Sunday morning and an early start for us all at 0900. This time it was Anna who got the early lead with a four at the third end and after five ends, for a change, it was 5-3 for her. But after six we were all square at 5-5 and then Fiona stole a big three to make it 8-5 after seven. However Anna was not done and got a two back at the eighth, which Fiona copied at the ninth to go into the last end 10-7 up without the hammer. A brave attempt by Anna to remove three of Fiona’s tightly packed stones to force the extra end just failed to come off and the one she scored was scant consolation for an 8-10 defeat.

And so it all came down to the fifth and deciding game and after four tense struggles it was a shame that Anna and her team ran out of steam in this one as Fiona raced into an 8-1 lead after five, a further single at the sixth leading to handshakes all round and a very relieved Fiona, Alison, Susan and Debbie celebrating their success and looking forward to Sweden in December.

It was Fiona’s fourth Championship victory, her first having been back in 2000 when she played with Joan Reed, while she also won it in 2002 (with Sarah Johnston) and then again last year as skip in her own right. In 2002 she was successful in getting a large sponsorship deal from Twinings Tea which helped them gain promotion to the European A Group at the Europeans in Grindelwald and then in 2003, when the same team had been unchallenged in the English Championships, she was thrown into skipping in that A Group when Sarah had to stay at home when she fell ill. A baptism of fire indeed. Again in 2004 she represented England in Sofia when there were no other English challengers.

For Anna and Angharad, having done so well in Moscow in December, it was a bitter disappointment for them to lose, and while Angharad still has Juniors to look forward to next season, and has memories of Innsbruck to keep her spirits up, Anna is now too old for Juniors. It will be a long year before she gets another chance to win the Championships, but she has time on her side and I am sure she will become one of England’s great champions in the future.

Top L-R: Fiona Hawker, Susan Young, Alison Hemmings, Debbie Hutcheon. Photo © John Brown.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Snow almost stops play

Of course we all know that the South of England has a great climate and it never snows very often, but when it does, it stops everything. Well, it nearly stopped the English Championships in its tracks this weekend and, but for a fortunate bit of programming, I think we would still be waiting to hear who had won this year’s English Men’s Championship.

The curling rink at Fenton’s sits on the border of Kent and East Sussex and, like many boundaries, this runs along a rivercourse. And of course rivercourses all lie at the bottom of valleys, which is where the problems occur because to get out of valleys you generally have to climb hills, which is why during Saturday evening’s session at the Championship worried spectators were periodically peering out of windows to see if the snow that was forecast had arrived.

Indeed it had started to fall as it was time to leave and the convoy of cars that wound up the lane to the A21 left distinct tracks on the flurry of snow that presaged the storm to come. By the early morning three to four inches had fallen and there was a curling session due at 0900 to settle the Championships, with a possible tie break at 1400.

Except there wasn’t, because the Championship had been won the previous evening just as the snow began to fall and, instead of a ski ride down the lane to the rink, a relieved group of curlers could begin to contemplate driving home.

And the piece of good fortune was that the draw for the seven team competition, which gave each team a bye in one of the sessions, had given the bye on the Sunday morning to the team which won all of its 6 games and so could not be caught. So it was a case of game over, shut up shop and let’s hope it clears up for Tuesday evening’s league games.

So who were the winners? Well the teams entered were the reigning champions, skipped by Alan MacDougall; the previous championship winning rinks of Jamie Malton and James Dixon / Bruce Bowyer; the English junior men’s team of Ben Fowler (with some overage help from brother Sam); John Brown’s team of Canadian English (see Bob’s Haggis report) skipped by Greg Dunn; Ken Maxwell’s team skipped by another Canadian, Bryan Zachary and a final multi-national team skipped by another Canadian, Doug Andrews, with Duncan Spence (ex-Lockerbie) throwing last stones (most of the time)! Probably the most cosmopolitan English Championships of all time.

For the first time at the National Championships the procedure followed the WCF rulebook with a pre-game practice and Last Stone Draw to decide the hammer and then at the end of the competition the use of the average LSD to decide ranking if unobtainable by the results in the round robin between the equal teams. Only one tie breaker was programmed and so any decision on who should be in a final tiebreaker could depend on the LSD results.

Thursday night and it was wins for Alan MacDougall (v Greg Dunn by 10-6), Doug Andrews (v Ben Fowler by 8-4) and for Jamie Malton (v Ken Maxwell by 10-7). Nothing unusual there but in the next session at 0930 on Friday morning it seemed as though Doug Andrews had caught Jamie Malton napping as it took an extra end to decide the game 11-10 in Malton’s favour. MacDougall beat Maxwell 8-3 and Dunn beat Dixon by 8-5.

Just an hour or so after the end of the session, for those playing slowly and long, it was back on and Sheet 1 threw up another extra end finish. After just three ends, James Dixon was 5-0 up on Alan MacDougall and a shock looked likely, but a thrilling comeback eventually saw MacDougall win 8-7 in the extra while Greg Dunn shocked Jamie Malton by winning 8-5 and an outrageous fluke helped Ben Fowler defeat Ken Maxwell 8-3.

An early finish on Friday but it was a full day on Saturday with, for some teams, three games to played between 0900 and 2200. The first session saw the game considered by many to be the most crucial one of the weekend, that between MacDougall and Malton, and the latter needed to win after losing to Dunn on the Friday. Jamie’s wife was expected to deliver their first child over the weekend and so he had to dash off to the hospital that morning leaving Michael Opel to skip the team. And what a game it was, finally decide by a great draw to catch the edge of the four foot by Alan for a 6-5 win.

So with four wins out of four it looked like the reigning champions would retain their title and only Greg Dunn could realistically hope to catch them if they slipped. He had recorded a 14-5 win over Ben Fowler while James Dixon won his first game by 8-6 over Doug Andrews.

Greg Dunn had the bye in the middle of Saturday and while he and his team were off enjoying a long lunch, a session which featured probably the least excitement of the day saw MacDougall beat Fowler 8-1, Maxwell win his first game by 14-5 over Andrews (though Ken Maxwell did not play in this game) and Malton got back on track with an 8-5 win over Dixon.

And so to the last session on Saturday, and with snow threatening to cut them off from their accommodation, James Dixon and his team forfeited their game against Ben Fowler as neither could win the title, leaving just Alan MacDougall and Greg Dunn to record further wins, and, by dint of winning six out of six, that was enough for Alan MacDougall, Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston and Tom Jaegii to win their third consecutive championship (and they have a win - loss record of 18-1 over those three years).

A quick drink and presentations and it was off into the wintry scenes and the convoy to safety………..

And what about the women’s Championship? It is next weekend and features just two teams – skipped by Fiona Hawker and Anna Fowler. There will be one game on Friday with two on Saturday and two if needed on Sunday. Look out for a follow up report next week.

Top L-R: Alan MacDougall, Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston and Tom Jaegii. Photo courtesy of Kerr Alexander.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Four Nations Report

An action packed Four Nations weekend kept everyone on tenterhooks right up to the last stone of the last end of the last of the thirty games as England’s ladies tried to squeeze one shot out of Ireland to win back the Turnbull Trophy. In a situation typical of the to-ing and fro-ing of the weekend the Irish had fought back from a twelve shot deficit after two games (5-7, 3-13) and, while their men had increased the deficit by losing by three shots following a spectacular triple raise double take-out from England, their ladies were holding a 15-0 lead to tie the match with their match-winning stone well guarded. With no repeat of the final stone on the next sheet forthcoming, an amazing turnaround was complete and Ireland won by 29-28, their third win in five years by the same one shot margin!

Ireland won just one more trophy when they beat Wales, also by one shot (25-24) in a match where, by comparison, all the games were close and two of the games ended up peels, both achieved by the same Irish skip.

It was seven years since Scotland last beat Ireland but they came out fighting this year and after two games (men and women) it was 19-8 in their favour. Unlike England, Scotland managed to hold on to their lead and actually extend it by two shots to win by 30-17.

It is only in the last few years that Wales have managed to consistently beat Scotland and they were the holders of the Big Bertha Curling Stone Trophy. The first session of games showed that they meant to retain the trophy as the scores were 12-1 (women) and 12-3 (men) for the Welsh and an amazing twenty shot deficit faced the Scots as their mixed teams took to the ice. While one team clawed back a couple of shots with a 12-10 win, the other could not find the 19 shots required and in fact lost by one to make the final score 43-24 for the Welsh.

The Welsh also held the Kay Trophy having beaten England on home soil in Kent last year and with three of their teams winning by close margins it looked like they might retain it but having performed heroics against Scotland, the Welsh ladies suffered against England, losing 1-14 and enabling England to regain the Kay Trophy, their only win of the weekend.

Scotland against England is the bedrock on which the Four Nations weekend is founded and the matches between the two retain the old format with men and women playing separately for two trophies and, as Andy Tanner, the Welsh President, pointed out at the dinner on Saturday evening, it has a long history with the Tom Ballantyne Trophy (for men) having been first presented in 1933, though of course matches between the two countries date back to the nineteenth century. The trophy, which the Scots won last year, was absent this weekend but the competition was as strong as normal. Eight games were played and after four it was 30-27 to the visitors. With one score still to come in it was still England leading by five shots but that last game saw the Scots turn that around with a 12-3 victory to retain the Trophy by 55-51.

The Connie Miller Trophy (which Connie originally won for a points competition at Crossmyloof in 1955) had spent the last year in my house following England’s thrilling win last year and after the first game it was on course to stay there as a close fought game ended up 7-7. After five ends of the second game it looked even more certain that it would be coming back South as the English led 5-3 but a late rally by Scotland produced a 9-5 win and an overall score of 16-12 to leave the trophy back in Scottish hands. For a short while!

Once again the staff at Greenacres did a marvellous job producing ice which stood up to two days of almost continuous curling and also a great carvery on Saturday evening at which the speeches were short and sweet. Thanks go to the Welsh Curling Association for the hospitality which should transfer to the Irish for 2013. I say 'should' but the likelihood is that it won’t – but not for any sinister reason.

Bill Gray, the Irish President, announced at a meeting on Saturday that they were hoping that a new ice rink in Dublin would be ready for curling next season and they would love to hold the Four Nations there, but he did not think it would be ready for January 2013. He asked if the Scots would consider swapping their hosting duty of 2014 to 2013 while the Irish took responsibility for 2014, either in Dublin (preferably) or elsewhere if that venue was not ready. The RCCC reps were going back to consult and a decision would be forthcoming soon, but Pat Edington, RCCC President, was fairly sure that the Irish wishes could be accommodated. Watch this space!

Fakery! This is NOT the Tom Ballantyne trophy. RCCC President Pat Edington and ECA President Alison Arthur act out the presentation, as if the real trophy was present. Scotland won the competition though. Well done to the five men's teams.

The Meikle Trophy, between Wales and Ireland, is contested by one men's, one women's and two mixed teams. Ireland won this by a shot. Bill Gray and Andrew Tanner.

England v Ireland play for the Turnbull Trophy, two mixed, one men's, one ladies' match, won by Ireland by one shot, again!

Andrew Tanner and Alison Arthur with the Kay Trophy for competition between Wales and England (one men's, one women's and two mixed teams). England retained this trophy.

The Marshall Millenium trophy is for the Scotland v Ireland competition. Two mixed, one men's and one women's team. Scotland won this.

Alison Arthur presents Claire McLaren with the Connie Miller trophy, played for between Scotland and England by two ladies teams. A Scottish win.

Big Bertha is for competition between Scotland and Wales, one men's, one ladies' and two mixed games. Wales won this again.

Photos are courtesy of Gill Maguire. Captions are by Bob Cowan.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Triumph of Experience over Youth

I remember when I won the RCCC Rink Championship with Graeme Adam back in 1971, the lead of the opposition team said at the presentation after the final that he knew it was time for him to give up as he had just been beaten by a team whose combined age was the same as his – 62. On that occasion youth triumphed. This year while playing in the ECA Mixed Doubles Championship I looked around and suddenly realised (after a quick mental calculation) that the combined age of the six juniors that were also on the ice was less than that of my partner and I combined!

But it was the team that was not on the ice at the time, a combination of experience and relative youth, who were the eventual victors in the English Mixed Doubles Championship at the weekend. John Sharp has won the last three English MD titles playing with Jane Clark, but Jane has decided to have some time off from curling and so John found himself a new partner in Lorna Rettig and they came to the Championships fresh from a win in the Wetzikon MD in Switzerland.

There were originally six entries for the Championship but unfortunately Nigel Patrick and Alison Hemmings had to withdraw when Nigel was admitted to hospital just a few days before, leaving John and Lorna, and myself and Jean Robinson to face the massed ranks of the Kent Juniors!

For the first time in the ECA, LSD was used to determine choice at the first end with each team having five minutes practice before throwing their draw. In the event of a tie for a play-off position the average LSD would be used instead of tiebreakers and so it was very important to get your draws close to the tee. With five teams in the competition even those with a bye went through the practice/LSD routine to give an extra LSD to use in the average.

In the first session the Sharp-Rettig combo swept aside Harry Mallows-Lucy Sparks by 13-1 while the junior pairing of Ben Fowler and Hetty Garnier had a fairly easy victory over Brown-Robinson by 7-2. Session 2 and the first appearance of Anna and Sam Fowler, who were runners-up last year, but against Sharp-Rettig they were to fall to an 8-2 defeat while, in the battle of the juniors, Mallows-Sparks surprisingly got the better of the Fowler-Garnier pairing.

It was in the middle of the next session, when Sharp-Rettig had their bye, that my mental arithmetic about the relative ages kicked in as we were in the process of defeating Mallows-Sparks by 7-3. In the battle of the Fowlers, youngest sibling Ben gained the bragging rights by defeating his elder brother and sister by 10-6.

Sunday morning and a bad session for all the Fowlers as Sharp-Rettig defeated Ben F and Garnier by 9-5 while Brown-Robinson defeated Anna F and Sam F by the same score.

So it all came down to the final session and the game between Brown-Robinson and Sharp-Rettig. A win for the former would mean a play-off was required while the latter would be crowned champions if they won.

While Sam and Anna Fowler scored a full house 6 on their way to defeating Mallows-Sparks by 12-1, Sharp-Rettig had a fairly straightforward victory by 10-3 to win the right to go to Erzurum, Turkey, in April as English champions.

Well done to John on his fourth successive title and to Lorna for winning her first opportunity to play in a World event.

Lorna Rettig and John Sharp, ECA Mixed Doubles Champions. Photo by John Brown.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

And Not Forgetting the Juniors!

Well, Copey has done his bit about the Seniors (see Behind the Glass) so I thought I would bring a bit of balance by posting from here in Copenhagen about the European Junior Challenge.

It is always a pleasure to come to Taarnby, though today’s flight was a bit on the bumpy side both taking off and landing! I arrived in time to find Italy’s girls blanking their fourth successive end against our English girls to make the score 1-1 after six ends. The tactic worked as they then got their two at the seventh but an overthrown take-out by the Italian skip enabled Anna Fowler to draw for two at the eighth and send the game into an extra end. Unfortunately Anna’s last draw came up short and Italy won without playing their last stone. This was the English girls’ first defeat after three victories and so they are still well in the hunt. It was also a pretty quick game as they finished the nine ends while other games were still in the seventh!

As I write they are playing the undefeated home team who have looked impressive so far. (Currently it is 2-2 after 5 ends).

Three teams qualify for the play-offs in the girls’ event with one semifinal and then a final. Even if they lose to Denmark, if England can avoid defeat in their next three games against Germany, Poland and Estonia, then a play-off place is a definite. Those will not be easy games but Anna Fowler’s experience from playing in the Europeans in Moscow will be a big help.

One of the surprises so far in the girls’ competition has been the poor form of the Polish team, three of whom recently did so well in Moscow. One of those missing is the third, Magda Straczek, and it is obvious that she was one of the strengths of the team in Moscow as here they have lost their first four games.

Another country struggling this year is Germany, with a new team to the Championships, who are also without a win after three games. Unusually this year there is no team who played in the World Championships last year as France who were relegated have not entered, but there are still nine girls’ teams as Hungary have entered for the first time since 2007.

While England’s girls have played four games already and are playing their fifth, the boys have just played two – a smaller group and an early bye have brought this about. Their first game against Russia was a low scoring affair with a three for Russia the only thing really separating the teams.

Earlier today they played Latvia and, in spite of a bad start and being three down after two ends, they fought back well and ran the Latvians out of stones at the last end to win 7-4.

There are two groups of boys’ teams, one of eight teams and one of seven. In the group of eight there is a definite split occurring as four teams have won three games and four teams have won none.

One of those on three wins is Estonia, skipped for the fifth time at this level by Harri Lill, who is turning into the king of the extra end! Two of his three wins here have been after an extra, to add to three out of seven that he played at the Europeans in Moscow, though he only won one of those. The other form teams in that group are Spain, Germany and Italy.

Unfortunately I am only here for the day, unless of course the winds get up again later, but you can follow all the news and scores at

Friday, December 09, 2011

The End of the B Group

No not that way – just the last games of the week. Early Friday morning and Ireland are back on after their close defeat against Hungary to take on the home nation in the semifinal to decide which other team goes to the A group next year and to the B final this year. Although the game was tied at 3-3 early on, the Russians proved too strong in the end and ran out 6-3 winners. Ireland will now play off against England for the bronze medal tomorrow morning – why that game has been delayed until then is a mystery as there is plenty of ice for it to be played alongside the main finals.

In the ladies semifinal it was a much closer finish with Finland winning 8-7 at the last end. The only issue to be resolved is the bronze medal which will be contested between Poland and Slovakia – again tomorrow morning.

The ice in the B hall, which early on was drawing a lot, has now become a lot straighter – which has played right into the hands of the big hitting Russians ... as England found out the other day, if you cannot bury a stone behind a guard they will just blast it away. It is a while since I last saw a player at this level with a backswing as high as the Russian skip Aleksei Tsesoulov. Today in the final, Hungary experienced the power of the Russian team as they lost 7-4 – a reverse of the result earlier on in the week when the ice was much swingier.

Hungary gained their first gold medal in International curling when the ladies won their final against Finland by 4-1. They cannot rest on their laurels however as they now have a three game rubber against the Czech Republic for the final World Championship place. Russia’s men will play Thomas Dufour’s France in a similar series of games.

I went into the A arena for the first time this afternoon for the conclusion of the men’s semifinal between Norway and the Czech Republic and you could have heard a pin drop – there was next to no crowd and it is such a vast auditorium that what little crowd there were seemed lost in the masses of multi-coloured seats – which surprisingly make it quite difficult to spot the crowd which merge into the kaleidoscope of colour.

So a long week draws to a close – this will be my last blog probably, apart from a quick round up of the bronze medal games, but I hope you have enjoyed reading about the parts that other journalists cannot reach!

And apologies for all outbreaks of Mr Grumpy who now has an appropriate mug donated by an admiring reader!

(Thanks, John, we like Mr Grumpy, and have enjoyed all your posts this week. Bob)