Gloucestershire won the Lincoln Unit Trust Managers Inter County Championship on a sunny Whitsun weekend with 8 match wins. Their team of Louise Bradforth, Dave Foulser, Don Gaunt, Dave Kibble, Paul Smith and Brian Wainman had to beat Avon in the final game to be sure of victory, so interest was maintained right up till the end. Avon needed to win by 3-0 to take the championship on games won, so when Gloucestershire's Dave Kibble pegged out it was certain that the trophy would be going to Cheltenham. In a very close game on the next lawn Marcus Evans (Avon) pegged out one ball as time was called to level the scores. With his last turn Paul Smith of Gloucestershire hit in from corner 2 to corner 1, took off behind a ball two yards off the east boundary, rushed towards rover, made a very angled rover, hit the 6-yard return roquet and took off to the peg. Appropriately enough Paul's partner in this crucial +1T victory was Don Gaunt, author of the book "Plus One on Time". The win ensured Gloucestershire outright victory on matches won. Nottinghamshire were looking very strong until they lost to Cheshire on the last day, but they finished in second spot with 7 match wins.
The second division championship also had what amounted to a final, with Sussex and Lancashire, both on 8 wins, drawn against each other in the last round. The Sussex team of Bill Arliss, Rutger Beijderwellen, Paul Castell, Jack Davies, Barry James, Colin Prichard, Ian Vincent and Roger Wood beat Lancashire 2-1 to ensure outright victory with 9 match wins, losing only to Dorset. The Dorset team were also promoted to the first division next season along with Sussex and Lancashire. Pete Trimmer of Dorset achieved triple peels in four successive matches.
Interest in the relegation battle was also maintained right up to the last match. Suffolk had not had an easy time of things and was clearly in last place, their single match win being at the expense of Middlesex. Northumberland were the champions in 2001 and the runners-up in 2002, but were unable to find their form until the last day, when they suddenly pulled off two 3-0 victories against Essex and Middlesex. Sadly this was not enough, and with only four match wins in total they were relegated to the second division along with Suffolk and Glamorgan.
Glamorgan were probably everyone's favourites for relegation at the start of the tournament, but they confounded the formbook by winning their first two matches. The first match on Lawns 1,2 and 3 was a nail-biting affair. David Goacher and Marcus Evans (Avon) had got lost on their way to the tournament and arrived at 10am to find their balls in two of the games long since deemed on to the lawns. Due to the late start the games were the last to finish, and two of them went to a golden hoop. Chris Williams of Glamorgan needed to peel 2-back and go to the peg to go one ahead. He ran rover and rushed a ball to four feet in front of 2-back, where he made a long straight peel but left himself a 6-yard roquet, which he missed. With the scores level David Goacher then missed a 4-yard roquet, and Chris pegged out to win +1T. On the adjacent lawn James Mackay (Glamorgan) had pegged out Alex Leggate (Avon), but Roger Jenkins of Avon kept hitting in and was fast catching up with Garry McElwain. As time was about to be called James pegged himself out to level the scores, and a cat and mouse game ensued as Roger and Garry both attempted to approach 4-back from opposite sides of the hoop. Garry eventually hit and ran the hoop with barely time to snatch a bite before the next match was due to start. On the Sunday afternoon Glamorgan triumphed over Middlesex for about half a second: John Evans ran the golden hoop in the deciding game, only to see it roll back into the jaws.
The Counties of course would not be the Counties without its fair share of incidents and its mixture of brilliant play and truly awful play. Spectators at Compton on the first day were treated to the sight of Reg Bamford doing a triple peel for Middlesex whilst double banked with Robert Fulford doing a quadruple peel for Essex. David Tutt of Hertfordshire, however, was completely unfazed by being up against the World No.1 and the World No.2 and pulled off wins against both of them. Hertfordshire, promoted last season after several years of receiving the wooden spoon, finished in a very respectable 6th place in the top division.
On the Monday evening Andrew Cowing of Middlesex went round to 3-back against Gloucestershire and then ostensibly went to the toilet. In fact he had to rush off to catch a plane back to Switzerland, leaving his partner Phil Cordingley to attempt the quadruple peel. Gloucestershire looked on bemused as Phil persisted with the quad attempt even when it was clearly no longer on, but it was only when he eventually finished his turn and laid up the rush for himself rather than his partner that Gloucestershire realised they only had one opponent. Berkshire and Devon, both languishing at the foot of the second division, met each other in the last match on Lawns 10 and 11 at Southwick. At one point all the clips in both games were either on hoop 3 or 4-back, and there seemed to be a constant stream of referees going to that hoop. It transpired that two balls from different games were both stuck in critical positions in the hoop. Berkshire's opponents were sometimes amused to find that they were playing against a partnership of Martin Burger and Joe King - perhaps next year they should get Burger King to sponsor them!
Stephen Mulliner played for Surrey on the Sunday for the first time in many years and lost all three of his games, and 15-year-old Jack Wicks from Colchester was playing for Essex. Jack recently gained his bronze, silver and gold merit award badges all in the space of four weeks. Lancashire's David Nicholson has overcome the problem of there being three David Nicholsons in the CA by paying £5 to the CA to register the pseudonym Dave Nick.
Unsurprisingly in a competition solely devoted to doubles play there were the usual complaints of slow play and couples taking far too long to decide on their shot. There could be no complaints at Compton on Bank Holiday Monday. All matches in the Northumberland/Nottinghamshire game were completed in under two hours and Lawn 5 was completely clear by 11am. Offers of a quick game of one ball were even heard. For the first time at the Counties a five-minute warm-up was allowed, which was ended at Southwick by the sounding of a klaxon and at Compton by the chiming of the town hall clock. This had the advantage that it got virtually all the players out onto the lawns by 9.30 on the first day, something that is normally very difficult to do.
Thanks are due once again to both Southwick and Compton for the superb catering, and to all the hoop setters and behind the scenes workers who helped to make this such a memorable event. Thanks also to Chris Williams for managing the event and to Ian Lines for managing the first two days at Compton. The fact that Chris was the manager and hence able to park in the club car park should have given most people a clue as to the owner of the red Mini Cooper, registration CR03UET!