Can there be a better setting for croquet? (Photo: Dave Kibble)by John Bevington at Wrest Park
The teams for the Club Finals weekend came from all points of the croquet compass: Bowdon, Pendle & Craven and Fylde from the north, Woking and Surbiton from the south, Dyffryn and Bristol from the west and Norwich from the east. No matter what route they took, they all managed to negotiate the various gates and padlocks and arrive in good time. The event takes place when many players might think the season to be already over, with the dew hanging on until lunchtime and the light rapidly failing in the early evening. Even though the sun may have struggled to show itself through the cloud the weather remained dry and reasonably warm throughout, with barely a breath of wind.
Wrest Park were hosting the event for the first time and almost immediately failed the first managerial hurdle by getting the some of the names in the wrong place when filling in the pre-prepared order of play sheets. We soon realised that the safest course was to enter the order of play for the afternoon before that for the morning. The matches were arranged so that the Longman Cup games took place on the outer pairs of lawns, with the Mary Rose and Inter Club finals on the middle lawns with tighter hoops. There was an ulterior motive, as most of the available referees were thus exposed at the centre. Doubles games were on the lawns on the pavilion side, which had its good and bad points - you had to watch out for the slope, but you were closer to the bar.
Pendle made a good start in the Mary Rose final when John Filsak made light of the conditions to beat Bob Stephens, and Liz Wilson made a great recovery to beat Ian Parkinson +3 in what turned out to be the crucial game of the match. The doubles was pegged down at lunchtime with Pendle on peg and penult against Surbiton on 3-back and 4-back. Having taken part in several finals himself manager and ROT George Collin was well aware that the Mary Rose, with no time limits, is the one to keep an eye on. If the doubles is unresolved and the afternoon games fail to start in good time you can find yourself at 3-3 with the light fading fast and wishing you had hired floodlights.
In the afternoon Liz continued her good form with a win over Bob, but Surbiton then recovered to 3-2 when Ian clawed his way back to beat John and Mary Knapp, whose smooth hoop running was exemplary, overcame Peter Wilson +3. Mary, against peg and rover, hit the long lift shot and laid up outside corner 1 for peg and peg. Peter missed a 20 yarder but Mary rushed partner into hoop 1 and had to split the opponents and lay up south of rover. Peter missed and that was it. Manager and ROT George Collin then had to impose a time limit on the game between Robert Essler and David Mooney, but Robert eventually finished to take the game and the match. It wasn't until everyone had left that we realised that two of the scores were missing from the sheet.
Sunday saw an early start with the mowing of the four lawns for the finals, the other two having been mown the previous evening. The Longman Cup final between Fylde and Dyffryn had Dyffryn 2-1 ahead at lunch, Les Bowker and Marian Clancy winning the doubles +5 on time and James Clancy beating Terry Vernazza. Fylde captain Martin Bradshaw maintained an unbeaten run, winning +22 against Alwen Bowker, and continued his good form in the afternoon with a +26 win against Les Bowker, which earned him a handicap reduction to 10 from 11. Fylde won the remaining afternoon singles to win the match and the Longman Cup 5-2.
The Inter Club final got under way on schedule at 10.30 and turned out to be more one-sided than anyone could reasonably have expected. Colin Irwin and Ian Lines won the doubles against David Goacher and Roger Jenkins in front of all the spectators, but the real action was taking place on the far side. At one point Dave Kibble and Martin Murray were queueing up for the rover peel (Martin being on a straight triple), and although Martin failed to complete, winning +19 shortly afterwards, Dave went on to win +16TP with a combination peg-out, a half-ball cannon from 3-4 yards on the partner ball about a yard from the peg.
In the afternoon it was more of the same. Martin Granger-Brown and Ken Cooper could only sit and watch as Martin completed another triple and Dave wrapped it up for Bristol with a quadruple. On the other lawn Roger Jenkins, continuing his recent good form, took full advantage of the opportunities provided by an out-of-sorts Colin Irwin. David Goacher sealed it with a +14TP win against Ian Lines. The closing stages were done with a flourish, and it was all over, with Bristol 6-1 winners, by 5 o'clock.
Bernard Neal presented Bristol with the Inter Club shield and the Beddow Cup, receiving a new lease of life after nearly 40 years, and stayed on to present the Longman Cup to Fylde. The tumult and the shouting dies, the captains and the teams depart. It's at Wrest Park again next year- try and be there.