Thursday, February 26, 2015

England's Girls are at the World Junior Championship

England's Junior women have arrived in Tallinn for the World Junior Curling Championship and this is a historic moment for  English curling. Three times previously, (1993, 1998 and 1999) a team of English boys had qualified to play in the World Championships with a best finish of 8th in both 1993 and 1998. They had had to play in a World Championship Challenge at that time as well - though their performance in 1998 qualified them direct for the Worlds in 1999, but this is the first time that England has been represented in the Junior Women's World Championship.

Six years ago I took the first team of English girls to play in an International Competition to the European Junior Challenge in Copenhagen. Since the opening of Fenton's Rink in 2004 there had been a steady flow of junior curlers and now we had found a team to go out and challenge the World - well the rest of Europe initially!

Here are the girls at Fenton's before they set off:

Left to right - Anna Fowler (skip), Sophie Hickling (3rd), Kate McKenzie (2nd), Naomi Robinson (lead / alternate), Hetty Garnier (lead / alternate)

And we had our supporting entourage as well - yours truly, Vicky McKenzie, Jules Fowler and Felicity Robinson all ready to wave the flags for England.

It was a small field that year - just 11 countries - and so the girls teams were split into 2 groups - we were in a group of 5 along with France, Germany, Finland and Slovakia - a tough task for our inexperienced team but they got off to the best possible start when they defeated Slovakia by 9-1! The Slovakians had played in  a previous year and so had some experience at this level and so for Anna and her team this was an unbelieveable start and spirits rose. One interesting thing about the Slovakian team was that at least 3 of them were deaf and they used various hand signals for sweeping calls.

After a session off it was Finland next and reality struck hard - we were 7-0 down after 2 ends and eventually lost 11-2 after 7. Next it was France and 9-0 down after 2 ends led to a 16-3 defeat. Finally Germany and a 12-0 defeat after 6!! So a chastening end to a week that started off well but lessons were learnt and thoughts turned to Prague a year later.

One thing that was required was a coach and we found one in the form of Ian Baxter, who was living down South and playing at Fenton's - Scottish Junior Champion in 1990 with Graeme Connal he went to Prague with a revised team. Sophie and Kate were gone and replaced by Lauren Pearce and Madeline Tuz, 2 more graduates from the Fenton's junior programme. Hetty had moved to third and Naomi to second.

Hopes were high that progress would be made in a 10 team competition that meant 9 round-robin games before the play-offs - a tough schedule. By the end of the week though all dreams had been shattered when the team failed to register a win  - Finland (3-7), Slovakia (4-8), Denmark (0-12), Italy (5-6), Spain (7-8), Norway (4-9), Germany (5-6), Estonia (4-6) and Poland (3-7). There were some close games in there though - the Spanish loss was at an extra end -  but still some first end nightmares ( losing a 6 v Norway for example).

Ian Baxter was unable to commit to another year and so we approached Greg Dunn, a Canadian who was playing at Fenton's and had experience of coaching / junior curling at home. Another Canadian recruit was a young girl, just 15 years old, who had been brought up in British Columbia and had taken up curling and been to various camps etc. over there. Her father is English and so when she appeared at Fenton's, having moved to a village just 15 minutes away, she was eligible to represent England without any wait to achieve residency qualifications. Her name was Angharad Ward and she was immediately drafted into the team in place of Madeline Tuz.

It was back to Prague in 2011 and the new coach made his mark by getting the whole team (and the boys team) to do some runs around the rink as a penalty for being late for a meeting! I accompanied them on this occasion and we began to see that week the beginnings of the progress which had been absent the previous year. Another tough week with 8 games to be played in the round-robin and things did not start well - 2-6 v Spain and 1-10 v Italy, but then a win - against Slovakia by 8-3 and hopes rose. A loss against the top team Germany was followed by a second victor, against Estonia by 5-2, and then another one - 4-2 v Poland. Finally two more defeats - 3-5 v Norway and 0-6 v Denmark. So 3 wins and 5 losses and still not troubling the top teams - but the team were starting to understand the nuances of the game and to get the experience of International competition.

Copenhagen called in 2012 and Greg needed some help and up stepped Kerr Alexander - nominally to coach the boys' team but also assisting Greg with the girls. Angharad was unable to play this year as she was involved in the Winter Youth Olympics for the GB team and was needed for pre-Games practice and so Lucy Sparks came in as alternate. This was also Anna's last year and she meant to go out on a high.

Left to right - Greg Dunn Lucy Sparks, Lauren Pearce, Naomi Robinson, Hetty Garnier and Anna Fowler. Compare to the previous picture!!!

Nine teams again and another 8 game round-robin. Wins were recorded against Denmark (5-2), Slovakia (6-2), Hungary (9-4), Spain (6-3), Poland (6-5) and Germany (8-6) and there were two defeats by Italy (3-5 after extra end) and Estonia (3-8). However this meant that England finished second in the round-robin and would play a semi-final against Denmark. This was a very low-scoring game with neither side willing to gamble but eventually Denmark won by 3-1though they then lost in the final to Italy who therefore went to the Worlds.

It was back to Prague in 2013 and the major change was, of course, that Anna was no longer a junior, and neither was Lauren, and so Hetty stepped up to the mark to lead the team, Angharad returned to the team at third, Naomi stayed at second, Lucy moved in at lead and Niamh Fenton was the new alternate. Neither Greg nor Kerr was able to commit the time to travel with the team and so Andrew Woolston and myself were this year’s coaches for both the girls and the boys.

There were 12 teams split into 2 groups of 6 and it started off extremely well, when following a close defeat by Hungary (3-4), there was a win over old rivals Denmark by 5-3 in a game where Hetty was marked as playing 95%. However this was followed by a 3-10 defeat by Poland although a victory over Latvia by 6-4 meant that there was still a chance of finishing in the top 2 of the group if Turkey could be beaten, but this was not to be and a 5-3 victory for Turkey left England 4th in the group when a win would actually have meant that they finished top based on the DSC which would have been needed to separate them from Denmark and Hungary. So 3 wins out of 5 – close but still not there.

It was a new venue for 2014 – Lohja in Finland and while the team stayed the same the coach changed again and Sara Jahodova was recruited. Sara is from the Czech Republic and has played for her country at the World Championship , though she currently lives in England. Her partner, Radek Bohac provided some assistance but it was a tough time for her to look after 2 teams.

Once again there were 12 teams divided into 2 groups of 6 and the English campaign got off to the worst possible start when they ran out of time in the first game against Hungary and automatically lost the game! However, the girls bounced back and won their next 4 games – Germany (4-3), Latvia (7-2), Estonia (6-4) and Finland (13-0) to finish second behind Hungary and next was a quarter-final v Norway which was won well by 8-2 but the semi-final against Italy saw a disappointing 2-9 loss. With a bronze medal at stake in their final game they won an extra end decision against Poland and those medals by 7-6. So all the time it was getting closer but time was running out a little bit – astonishingly Hetty had now played in 6 EJCC but she still had three years eligibility left, as had Angharad and Lucy, but Naomi was done to just 2 and so 2015 would be a critical year.

This year they did it.

After 6 previous attempts the England Junior Women qualified for the World Junior Championship with a fairly dominant display at the European Junior Challenge in Prague. A look at their scores emphasises how much better they were than the majority of the other teams they met, but it was the semi-final against Hungary that was a true measure of their improved quality and maturity. After wins by 14-1 against Spain, 9-1 against Slovenia and 8-1 against Slovakia there were two narrow wins against Poland (5-2) and Turkey (4-2) before a defeat by Italy (2-7) in the last round robin game when they had already guaranteed finishing top in their group.

A quarter –final win against Latvia by 7-1 was followed by their toughest game of the competition against Hungary who were runners-up last year. It was 5-2 for England after 6 ends and then Hungary scored 3 at the 7th leaving Hetty Garnier with a hit and stick to win the game in the 8th end which she did perfectly. Against Turkey in the final it was back to routine with a staggering 9-1 win in just 6 ends rounding off an incredible week and sending the girls to the World Championships in Estonia at the beginning of March.

Congratulations to Hetty Garnier, Angharad Ward, Naomi Robinson, Lucy Sparks and Niamh Fenton who were ably coached by Sara Jahodova. Unfortunately Sara cannot go to Estonia with them as coach owing to work commitments but they will be coached there by John Sharp who has worked with the majority of the team at the European Championships over the past couple of seasons.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Must do better.....

With best wishes for 2015 to you all, my New Year resolution is to do a lot more posting on this neglected blog - it may take a while for the readers to come flocking back but let us hope I can do better than 2014. It is not as if I have not been involved in curling since then - maybe I have had too much involvement!!

And my first excuse for writing less can hardly be deemed an excuse - after all if I retired in May, I should have had more time to do lots of things but as anyone in my situation will say - I do not know how I ever had time to work!!

To divert from the curling for a paragraph or two - my other passion in life is motor racing - not participating as I have never had the money to do so, but spectating. My father first took me to see motor racing at Ingliston in July 1966 and after a few more visits that year and in 1967 I became a regular at the circuit where the Royal Caledonian Curling Club headquarters are these days. In fact the RCCC offices are approximately behind the building in this old photo of Willie Forbes from Aberdeen in 1966.

The circuit closed in 1992 but I had long ago moved away by then and discovered the pleasures of the wind-swept spectating facilities at Silverstone and other old airfield circuits in England.

Previous to 1966 I remember having been to a couple of go-kart meetings at Larkhall and Ingliston and so to celebrate my 60th birthday I decided that this year I would celebrate 50 years of being a motor racing spectator and would visit a race meeting at every circuit currently operating on the UK mainland - there are 15 in total and the full story of my travels can be found  on another blog at  while you can see lots of photos at my Flickr page -

Most of those trips did of course take place outwith the curling season and so that is not really an excuse for not writing either!!

So how about a quick catch up on my curling activities since last March!!

As part of my role on the WCF's Competition and Rules Commission I attended meetings of the commission at the Women's World Championships in Saint John, New Brunswick in March. We spent 3 days going through the new rules which we were going to propose to the WCF Congress in September. The Athletes' Commission would receive our proposals for comment and addition / amendment before they were finally worded for the proposals. By the time this happened there were a number of changes to our original proposals and some of them were eventually put aside for further refinement and discussion.

The aim is not to change rules for the sake of change but to try and make the game more attractive to sponsors, television and spectators and to make sure that the skills of the best players are fairly rewarded. We also need to preserve the integrity of the game and not to reduce it to the level say of 20-20 cricket, which to me is nothing more than a contest to see who can hit it hardest and farthest in the shortest time with no nod at all to the traditions of the game.

The English Curling Association, in a change to normal practice, held its AGM at Fenton's rink in Kent in April, combining the meeting with a bonspiel. The aim was to try and attract more people to come to the AGM which had failed to reach a quorum in the two previous years. Unfortunately this disenfranchised the members of the Northern clubs, Glendale and Preston, but it did mean that some changes to the constitution which had been set aside for the previous two years could now be proposed and approved.

There were no major issues to discuss, though some minor changes were made to the rules which govern how we play our Championships and the changes to the constitution now allow for members to call an EGM if they consider it necessary. Membership of the ECA continues to fall in spite of the presence of a curling rink with the Northern clubs in particular losing members at the top of the age range and not attracting younger members to their ranks. A new wheelchair club was accepted into the ECA - the Cumbria Wheelchair Curling Club.

The next stop on my curling tour was Dumfries (the town of my birth) for the World Senior and Mixed Doubles Championships. My role there was to coach the Senior Women's team which had come together mid-season but, until a weekend at Fenton's a month before, had never played together! I was helping out with our Mixed Doubles team. Seen below are the whole squad at the opening ceremony

A great competition all round with a wonderful welcome from the local organising committee and volunteers. The Senior Women (Jean Robinson, Judith Dixon, Susan Young, Debbie Higgins and Jackie Orr) exceeded their expectations and won 3 games against the Czech Republic, Austria and Japan and lost close games to the USA and Sweden, though Slovakia and New Zealand were too good for them. Seen below looking happy before the competition are (left to right) Jean, Debbie, Judith, Susan and Jackie

 And that was the end of the 2013-14 season. Personally I had played 64 games with a success rate of just 43% in spite of winning a couple of weekend competitions. This followed on an even less successful 2012-13 (38%) and it made me look long and hard about the competitions I wanted to enter the following year and also about where (and even if) I should be playing in various teams. I felt certain that I would not be playing mixed doubles for example as watching at the World Championships had made me realise that this discipline was very much for the younger and fitter athlete! Was I still enjoying myself at skip or would I be happy to drop down the order and let others take the decisions. The new season was a few months away and maybe the fact that I would be retired by then would alter my attitude.

Those few months (during which I attended the WCF Umpire course in Fussen and then the WCF Congress in Reno!) passed quickly though  and all of a sudden it was decision time!! I would continue to travel to Kent once a fortnight to play league games there and to help with the junior coaching, I would defend the Welsh Bonspiel I had won with the same team (though there was one late change) and would go to Stranraer for the I'Anson Trophy (again with the same team). I would drop down from skip for the Duncan Stewart Trophy (which is an individual entry anyway) and would not seek to enter a team for the ECA Championships or the ECA Senior Championships but would wait and see if I was asked!! A risky strategy you might say but one I was happy with.

In the end I have been asked to play in the ECA Championships, which will be held at Dumfries in February, when I will be playing lead or second - this will be my 33rd participation in those Championships since 1982, having only missed out in 1984 when I had hurt my back lifting furniture in the office, and I was also asked to play in the European Seniors at Greenacres as a replacement.

My tour of the motor racing circuits of Britain finished on the 5th October and the curling season began with a league game at Fenton's on the 7th October!! My first weekend was the ECA Duncan Stewart Trophy at Kinross in October - great to be back there in the new rink and it was good to have a full turnout of 24 players to remember Duncan's work for English curling. His widow, Mary, was there to present the prizes to the winning team of John Sharp, Susan Young, Val Saville and Carol Lyon.

As the Welsh Bonspiel was the following weekend I stayed in Scotland and thence to Greenacres to defend the trophy I won last year with Lana Watson, Alison Barr and replacement Steve Amann (Donald Forbes had to drop out because of a new arrival in his family). A good start in winning the first game by 13-2 was followed by a disaster against Andrew Woolston when we lost a 7 (with the hammer)!! Andrew went on to win the competition and we struggled through 2 more games (winning 6-5 and 4-3) to surprisingly find ourselves in the B final against Ken Horton in a repeat of last year's A final. As last year it was a close game decided really by a 3 at one end - last year we got the 3 and this year it was Ken and so 4th overall was our final position.

Back home for ten days and then it was back to Greenacres for the European Invitation Seniors where I played for ECA President Tommy Campbell as a replacement for Mike Robinson who was unable to travel up from Kent. Five games there playing lead and second were enjoyable and mostly stress - free as I stayed for the most part out of the decision making process and concentrated on surviving more sweeping in one week than I think I had done for quite a few years!

After 4 days at home, it was another drive up to Scotland, this time to Stranraer for the Preston CC I'Anson Trophy weekend - always good fun but now packed with a lot of good teams practising for various Championships! The Welsh National men's team, for example, skipped by Adrian Meikle won for the third consecutive year while the English National women's team came second!! A full turnout of 16 teams reflected the hard work done by Phil Barton of the Preston club and my main achievement of the weekend was to avoid either of the early morning starts which are reserved for those teams in the bottom half of the Schenkel rankings though I did manage to cement my reputation as the king of the peeled game - two finished at 5-5, a similar situation to 2 seasons ago - and with the same scores too!!

Another 4 days at home and it was time to go to the European Championships, but in those 4 days I paid three visits to the Beckworth Emporium which is about 40 minutes from my home. This was prompted by an email I had received which said :

Each year the Emporium undergoes a major transformation when part of its garden nursery section is turned into a 520 square metre ice rink for the winter – and new for this, its fifth year in operation, it is offering visitors the chance to try their hand at curling! It has sourced some stones specially and I know that a number of local bowls clubs (among others) have booked to try their hand at the ‘winter version’ of their sport!

My first visit was on the Monday on the way back from Stranraer and the ice rink was flooded - the plant had broken down but I did get to see the stones they had sourced:

These are two of them - apparently they had bought 8 of them from somebody in Scotland for £900. They had no idea what they were buying and had not thought to contact anybody in the ECA until they had done so. They were due to start curling sessions the following week and so action was required, especially as one of the stones had a rusted together loose handle and another had a bolt standing proud of the bottom of the stone and therefore catching on the ice.

Of course they would not be playing 'real' curling - the rink was not long enough, the ice was not going to be properly scraped or pebbled (it was only a small rink), they had embedded circles in the ice which were about 4 feet in diameter (as used in New Age Kurling in church halls). Also they only had two (admittedly new) brushes and had not thought about hacks!!!

The following day (Tuesday) I returned to the emporium with 12 brushes and a pair of hacks I had in my garage - the ice was melted again - another call to the suppliers and it looked like it would be OK the next day. As it was a Tuesday I was going to Fenton's to play and at Fenton's the London Curling Club has stored its supply of brand new reconditioned stones (well half of them are actually in Sheffield) and so I quickly put 4 yellow handles and 4 red handles on 8 stones and took them home with me that night and delivered them to the Emporium on the Wednesday (my poor car was racking up the miles at an exponential rate it seemed). At last there was some ice and so a quick lesson with the staff who were going to be running the curling and they were all set.

Now they were not going to be sliding at all and the distance between hacks and circles was a maximum of 12 metres - and sometimes reduced because of ice conditions - so what they were playing was target curling - but all 8 stones would never fit into the small target area anyway!! The curling was advertised for a maximum of 8 people - so one stone each but with an 'end' taking perhaps just 5 minutes they got plenty of throws in their 2 hour slot.

To add another surreal element to the game, the players were equipped with anti-slip protectors such as elderly people might wear to stop falling over on icy pavements!!

So all the elements you might think for a PR disaster of immense proportions. To try and add a bit of background and to explain about the differences between real curling and Emporium curling I went up a further 5 times to the sessions (which were only held three times a week owing to pressure from skating - sounds familiar) and you know what - everybody was loving it!! I got a few brave souls to take off their protectors but most were happy to keep them on. The last day I went up was very mild and it had been raining and there they were splashing around in an inch of water and still having fun (and still getting the stones to the house)!

The Emporium plans to run it again next year but with a bit more advance notice maybe we can improve things - watch this space next year for an update. What it did prove to me was that as long as people can achieve their aim - which in this case was getting the stones into the circle  - and there is a competitive element, especially among work colleagues or family members it does not really matter that the conditions were pretty poor - they are generally going to enjoy it. We also had a group of people with learning disabilities who thoroughly enjoyed pushing the stones to the targets with the brooms - again next year I shall source some cues instead.

After setting the up at the Emporium it was off to Champery for the European Championships. The England teams were both down in Monthey in the B Division - a 20 minute bus ride from the main centre. This was a repeat of the arrangements in 2010 but this year there was a total lack of snow except on the mountain tops which helped with the transport efficiency.

The men finished top of their group, with just one loss in their last game against Israel when they were already assured of their top position. This meant a 1v1 play-off against Finland which was lost 2-8 and to cap a disastrous Thursday this was followed by defeat against Netherlands by 4-10 in the semi-final, including the loss of a 6! The next day, however, a battling performance against Hungary saw a win by 8-5 and the bronze medals. The team was Alan MacDougall, Andrew Reed, Andrew Woolston, Tom Jaeggi and Ben Fowler, with myself as the coach.

The women had won the bronze medal in the B Division last year and this year they were very keen to improve on that. One change in the team saw Angharad Ward replace Hetty Garnier at third while another was the replacement as alternate of  Lucy Sparks by Sarah Decoine. The girls won 5 of their 9 games to finish tied in 4th position in the Division with Hungary and Turkey. However, under the new rules introduced by the WCF only one tie-breaker is now played in competitions and with each team having one win and one loss against the other two it went to the Draw Shot Challenge scores and of the three countries England had the worst which meant that they were eliminated while Hungary and Turkey played the tie-breaker. So heartbreaking all round for the girls who had played very well to beat Italy in their last game to keep their hopes alive.

The England women with their coach John Sharp. Left to right - Angharad Ward, Sarah Decoine, Anna Fowler (skip), Naomi Robinson and Lauren Pearce.

And that was me nearly finished with curling before Christmas - but not quite! Two days back from Switzerland and another trip to Kent for the final league game which we lost 1-10, but even with that result we finished second in the league and thus qualified for the final two weeks later.

And then a final trip to Scotland, to Dumfries for the ECA Senior Championships. And for the first time we had a women's Championship alongside the men. Last season's women's team at the Worlds had split into two separate teams and added some extra players including the return of Joan Reed who had played for England at the Senior Worlds in 2003 -2005 and 2007 and 2008, winning a bronze medal in 2003. This best of 5 Championship went all the way to a 5th game before Judith Dixon (skip), Joan Reed, Val Saville and Debbie Higgins (pictured below) finally subdued Jean Robinson, Susan Young, Jackie Orr and Wilma McIntyre. For Val in particular it was an amazing experience - she had first approached us in Dumfries at the Worlds back in April as an English curler living in Stirlingshire and she was quickly embraced by the ECA as a possible member. Now here she was winning the right to represent England at the World Championships just a year later!

Having come so close last year (the 6th end of the 5th game when he lost a 6), John Summers won the men's Championship this year, beating Tommy Campbell by 3 games to 1. He and his team of Charles Jackson, David Sillito and Andrew Taylor will therefore join the women in Sochi in April.

And then there was just time to play the league final at Fenton's before Christmas - and to finish off the first half of the season with first competition victory - coming from behind to win 7-6 and to qualify for the all-league-winners event in April.

The final news before Christmas was that Stephen Hinds' application to build a three lane curling rink in an existing barn near Bracknell in Berkshire hadd been turned down by the local Council Planning Committee. Stephen will be going to appeal and we can only hope that the Inspector is more enlightened than the local Councillors.

The first main event of 2015 is the 4 Nations weekend which the ECA is hosting at Fenton's Rink between the 16th and 18th January.With 30 players arriving from Scotland and around 16 from Ireland and from Wales we are in for a busy time with 9 sessions of play between 1800 on Friday and Sunday afternoon. More about that in a future blog.

With lots of good wishes for 2015.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Matt Murdoch

I walked into Lockerbie Ice Rink just before Christmas as we stopped off on our way North - the Junior weekend competition was coming to its climax and I knew that the English girls would be playing their semi-final and I had persuaded my family that we would get a good lunch at the rink - Marion would see us right.

Sure enough there she was in the canteen, not on duty for a change, but having a cuppa with Matt, both of them enjoying watching the new generation of curlers on the ice before them.We passed the time of day with them and they told me they would be going off to Sochi - but I said I would probably see Matt before then at the 4 Nations as he was a great supporter of that weekend and sure enough four weeks later at Hamilton there he was, playing down the rink for a change, and only just missing out on winning another gold medal as part of Scotland's highest up rink in the match against England. He won 4 of those over the years and was determined that he would match the 5 of England's Michael Sutherland one year - I probably said something like - 'there's always next year' - except there isn't now.

He won one of those gold medals by beating me and altogether we played against each other 5 times in the 4 Nations and he had the edge on me by 3-2. Apart from the scores that is about all I can remember about the games - but Matt would have been able to tell you chapter and verse about this end or that end. Ever gregarious Matt would chat away on the ice and by the time you realised that he was distracting you, you were beaten - it wasn't deliberate - just all part of his friendly character.

My last view of Matt was on the TV from Sochi, celebrating his son's silver medal and beaming from ear to ear with pride at David's achievement but I will always remember so much more about him, on and off the ice.

Rest in peace, Matt - you have left a fine legacy in your family and in the curling scene in Lockerbie - they will not forget you and neither will I.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The European Championships - thoughts part 1

In an earlier posting written in Stavanger at the European Championships I mentioned some of the various European Championships I had been at over the past 30 years.

For the record, the European Championships began in a small way in 1975 when just 8 nations were represented in the men's event and 7 in the women's event. Since then the Championships have been held as follows with the number of competing nations indicated:

1975   Megeve (8 men, 7 women)
1976   Berlin (9, 8)       
1977   Oslo (10, 8)  
1978   Aviemore (10, 9)      
1979   Varese (11, 9)         
1980   Copnhagen (12, 11)
1981   Grindelwald (14, 13)                      
1982   Kirkcaldy (14, 13)                        
1983   Vasteras (14, 14)                           
1984   Morzine (14, 14)                           
1985   Grindelwald (14, 14)                    
1986   Copenhagen (13, 13)                   
1987   Obertsdorf (14, 13)                      
1988   Perth (14, 12)
1989   Engelberg (14, 13)
1990   Lillehammer (14, 13)
1991   Chamonix (17, 13)
1992   Perth (19, 15)
1993   Leukerbad (18, 14)
1994   Sundsvall (19, 17)
1995   Grindelwald (19, 16)
1996   Copenhagen (18, 16)
1997   Fussen (17, 14)
1998   Flims (17, 14)
1999   Chamonix (16, 14)
2000   Obertsdorf (18, 13)
2001   Vierumaki (18, 14)
2002   Grindelwald (21, 18)
2003   Courmayeur (22, 19)
2004   Sofia (27, 22)
2005   Garmisch-Partenkirchen (29, 24)
2006   Basel (30, 22)
2007   Fussen (31, 23)
2008   Ornskoldsvik (28, 21)
2009   Aberdeen (30, 21)
2010   Champery (26, 20)*
2011   Moscow (26, 20)*
2012   Karlstad (26, 20)*
2013   Stavanger (26, 20)*

*Since 2010 the number of nations participating in the A and B Group Championships has been limited to 26 men and 20 women with a C Group being used as a qualifying competition.Including those countries which did not qualify the total entries have been:

2010 (31, 23)
2011 (33, 28)
2012 (31, 24)
2013 (32, 22)

It is interesting to see how the numbers have grown at certain times - throughout the 1980s the entries stabilised at around 14 in each Championships and then at the beginning of the 1990s, as the WCF tried to get curling into the Olympics, the number increased gradually with a peak in 1994 before a decline in 1999 to almost 1980s levels. In the early 2000s as the effect of the introduction of curling at the 1998 Nagano Olympics began to kick in the numbers increased slowly until exploding at Sofia in 2004 to record levels which then rose to a peak in 2011.

By 2009 the numbers were getting unmanageable and so it was necessary to introduce a qualifying competition (the C Group) which allowed for promotion and relegation, while still allowing all nations the chance to reach the World Championship each year. This in itself introduced new issues with the successful nations in the C Group now having to finance two International trips within a couple of months of each other - a difficult proposition for people who are essentially still amateurs.

Personally I attended the Championships between 1982 and 1986 as a competitor and then have been at all of them since 2000, variously as an alternate, coach or as the ECA's representative at WCF and ECF meetings. So I think it is fair to say that I have been at most of the types of venue - big cities (Copenhagen, Sofia, Basel, Moscow), smaller cities (Aberdeen, Vasteras, Karlstad), Alpine resorts (Grindelwald, Morzine, Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Fussen, Oberstdorf, Courmayeur, Champery), out of the way places you would never otherwise go to (Ornskoldsvik, Vierumaki) and coastal towns with no real winter sports connections  (Kirkcaldy, Stavanger).

An interesting cross-section of locations I think you will agree and if I were to rate them as a TripAdvisor critic I think I would group them as follows:

5 stars - Grindelwald - just the most gorgeous Alpine resort with stunning views
5 stars - Copenhagen - one of my favourite European cities with a great culture and friendly people

4 stars - Basel - another favourite destination with a superb transport system
4 stars - Garmisch-Partenkirchen - a big town with a small town feel - great views of the mountains
4 stars - Courmayeur - close to Mont Blanc and plenty to do when not curling
4 stars - Aberdeen - one of the best Scottish cities to spend some time in, not too big but lots to do
4 stars - Oberstdorf - a lovely little town with a great atmosphere pre-Christmas

3 stars - Moscow - a great tourist centre - for a couple of days -  but just something about it.....
3 stars - Morzine - a small, slightly old-fashioned resort (at least in 1984), but with character
3 stars - Fussen - a nice enough town but nothing to write home about
3 stars - Champery - lovely scenery but too hilly for some and not much to do
3 stars - Vierumaki - interesting venue in the middle of the Finnish forests - not much to do but just...different

2 stars - Vasteras - boring Swedish city
2 stars - Karlstad - see Vasteras
2 stars - Ornskoldsvik - see Vasteras and Karlstad
2 stars - Stavanger - see Swedish cities above but also VERY expensive

1 star - Sofia - the very worst of Eastern Europe communism and social deprivation
1 star - Kirkcaldy - not many package holidays sold for here - cold and dreich in December

Of course at many of these Championships the chances of getting out and about were limited what with watching games or attending meetings, and that has certainly got worse in recent years with the number of games increasing for each country - although nowadays of course the ECF is being shut down and the WCF no longer holds its meetings at the Europeans and so there is a bit more time to get out of the arenas / meeting rooms and see some of the sights.

Further posts will follow on different aspects of the European Championships but just to finish off a reminder of how time does not stand still for anyone:

Kirkcaldy 1982 - Duncan Stewart, Tony Fraser, John Brown, Ronnie Brock (dig the woollen jumpers) [Photo courtesy of Adrian Meikle]

Moscow 2011 - Tom Jaeggi, Andrew Woolston, Alan MacDougall, John Brown, Andrew Reed [Photo courtesy of Leslie Ingram-Brown]

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Australian Junior Women Win Their First Game

Some months ago I wrote a post identifying the winless record of the Australian Junior Women in the Pacific Junior Championship - here

I am very pleased to say that they have at last had a win as they defeated the New Zealand team by 9-5 in Harbin, China yesterday, having been at one time 9-1 up. Unfortunately the rest of their results have followed the usual pattern as they have suffered more heavy defeats including two more when they have failed to score and the Junior Men have continued their winless record.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

And so to 2014......

A Happy New Year to all my readers for 2014 - I hope it brings you lots of happiness and success.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The History of Curling in London, Part 2 - the Nomadic Years


In the first part of this history I looked at the development of curling in London from 1951 to 1980, the “Richmond” Years, a period when I was not involved and which was based on the minute book of the London clubs and the Province of London. What follows is what happened since then until the opening of Fenton’s in 2004 – it all started on a May Bank holiday weekend in 1982. My apologies if this history is interspersed with personal stories and recollections but hopefully they will not detract from the story.

Streatham 1982-1983

A short article in the Scottish Curler notified readers that curling in London would begin again at Streatham Ice Rink on the Sunday of the May Bank Holiday. This would be for a trial period of 6 weeks and, if successful, might be carried on into the new season. So it began – my involvement with English curling - and it was a shock to find that not only were the stones not on the ice when we all arrived but there were people down on the ice scribing circles on the ice with a nail-studded piece of wood!!

This was the way life would be at Streatham and it is not surprising that curling did not last there beyond the one season – games were on a Sunday evening after the ice hockey finished – which could mean starting at 1030 or 1100 on pretty heavy ice with warm stones and scribed circles. Amazingly there were ice dancers going on after us and we also held an England v Scotland International there.

One of the games in that International ended as 3-2 – must have been a high quality game you might think, but no that was all the stones that got into the house in the entire game – an end sheet with a vicious swing caused by years of skating made it very difficult to reach the house. One unfortunate incident that day led to the death of Othma Brunner, then President of the POL who fell on the icy car park after the games and later succumbed to the effects.

Peterborough 1983 – 1987

As curling petered out at Streatham, Sandy Blair, President of the ECA picked me up from my home in Bedford and we travelled to Peterborough with two outdoor curling stones and demonstrated curling to Paul French the manager there. From that initial visit ice time was allocated on a Saturday evening at 6 pm to curling and a new club was formed under the presidency of Donald Barclay, formerly of Paisley.

In addition to the Province of London stones which were transferred there, 4 sets of brand new stones were purchased from the Billingham Ice Rink in Sunderland. These had been bought when that ice rink was first built but had never been used seriously and were in “as-new” condition. In addition two further sets of reconditioned stones were purchased from Kays.

The venture was supported by London curlers and lasted for 4 years until the ice rink decided that it wanted the time for more profitable activities and at the end of the 1986-87 season Paul French suggested that the curling should transfer to Chelmsford – this was managed by the same company and Paul was going as interim manager. There were a couple of final sessions in 1987-88 at Peterborough.

It should be noted that two Internationals between England and Scotland were held at Peterborough in 1985 and 1987 with sponsorship from Avon Insurance who did a lot of work with farmers and who were introduced to the club by George Gilmour, formerly of Hamilton and who had been involved at the very beginning of the Lanarkshire Ice Rink.

As an interesting sideline there were three trophies which were played for at Crossmyloof Ice Rink in Glasgow when it was operating – the Sandy Miller, the Alexander Blair and the Arthur Gilmour – all named after relatives of people who became very much involved in English curling – Connie Miller, Sandy Blair and George Gilmour.

Another notable feature of Peterborough was the enormous wooden cupboard complete with shelves and doors which was built by George’s son, Arthur to store the 96 stones – I wonder what happened to it.

Chelmsford 1987 - 1993

One morning in September 1987 I was interviewed for a job at Essex County Council, based in Chelmsford, and then met with Robin Gemmell, the POL President and Paul French and discussed curling beginning at the Riverside Ice Rink there. Both interviews were successful and I was now living within 5 minutes drive of my curling rink!!

Curling at Chelmsford followed the same pattern as at Peterborough with one session per week at 6 pm on a Saturday evening. Being closer to London it attracted a lot of the London curlers and a local club was formed, chaired by yet another Scot, Ronnie Scott. There were now sufficient stones to supply two ice rinks with 10 sets at Chelmsford and 8 sets at Peterborough.

For two seasons a healthy programme of events was held with very often 4 full sheets and a fifth sheet being used for coaching. A new manager, Martyn Girvan, a former British international hammer thrower and still the holder of the British record, took over and was enthusiastic about the sport, but even he was powerless when the management decided that ice hockey was going to bring in more people and for 1989-90 ice time was transferred to a Sunday evening, when it was available, and the numbers travelling out from London dropped off immediately, especially as the time was also moved to 10 pm. In the end only 7 sessions were held that season.

It got worse the next season and no sessions were held until January and even then it was now a Monday evening at 10 pm and it was a loyal band of local curlers who kept the game going. And in fact it survived another two seasons but by the end of 1992/93 it was obvious that it was not worthwhile carrying on – the numbers had dropped to 5 to 8 per night and 5 sessions were lost because there were not enough players or the ice was too bad to play.

Alexandra Palace 1990 to 1997

One of the factors which helped to bring about the demise of Chelmsford was the opening up of curling at Alexandra Palace in 1990. Martyn Girvan and Dave Loudfoot (the ice man at Chelmsford) transferred to AP and encouraged the curlers to go with them. Curling began there in June 1990 after the stones had been brought down from Peterborough by Gerald Biggs, one of the stalwarts of the Peterborough club, in a trailer behind his Land Rover!

Curling was played at AP for seven seasons but eventually the ice was so bad that the Province decided that it would not continue beyond the end of season 1996-97 as it was losing money paying for ice which was not being used. By this time Martyn Girvan had moved on and taken his enthusiasm for the sport with him.

However, there were many good times at AP and the club prospered with a variety of ventures being launched. The London Double Decker tournament was played for two seasons, attracting teams from across the World – the USA, Russia, Swizerland etc and the final was actually shown live on Sky TV – I have a copy if anyone wants to see it!! The 3 Nations (Scotland, England and Wales) International Weekend was held there in 1992 and a Corporate Cup was launched whereby members were able to introduce their work colleagues to the sport with the hope of winning a trophy.

While the origins of the name of the London Double Decker bonspiel might seem obvious, it did in fact derive from the content of a letter written to the Scottish Curler by Mike Hay, famous Scottish curler and later head coach of the British Olympic team in 2002. He had complained in the letter about the standard of play in the smaller countries in Europe who only had enough curlers to fill a double decker bus and yet who got the same voting rights at the Federation meetings as Scotland!

Aldershot 1990 to 1992

At the same time that curling began at AP, the ice rink at Aldershot also decided that it would experiment with curling and once again stones were moved around the country. In the winter of 1990 I had travelled up to Glenrothes in Fife to collect 96 assorted curling stones which had been used at the ice rink there for curling for a short time.

They were stored in a barn at Great Dunmow belonging to Chelmsford members Chris and Dawn Trembath and when I collected them they had to be cleaned to remove the evidence of animal occupation! 64 of these were transferred to Aldershot and a good club set up got underway. Many of those who played at AP also played at Aldershot but there were two distinct groups also. Of course in 1990-91 Chelmsford was also still operating and I did manage to play at all three rinks that season, at one time in one mad week!

Peter Welsh who later became the secretary of the Province and a great enthusiast for taking people abroad to bonspiels was the hero of the hour the next year when he had to rescue the curling stones from under the hands of the receivers who had moved in when the Aldershot rink went bust!

And there the story of curling in London and the South rested until Ernest Fenton opened up his rink in Kent in 2004. And that is surely a third part of this story which is yet to be written.

It is a tribute to the members of the Province of London that they managed to keep the spirit of curling alive through the barren years between the closure of AP and the opening of Fenton’s. The one trophy which links all the history of the Province of London is the Fleming Trophy which has been played almost every season since 1958, and this was played at various venues in Scotland through the turbulent years – the search for good ice on which to play in the South of England ended in 2004 and there have been many changes to the set up of club curling. There is still, however, a London club with a history back to 1951 and hopefully it will continue to flourish.


And, before anybody points out my omission, there is one other ice rink in London where curling has been played in the last 27 years – in October 1984, Coutts Bank held a curling day for its staff and customers at Queens Ice Rink in Bayswater in London. The curling stones were transferred from Peterborough to London and two or three sheets were scribed out on the rink which had not been melted for a very long time – the story was that if they melted the ice the barriers around the rink would collapse as they were only being supported by it. The ice was diabolical as it was not flat at all and the stones went everywhere.

And there’s more – in 2001 or 2002 a small temporary ice rink was set up in Covent Garden for winter skating and we were invited to demonstrate curling – as the rink was about 15m from corner to corner you can imagine that we were pretty restricted in what we could do. We were sharing the ice with figure skaters who did the most amazing jumps in such a confined space.

And how about curling at Center Parcs – in 1998 we were asked to provide curling equipment to the Center Parcs complex at Elvedon in Norfolk for the summer!! They had erected a temporary ice rink (under a tent) and wanted to offer curling to their clients – again it was shared with skating and I am not sure how many people ever played it – the rink was again not long enough and because they had erected a half size ice rink, they drew the circles at half size as well!! Unfortunately we only had full size stones – I think they played target curling – throwing from one end only.