GB v Ireland
There was something of a feeling of deja vu at the table in Howie's Restaurant as five members of the GB team that played in the Solomon Trophy enjoyed a pre-match meal. The first question from one of first time visitors was what are the lawns like, to which the unbelievably harsh answer was basically like Heaton Park (the scene of our victory over the US) except a bit slower, not quite as flat and with easier hoops. Although a statement of fact the truth is that The Meadows although not quite in the league of one of the best clubs in the country is certainly in the next division and worthy of mention in the same breath. If you take overall location into account too, set in a busy suburb with plenty of restaurants, pubs, hotels and within walking distance of the city centre, such that you can arrive park your car and not have to contemplate driving it again until the end of the event it really represents a superb venue for a croquet event. Anyway after a brief sojourn on to great motorway landmarks and champagne bottle sizes (Keith seemed to be an expert on both) it didn't take us long to all live up to our on-line persona's in reality, discussing the relative merits of camels, hoop bases and trying (and failing) to come up with better ideas. The ground hog day was eventually broken when Samir (replacing Ian Lines from the Solomon) arrived in time to order a starter to accompany our desserts, which the slightly puzzled waiter coped with admirably.
The SCA who since being awarded the match had put a lot of effort into making sure the event was a success, including securing sponsorship from the Clydesdale Bank, had arranged accommodation for the players in a nearby University Hall of Residence, following some debate it was proved that this was within a minute of the lawns (running) and could be walked casually in about two and a half. The match started with doubles and the return of ground hog day as GB won all three matches before lunch winning all their games with TPs. Top pair Maugham and Patel were taken to three by Williams and Fitzgerald the main talking point being the end of the first game when Williams peeled rover but failed it into the jaws himself. Patel's 4 back ball was the side ball a foot from rover not rushable to one and Maugham's hoop one ball was the deep ball with a 6 yarder at peelee. After much discussion, which included David putting his glove on, Patel took his one footer only to see Williams hit the subsequent 35 yarder to win the game.
The singles in the afternoon saw many quick matches and something of a peeling fest including the first ever sextuple in Scotland, fittingly by Scottish number one Keith Aiton. He seemed to think it was rather a good one but as he chose to do it whilst the biggest critics were all in play we will never be sure! A few of us were watching by the time Maugham laid for a Ladies in the second against Cunningham but with the six peels done before 4 back we had lost interest and didn't see him misapproach penult so badly that he wasn't even able to attempt the hoop. The not inconsiderable crowd seemed to be loving every minute of it. The Irish got themselves on the board when Williams beat Patel finishing from the contact after a TPO in the decider. After rover Samir had failed to rush partner off the E boundary (due to the lack of a boundary board in my opinion) but elected to still only peg Simon off when most onlookers thought pegging his ball off too would have been more prudent. Nonetheless despite this setback as the local hoopgod put it by the end of the day's play Ireland needed to win all the remaining matches to still lose.
After a couple of camel trials we were taken to an excellent French restaurant barely a couple of hundred yards from the club and fed and watered for the evening, again at our host's expense.
The following day with the match over and the weather worse things were predictably slightly lower key, but still attracted a sizeable crowd which was a real who's who of Scottish croquet. Hopefully all those who attended over the course of the two days, contributing significantly to the event simply by being there, thought it was worth the time they invested in attending. At the very least it must have been value for money! Burridge completed the second sextuple of the event (rewarded with no bottle (normal size) of champagne unlike Aiton's earlier), making a straight quad finish look relatively straight forward. Fitzgerald who had spent the previous evening whinging about how Kirby hadn't missed against him dished out the same medicine to Aiton, his 2-1 victory might have been 2-0 had he not tried to make hoop 1 with the wrong ball on his second break in game 2.
It began to look like what was almost certain to be an all time first was unfolding as the matches finished in reverse order (i.e. from the bottom up). With Patel having TPO'd Cunningham in game 3 (this time with 2 off) of the second match and Maugham and Williams still only just starting the third game of their truly "top" match it looked a certainty. Sadly the record was not forthcoming with neither player setting the world alight in the two ball ending and an impasse had more or less been reached when Maugham completed a TP to win and end the match, with the Irish plane awaiting and the impasse unresolved, making the final score GB 12 Ireland 2.
The Maugham Salver (donated by David) was presented for the first time to Keith, the winning captain, along with miniature bottles of whisky and commemorative glasses for all the players (which have ably assisted with the writing of this report!)
From a player's perspective the event was a great experience and undoubtedly the best renewal of the event on home soil. Just as earlier in the year at Heaton Park a lot of local (and not so local) members had put a great deal of effort into ensuring that the event was a success and we are all very grateful to them. I hope that they feel their overall goals were achieved, certainly they surpassed the players expectations and I hope they will see fit to bid for this or a similar event again in the future.
(Just realised I haven't mentioned Tony Le Moignan, he's the one with a baseball cap and sunglasses who's GB record this summer reads doubles played 4, won 4 singles played 5 won 5. He is the anchor!)