Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In Memory of Duncan

When Duncan Stewart (pictured left) died in January of this year he left a void in English curling which will prove hard to fill. In order to keep his memory alive the ECA in discussion with his widow, Mary, proposed that a new trophy be played for and thus was born the idea of the Duncan Stewart Memorial Trophy.

The first running of the event took place at Kelso last weekend and in the spirit of the friendship of curling which Duncan always propounded, the teams were drawn out of a hat. While the aim of 8 teams proved just too ambitious, enough players were found to enable 6 teams to participate.

While 15 of the players were able to play all 4 sessions, the other 9 positions were filled by a variety of members from the local (English) Glendale Club including some who were also playing for their Scottish clubs in the Double Rink Championship in the in-between sessions!

The draw was predetermined and so there was no juggling of position in a Schenkel like system, but even so the whole competition came down to the last session when it just so happened that the top two teams were drawn to play against each other, and the destiny of the whole competition came down to who won the last end!

But that is jumping ahead of ourselves. Games in the first draw were all close, none more so than the one in which Glynnice Lauder beat Michael Sutherland by 4-3. In the other games there were wins for John Brown and John Sharp. After a meal at the Rink, the second session saw a further win for John Brown but the other two first round winners both lost, notably John Sharp who lost 2-12 to Phil Barton, a result which would become very significant the following day.

Play on the Sunday began at 0930 and John Brown won his third straight game, but only after coming from 1-6 down to beat James Dixon. Meanwhile John Sharp recovered to take his second win, against Glynnice Lauder, playing two shots in particular which turned potential big end losses into shots for himself, especially the one that managed to get one of his stones beating 5 opposition stones all in the 4 foot!

And now with just one game left John Brown led on 3 wins from John Sharp on 2 wins and everybody else on 1 win. He also had 2 more ends and 8 more ends than John Sharp and so it must have seemed all over bar the shouting. But no, after 6 ends it was 13-4 to John Sharp and he had won 4 ends to 2 and so whoever won the last end would win the trophy. Quite a finish and it seemed strange to be trying to get one shot to lose by 5-13 and thus win the competition!

The head was kept pretty clear and when John B put his first draw just around a guard and John S was just a little heavy the game was over, and the first Duncan Stewart Memorial Trophy went to John Brown (London), Harvey Curle (Glendale), Doug Andrews (SECC) and Caroline Cumming (Glendale). Also in the team was John Robertson who played the first two games in place of Caroline and Megan Runciman played one game instead of Harvey.

In a moving presentation, Mary Stewart presented bottles of wine to all 24 players and then the new trophy and mementoes to the winning team. Next year the Trophy will almost certainly be played at Fenton’s in Kent so that those in the South can have their chance to win the ECA’s newest trophy.

Monday, October 04, 2010

The Prospect Before Us: 2010-11 Edition

Another season begins – by my reckoning it is the start of my 38th full season of curling, though if you add in the 6 years I did not play it is now well over 40 years since I followed in the footsteps of Bob Cowan and walked across the road from Hutchie Boys to Crossmyloof, with absolutely no idea what I had let myself in for.

There was no history of curling in my family but anything had to be better than the dreaded Auldhouse mud heap – sorry rugby fields – and as I have told many people many times in the past (yawn!) the only reason I took up curling in preference to ten pin bowling was that it was cheaper (one shilling (5p) compared to 3/6 (17.5p)) and the ice rink was a lot closer to the school than the Mount Florida Bowl.

How lives change on such small matters!

But I am not going to bore you with looking back (not this time anyway), but let’s look forward and see what the season might hold for both me personally and the curling world at large.

I stepped on to the ice at Fenton’s Rink yesterday and was glad to find that my knees were still allowing me to glide along the ice in my usual graceful style – and then I got onto the hack! Now for many of my vintage, warm-ups still do not feature in our vocabulary but all you physiotherapists out there will be glad to know that I have decided to make a big effort to do some stretching before committing my body to the perfect sliding delivery this season. So sorry if that means less business for you all.

And yes I found that I was still looking forward to being able to play those match winning shots which I dream of every time I sit on the hack and say to myself “This one to beat Al Hackner!” – never worked against Al but maybe it will against some less illustrious opponents this season!

I was down at the rink in my capacity as ECA secretary to talk to the junior teams and their parents who will be going to the European Junior Challenge in Prague – realising in fact that it was only 3 months away and that there was a lot to do in preparing the teams (and their parents) for this trip. For the girls it was business as usual – been there, done that and got the T-shirt – and yes they have accomplished all 3!

For the boys this will all be new territory and it will be interesting to see how they come together as a team – ‘very’ interesting in fact as one of them is now at University in Newcastle and so will only really have the time between Christmas and their flight to Prague on 2nd January to get together with his team mates, though he will be playing at Kelso with the Glendale Club I believe.

I am excited about the England team prospects at the Europeans in Champery – in Alan MacDougall we have a world class skip who has lost none of his flair which was evident in Bob’s recent video clip http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7zpC7FDLVk

With Andrew Reed at third he has formed a tight partnership tested through European Mixed Championships for the past 4 years. There is NOBODY who is more passionate about English curling than Andrew and he always gives his all for his country.

The front end of Andrew Woolston and Tom Jaeggi have international experience at Junior and Senior level and have that steadying influence which all dynamic back ends need!

On the ladies side we welcome Lorna Rettig back onto the international scene and with the continuity provided by Kirsty Balfour at third, playing in her 8th European Championships, I am looking forward to them bouncing back into the A division at the first attempt. Nicola Woodward and Suzie Law will have the task of setting things up at the start of each end.

That's Alan MacDougall on the left, with Andrew Reed. Suzie Law is on the right of this pic. (Lana Watson is the other in this photo of England's European Mixed Team)

On the domestic front there has been a boom in Senior curling – a new women’s team will be going to the World’s this year after a gap in England’s representation for two years – Sandra Moorcroft, Susan Young, Alison Barr and Jean Robinson will be our girls out in St Paul in April.

Who will go with them is far from decided however. I have been fortunate enough to represent England in the World Seniors for the last 6 years and in only two of those years did we have to face a challenge – from one other team - to win our trip. This year there are 4 teams entered and a playdown is scheduled to take place over the weekend of 3-5th December at Greenacres.

So am I looking forward to it? In a way I am – at least if I win no one will be able to say that I was only going to St Paul because there were no other entries, but obviously it is going to be hard work to win through, but I will be giving it 100%, especially as there will be an 18 month gap between World Senior events and I am not getting any younger! From a personal point of view the fact that my only niece is getting married in London that weekend only adds to the challenge!

But before all that we have a new tournament at Kelso on the 16th and 17th October – the Duncan Stewart Memorial Trophy - where we will have 32 players formed into 8 teams by pulling their names out of a hat and competing for this new trophy, presented by Mary Stewart in memory of her husband Duncan who was one of the stalwarts of English curling until his death earlier this year. We hope that this trophy will be a popular addition to the ECA calendar and will be taking it around the country in future years.

And hopefully that ‘around the country’ will include Sheffield and Solihull, two venues where we are trying hard to establish curling – a very successful visit by Rhona Martin in the summer (see
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKGpA9BNONo) has sparked off regular curling sessions at Sheffield, although Solihull remains a more tantalising prospect owing to a lack of free spaces in a very busy rink programme of events.

And finally, from an English point of view, I am looking forward to showcasing the best ice we have ever had in England when the 4 Nations weekend is held in Fenton’s Rink in Kent in January. As I said above I was down there yesterday and it is looking super with keen ice.

For the ECA this will be the biggest event they have held and you can be sure that the organising committee will be working hard to make sure that all the visitors are fed and watered to their satisfaction, transported to where they want or need to be and given a good time on the ice – even when they are beating the English teams (as if)!

Looking further afield (Scotland and the rest of Great Britain!) there has not been a year recently with so much change happening at any one time – a new CEO at the RCCC and a new Chair of British Curling – I am looking forward to them working together – and also to them working apart – there needs to be a clear distinction I believe in the various roles of the RCCC and British Curling – many of the problems raised in the Scottish Curling Forum and elsewhere are caused by a lack of clarity about their roles. No one can serve both masters, convenient though it may appear to be.

So I look forward to a clearing of the air about who is funding what and who, who is in charge of the different aspects related to the 2014 Olympics, and who is responsible for making sure that curling across Britain at various levels benefits from the Olympic process.

What is clear is that British Curling must have one and one only aim – providing the British Olympic and Paralympic Associations with three teams, prepared as no other teams have been before, to go on to the ice at Sochi and do their utmost to win medals for Great Britain.

Within that aim it is necessary for the RCCC, ECA and WCA to work to ensure that their domestic game is in good health and able to provide the players to be in those teams – however they are selected.

Most of all I look forward to a season which will remind me why I love this sport and why I continue to be excited about the prospects that face me on and off the ice for the next 7 months.

Have a good season everybody. May the better team win, but may you all come off the ice feeling that you had a ‘grand old time’.