Thursday, December 23, 2010

Across the Generations

Time goes past so quickly and there is so much happening that I have absolutely shed-loads of stuff to write about - but to save your eyes and ensure your brains stay unfried we shall take it in easy doses – if that is OK with you of course.

So this particular blog is all about Seniors and Juniors.

Rewind back to November – yes only 4/5 weeks ago I suppose - and the start of this hectic period ...

I suppose in the 1960s when I started playing curling there were only a very few forward looking ‘older’ curlers who encouraged those much younger than themselves to play for them. I remember a chap called Bill Kean at Crossmyloof who used to ask some of us schoolboys and Glasgow Young Curlers to play with him in the many Inter-City matches that took place in those days – do they still happen by the way?

The latest version of the First English Province I’Anson Trophy took place at Stranraer on November 19-21, and the winning team was very much a mixture of the young and the old. John Sharp and Ross Barr who were about to play in the ECA Senior Championships at the beginning of December (see later), joined forces with Anna Fowler and Harry Mallows, who will be going to Prague in January to represent England in the Euro Junior Challenge, and defeated all comers to take the wonderful old silver trophy.

As usual, the 14 teams played in one Schenkel division and the top 8 after 3 games qualified for the last session on the Sunday. At that point John Sharp led on 6 points from yours truly on 5 points and then 5 teams all on 4 points and one on 2 points. In an amazing final session John Sharp beat me 8-1. I shook hands after 6 ends, clear in my mind that a defeat would not be good enough as other teams would end up on 6 points and I would at best get the 4th prize. However, much to my consternation the two games being played between teams which both had 4 points both ended up as peels and it was the last team with 4 points, skipped by Patrick Brown, who had been in 7th place at the start of the session that came through to win its last game and be the only one on 6 points!

So then with 5 teams now on 5 points the minor positions were decided by ends and third place went to Phil Atherton and 4th to Peter Bowyer. My early handshake did not prove too costly however as I would have needed to win both the last ends to come even 4th.

So a remarkable finish and congratulations to Patrick Brown, David Hills, Donald Haining and Ali Thomson on their second place and winning the magnificent Meggatt Trophy.

Another interesting entry in the competition was the first appearance of the team which will go to St Paul in April to play in the World Senior Women’s Championship for England. Skipped by Sandra Moorcroft, but with Susan Young throwing last stones (plus Jean Robinson and Alison Barr) they had a baptism of fire, but, following some experimentation with positions, they came through to win a morale boosting last game.

To complete the circle, in a roundabout kind of way, I discovered this photograph in a 1980 Scottish Curler which shows the very same John Sharp, this time as a Junior winning a competition with the older generation represented by Bill Allison and a not-quite-as-old Blogger!

Winners of the Open Weekends Final at Greenacres. L-R: Bill Allison, Bob Cowan, Helen Burton, John Sharp.

Moving on from Stranraer the English Men’s Senior Championships took place at Greenacres on a snowy weekend in December.

Since 2003, when the official World Senior Championships began, there has usually been just one and, occasionally (2005, 2007 and 2008), two teams interested in representing England, but this year 4 entries were received by the closing date. Unfortunately, one of the teams had to withdraw owing to an injury and it was left to the other three skipped by me, John Sharp and Michael Sutherland to fight it out for the title.

We played a double round-robin and as luck would have it we all won 2 games – I beat John Sharp twice and he beat Michael Sutherland twice and Michael beat me twice. Cue play-offs. Following a draw shot challenge Michael got the bye to the final and I had to face John Sharp again and, true to the form of the weekend, I won that one as well – by then my team had played three games on the Sunday and time was up and so the final play-off between Michael and myself will take place at Greenacres in early February!

As I said the weekend was snowy and if John Sharp had been drawn in the first game he would have had to start with just 3 players as one of his squad of 5 was stuck in Southampton and one could not leave Gatwick, as the airports were shut, and we would have invoked the 'volcano' rules first applied at the World Seniors in Chelyabinsk – allowing a team to start a competition with just 3 players owing to an 'act of God'.

However by the time of John’s first game at 8.45 pm Doug Andrews had used 3 trains to get from Southampton to Glasgow and hence Greenacres in good time! A typical example of a curler’s great fortitude to make sure they got to their competition – and there would be more later in the month with teams trying to get to the Europeans Championships in Switzerland.

I myself had organised a very demanding travel schedule that weekend which would have been disrupted by the wrong amount of snow in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I think I must have been born lucky. As well as playing in the Championship I was due to attend my niece’s wedding in London on the Saturday at 5 pm.

The draw meant that I played 2 games on Friday and 2 on Sunday with the other two teams playing both their games against each other on the Saturday, but I still needed a bit of luck with the weather.

I flew into Glasgow from Luton on Friday morning and by the time I was collected to go to Greenacres the snow was coming down and the roads were turning white. After arrival at the rink it then snowed for another 3 or 4 hours and things were looking bleak. Fortunately it stopped and by the time we left the rink at 11pm after our second game the roads were passable even down to Mrs Mackey’s bed and breakfast place looking over to Lochwinnoch.

Saturday morning and Robin’s 4WD took me safely to the airport where my flight to Heathrow left just a little late – I eventually got to the club where we were changing for the wedding at 3.45, the taxi left at 4 and we were at the wedding venue at 4.10 in plenty of time!

After a few dances it was time to go back and change out of DJ, grab a train to Gatwick and hope that the 07.00 Sunday flight to Glasgow would be running – my first game was at 10.30! There were twenty of us on that flight – spaced evenly out around the cabin of a BA Airbus. Yet again my luck was in and we landed in Glasgow before 0830 – and the road to the rink was passable.
Three games of curling later and it was back to the airport for flight number 4 – back to Luton and this time it was a bit late – but not because of snow but because of fog at Luton! However we got there safely about 90 minutes late and I got home to my bed before midnight – to be woken up 4 hours later to go to Gatwick to catch my flight to Switzerland – but that is another story.

Moving on from Seniors we come to Juniors. This year there are two English teams going to Prague for the European Junior Curling Challenge, January 3-8. For the girls it is a third trip but for the boys it will be all new. One problem we face is that some of each team are away at University and so it has been difficult to get all 5 together. The first and last chance for some competitive curling came at Lockerbie for the Junior Classic – another journey (by train this time) threatened by the weather, but they all got there and found out for themselves the standard that exists outside of Kent.

Some of the English squad with Eve Muirhead. Back L-R: Naomi Robinson, Hetty Garnier, Eve Muirhead, Angharad Ward. Front: Oliver Kendall, Lauren Pearce, Anna Fowler.

One problem we have is a lack of coaches for the Juniors. Ian Baxter, who coached them last year, has moved to a new demanding job and informed us in good time that he could not help out. I put myself down to go with the teams and we were fortunate to have in London Greg Dunn, a Canadian who has previously worked with the Dutch men’s team and played for the Netherlands in the 2006 European Championships (including beating England 9-3!).

So it is next stop Prague and that will be the subject of a later blog, but look out for Chapters 2, 3 and 4 (maybe..) of this one – I will give you a couple of days to digest this one before imposing another one on you all.

Future topics to whet your appetite – Can one man from the smallest curling nation on the planet really be the instigator of a dangerous split in World curling? How good were this year’s European Championships? Is the 4 Nations weekend important to British curling (or is it just an irrelevant sideshow)? What do we know about the woman who has to manage the £2.3m which British Curling has been awarded to deliver medal winning teams?

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Top photo is from John's Scottish Curler archive, the second photo is © Skip Cottage.

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