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


INTRODUCTION

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.

Miscellaneous

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.

The History of Curling in London, Part 1 - the Richmond Years

It is now 9 years since Ernest Fenton opened Fenton's Rink on his farm near Tunbridge Wells and many people probably think that the history of curling in the South of England began in 2004, but there has been indoor curling in the area since 1951 and the following blog tells its story, based upon work originally written by Bob Glasgow, the late secretary of the Province of London and then drawing on my personal participation. Part 1 is about curling at Richmond and Part which follows is about the years between 1980 and 2004 when curling took place at a number of ice rinks.

I would be grateful for any extra information that anyone can provide. I have all the Minute Books for the Province of London and London CC and in future blogs will attempt to flesh out some of the references made here.

Further history of curling in London can be found by clicking on locations identified in the Historical Curling Places website here .

The following is the first part of a potted history of the London Curling Club in all its manifestations since its formation in 1951. It draws upon a history written by Bob Glasgow and based on the old minute books. This part takes the story up to 1980 and the closure of curling at Richmond after 30 years. Part 2 will look at the much more unsettled history since that time which has seen the club play at 6 different ice rinks in 27 years and which is the period when I have been involved in curling in London.

Obviously this is a very short version of the history. I have grand plans to expand on Bob Glasgow’s work and perhaps even publish it at some time. There is so much more in the minute books which could be of interest, including the design of the London Curling Club badge which had a depiction of Richmond Bridge above a Scottish saltire with a rose in the middle of it. I have never seen a pin badge of this and maybe none were produced, but if anybody has one then we would be glad to hear from you. I would also like to transpose the minutes to electronic format and this may yet be done.

1951-1980

In 1951 a group of Anglo-Scots decided to form a club for the people who played curling at the Richmond Ice Rink in London. A preliminary meeting took place after play on the 21st May 1951. Following an experiment with curling the management of the rink had decided that future curling would be on Tuesday evenings in the winter between 6.00pm & 8.30pm. Five rinks were to be available to 40 curlers for 33 weeks.

An inaugural meeting of the club took place on the 10th July 1951 with Mr A.V.Hopkins General Manager & Director of Sports Drome Ltd. in the chair. It was decided that the subscription per season should be £2.2s0d (£2.10) with an ice charge of 7s.6d (37.5p). for each player and 10s.0d (50p). for each visitor. The opening date for the season would be Tuesday 18th September and the Royal Caledonian Curling Club was informed of the formation of the Club. The first Committee meeting on 31st August 1951 reported that there were 36 paid up members.

At the first AGM on the 22nd April 1952, it was decided that stones, originally borrowed from Crossmyloof Ice Rink in Glasgow, were to be returned and that more stones were to be purchased. However at a Committee Meeting on the 30th July 1954 it was reported that Crossmyloof had agreed to the sale of their stones which were at Richmond. The sale raised the sum of £26.00!

In 1956, the President (Mr Fleming) revealed details of the Sir Alexander Fleming Memorial Trophy on which would be depicted the hill on which his famous cousin was born. This Trophy is still the premium Trophy awarded by the London Club.

In January 1957 the first overseas curlers, from Prince Edward Island in Canada were entertained at Richmond. An official programme was produced and the home team won by 67 shots to 50 over 5 games of 13 ends!!

During 1959, it was agreed that the Membership limit should be increased to 80. Attendances had suffered during 1959 owing to fog!! At an Extraordinary general Meeting on the 20th October 1959, the decision was made to disband The London Curling Club and form the Province of London. This would consist of 6 different clubs – called City of London, London Northerners, Surrey and Sussex, Thames, Mogador and Hampstead.

1962 saw a tour of Scotland by two rinks, 1963 saw the addition of London Watsonians as a 7th club and for the first time, the England v Scotland International was held at Richmond while 1964 saw the Constitution of The Province adopted (5 years after formation!!). It was decided to purchase six sets of matched stones at £23.00 per stone.

The most important development during 1968 was the suggestion by Connie Miller that a Ladies Club should be formed. The matter was referred to The Committee. But Richmond Ladies was not formed as the eighth club in the Province until 1973!!

And then came the announcement on the 11th December 1979 that curling facilities would no longer be available after the current season. The reasons were purely financial – more money could be made out of skating than curling. So after 30 years it was necessary for the Province to find a new home.

REFLECTION

Reading through the minutes it is fascinating to see that the problems which the committee had to contend with in those days were similar to those that still exercise our minds these days – attracting new members, the need to raise subscriptions, coaching new and junior members.

What is fascinating is that a cap was placed on the membership numbers at various times throughout that period. These days we try and get as many members as possible. It is also noticeable that throughout the 1950s and early 1960s the bad weather (principally fog / smog) affected attendances.

Monday, November 25, 2013

From the Coaches' Bench

I have now been to 19 European Championships as competitor, coach, representative and spectator in places as far and near as Ornskoldsvijk and Sofia, Kirkcaldy and Copenhagen and each has had its good and bad points and many have had their problems. I've been to some places I will probably never visit again (the aforementioned 'Ovik') and to others where I have later returned to enjoy a holiday (Grindelwald).

I have stayed in some grand hotels and in some very basic ones, eaten expensive meals and some ropey hot dogs and burgers, spent up to 4 hours in a bus to get from various airports and sat on a variety of coaches' benches either freezing to death (Sofia) or watching in luxury from behind the glass (Karlstad).

But I have never been anywhere that could only offer me black coffee before (there was no milk available - not just once but the next day as well)!!!! Or where a plate of pasta cost over £30. But here we are in Stavanger, oil capital of Norway, and I suppose those who remember the days when Aberdeen was the most expensive place to live in Britain will know what I am talking about.

The stadium here is vast - an indoor speed skating venue so that there is room to have the two ice pads for the A and B Groups in one place, separated just by the scaffolding supporting the A Group coaching, media and TV scaffolding - nicely draped for the A side but exposing the bare scaffolding poles to us here on the B side (see picture below). The curling sheet in the foreground is for the public to have a go.


As usual it is a full programme of games here with 28 nations represented, 26 in the men's competition and 20 in the women's. It is a first appearance in the main Championships by the Romanian men and the Slovenian women who came up through the C Group Championships played recently in Copenhagen.The other quailifiers from that competition were the Welsh men and the Belarusian women who had both been relegated last year.

Although the two ice pads are back to back there is not a great deal of noise filtering through from one to the other unless Andrea Schopp or Thomas Ulsrud is in full bellow setting.

However the standard of the catering in the stadium leaves much to be desired, especially considering it is a purpose built sports venue. There is a small cafe which was the venue of my milk shortage episode mentioned earlier and currently they are unable to produce any hot water for a cup of tea owing to an inoperative water boiler - the idea of boiling a kettle seems alien to them!! (problem has been resolved as just been and got a cuppa).

There is a standard menu of sandwiches, lasagne or chicken kebabs and one dish of the day which has apparently been variable in quality. The lasagne I had was tepid although full of meat. I presume it is getting better as some are still eating there but then people eat in Motorway service area cafes also because they have no choice!

It is funny however, that such a pattern has been repeated many times over the years- it is almost as if the venues have been unprepared for the demand and it is not until halfway through the week that the situation is resolved. The life saver here has been the hot dog caravan which sits next to the Group B ice pad and did a roaring trade in hot dogs last night.

Finally for this short introduction to Stavanger a couple of pictures of the equipment the Norwegian edition of Top Gear is developing for their Christmas special.