Cheshire won the 2004 Inter Counties Championship with eight match wins, losing only to Avon and to Gloucestershire. Their team of Colin Irwin, Ian Lines, David Maugham, Brian Storey, Lawrence Whittaker and Jenny Williams had done enough to secure victory by the start of the final day's play, and they had six 3-0 wins. In a double triumph for the north, Lancashire, with David Openshaw playing for the first time in many years, were runners up with seven wins. The second division trophy was won convincingly by Suffolk, who had a total of nine match wins. Their team of Peter Allnut, Mark Avery, Steve Comish, Phil Eardley, Martin Leach and Mike Percival lost only to Glamorgan. At the presentation the twelve winners as well as the manager, Chris Williams, and the tournament organiser, Bill Arliss, were presented with bottles of wine from Bellingham, the sponsors of the event, and all the players had a chance to sample the Bellingham wines at a wine tasting on the Saturday evening.
With Jenny Williams of New Zealand now qualified for Cheshire she and David Maugham proved a hard first pairing to beat, with David performing a quintuple peel on the first day and numerous triples. At Compton on the third day, however, he was heard to say on pegging out that it was the best triple he had ever done. Patrick Hort of Nottinghamshire had stuck in penult using David's ball; from having to roquet a ball in the jaws of a hoop, and with the other two balls in corner 2 and corner 4, he managed to dig out a standard triple.
Cheshire's first match was against Sussex, last year's Division Two champions. Sadly for Sussex they will be back in that division next season as they failed to register a match win, but their deciding game against the eventual champions on the first morning was a cliff hanger. Colin Irwin did a TPO on Ian Vincent, leaving Lawrence Whittaker to 2 ball it round while Bill Arliss practised for the upcoming World Golf Croquet Championships by attempting to blast balls through hoops from long distances and incredible angles - he almost made it! Meanwhile at Compton Hertfordshire were playing Dorset on lightning fast lawns, which made controlled play extremely difficult, and the victory eventually went to Hertfordshire +1T, -1T, +1T. This result later proved to be crucial, as at the end of the competition three teams were tied on four match wins for the other two relegation places. A somewhat depleted Middlesex had eleven game wins and so will be in the second division next season along with Sussex. Hertfordshire and Dorset were tied on twelve games each, and so Hertfordshire stayed up by virtue of that +1T win on the first day.
To add insult to injury, in the last match Dorset were double banked with Hertfordshire at Southwick. Peter Trimmer of Dorset was watching John Gibbons of Hertfordshire do a triple peel, when he saw John Irish peel penult, roquet the escape ball and then, forgetting he had done an Irish peel, run penult again. Peter was naturally unable to say anything and John' s opponents didn't notice because they were talking to Peter and had their backs to the lawn! In the light of the subsequent games tie with Dorset this must have been particularly galling. Plus One on Time will not be Dorset's favourite phrase. In their second match against Avon in the deciding game they were one ahead after time was called and Alex Leggate came on to take the final shot. He shot from B baulk at a ball halfway down the lawn, missed completely and ended up running hoop 4, which was his hoop! This levelled the scores. He then dribbled 10 yards to his partner ball and just hit it, took off to hoop 5 and ran a 45? angled hoop to win +1T.
Division Two had something of a new look to it. This year Northumberland and the Channel Islands were unable to raise a team; instead a team from Norfolk played for the first time, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves with three match wins, and three members of the old Channel Islands team formed the nucleus of a CA Europe team with players from Spain and Belgium. There was also a CA Select team from England, largely made up of local players from Southwick and Compton. The CA Select team and a severely depleted Berkshire team only managed one win apiece, but the CA Europe team had eight wins and finished as runners up to Suffolk. Captain Fernando Ansorena was rarely without a smile on his face. Fortunately for Glamorgan, who finished fourth behind third placed Yorkshire (both on seven match wins) the CA Europe team were not eligible for promotion, which means Glamorgan gained promotion despite having to play both Sue Mackay (9) and Liz Williams (20) on the last day.
The weather was kind, especially on the bank holiday Monday, but torrential overnight rain meant that the Southwick lawns were flooded on the final morning. Fortunately the club is now well equipped with sweeping implements and players who arrived early were pressed into action to clear the puddles. The rain then had the decency to hold off for the rest of the day. Thanks as usual are due to the Sussex County and Compton clubs for the use of their lawns, and for the superb catering. Special mention should go to the good ladies of Compton this year, who coped admirably with the water board shutting off the supply following a dramatic leak. They served lunches in the cricket pavilion but managed to produce the teas lawnside with the minimum of fuss. As usual the Counties was a wonderful festival of croquet.