Category Archives: pursuits

Alex Booth - blasts another boundary on the way to a match losing score of 117

NOBs vs. W&SCC 2017

The NOBs 2017. With various children & their golf pro, Dave Robertson.

The NOBs 2017. With various children & their golf pro, Dave Robertson.

As the NOBS skipper, Andy Hobbs, walked out to open the batting, half his team were still en-route for Warborough and Shillingford Cricket Club. There is normally no excuse for tardiness, but now Pret-a-Manger do chocalate coissants with a hint of hazelnut – it’s completely understandable that the NOBs bowling duo of ‘The Rhino’ and ‘The Tornado’ were delayed at South Mimms. Especially as ‘The Tornado’ has recently purchased a new classic BMW and won’t let anyone eat a croissant inside his new automobile – let alone a KFC as ‘The Rhino’ laughably intimated on their return home.

Alex Booth - blasts another boundary on the way to a match losing score of 117

Alex Booth – blasts another boundary on the way to a match losing score of 117

When the duo finally arrived at the ground, Andy Hobbs was sheepishly walking back to the pavilion.

“I was due to bat number 4,” explained middle-order dynamo Don Leiper, “we were one wicket down and only had six players – but I still didn’t get a bat.” Unfortunately for the Don, Andy Hobbs, is regularly bowled out by his two year old son in the garden, so was no match for the W&SCC opening bowler, Tim, which meant ‘The Rhino” was sent straight into bat as the innings faltered.

The NOBs were soon two wickets down as Paul Daniels selflessly sacrificed his wicket so he could return to parent his two daughters aged four and six. (Their combined ages being 8 more than the runs Paul scored.)
‘Who do we hate?’ Paul asked his oldest girl back at the pavilion.
‘Theresa May.’
‘And what song do we sing about her?’
‘Liar, liar.’
In all the years that NOBs players have been bringing their children to games, there has never been a finer example of parenting displayed than this. No wonder Paul is in the team. His batting is limited and his fielding barely effective – but as a fine upstanding gent and as an role model for young children, there are clearly none more impressive than Paul.

Back out to the pitch and an intriguing duel was developing. Tim, who occasionally plays minor-counties level was burning into bowl, fresh from taking 10 wickets for 12 runs against Didcot under 9′s. He was fast and furious and Alex Booth was making the most of his gardening leave from work by scything him through the covers and cutting him through the gully. His 117 runs would have been a match-winning innings if he’d been playing for the other side. He was ably supported by Rhino, who nurdled a few runs in the morning and then came out Ian Botham-style after lunch. It is hard to know whether he was empowered by the bottles of red & port he swigged during the break, or the incendiary comments of the ‘leave’ voting W&SCC declaration bowler.

“I’ve got that fat Aussie guy of yours, with the faded cap, in my pocket,” stated the bowler, “I’ll have him out after lunch, mark my words.”

“Fair dinkum cobber,” replied a svelte Rhino from under his faded cap, “why don’t you try that?”

Lunch: enjoying a few last slices of Brie before we crash out of the single market

Lunch: enjoying a few last slices of Brie before we crash out of the single market

Lunch was – as always – a convivial affair where the two teams mingled and tried to show the other team that they were far more committed ‘remainers’ than the other side. The metropolitan elite argued fiercely with their yokel brethren that not only had they voted remain but that they loved Jeremy Corbyn. The remainers from the shires poo-pooed their big City cousins by saying that not only did they vote remain, but they all had crushes on Diane Abbott. Eventually, both teams decided that the only was to decide who were the most ardent pro-europeans was mano-a-mano (or rather, mano-a-bat) on the cricket pitch.

(This report isn’t the place to discuss politics, but the author has noted that HM Government has decided to roll back austerity – and therefore hopes this philosophy will reach Warborough in time for the next fixture – meaning the players will be served full-sized portions rather than the deficit busting morsels of this year’s fare.)

Alex and 'The Rhino.' "The faster you bowl 'em, the further we hit 'em."

Alex and ‘The Rhino.’ “The faster you bowl ‘em, the further we hit ‘em.”

Once the NOBs had scored 231 – aided by three dropped catches by W&SCC skipper James Tilley, Andy decided – without consulting his vice-captain – to declare. It was a move straight out of the ‘Strong & Stable’ play-book and one that The Telegraph would have been sure to support – before changing it’s mind when the result came in.

Andy threw the ball to Rhino, who had blazed a swash-buckling 1/2 century earlier, and was now ready to deliver some new-ball justice. He turned the pitch into a veritable mine-field luring the W&SCC opening batsmen into the corridor of uncertainty and keeping them there. He snaffled a wicket – and this would have been his last major contribution of the game if he hadn’t spent the next two hours marooned on the boundary shouting encouragement to his team mates like an Australian accented fog-horn.

Dave Simms zipped in from the other end, and was unlucky not to induce some nibbles which might have reached the slips. If he had, this would have given Ed ‘The Chunder’ Williams an opportunity to make a contribution to the game other than wearing his shorty-shorts as an umpire and setting hearts racing by wearing his wife’s white Aquascutum trousers when fielding. Normally Ed can be relied upon to bowl a gift-wrapped 25 runs-an-over spell of declaration bowling, or injure himself during a dramatic and avoidable run-out. However, in 2017 he was remarkably quiet – except for enquiring whether ‘Dorris’ was wearing y-fronts or a thong under his batting trousers.

W&SCC were starting to chip away at the total – at which point Andy threw the ball to yours truly, ‘The Tornado.’ Before long another batsmen was back in the hutch and there were murmurings that in years to come I could become the NOBs very own ‘Fox.’ And when the W&SCC number four walked out – and a certain Tim came to the crease, I saw an opportunity as a new batsman is always at his most vulnerable at the start of his innings.

After a mere 87 runs, blazed to all corners, we found Tim’s weakness. He was particularly vulnerable if he’s scored 30 runs in his previous over. Before departing Tim had battered his balls all over Mrs Fotherington’s flowering clematis – but was sent packing by skipper Andy Hobbs. He brought himself onto bowl, after a string of questionable bowling change decisions such as allowing pretty much anyone else to bowl. Ben Treadway’s single over was without question, the worst NOBs over ever bowled. Even worse than Ed’s declaration bowling. Jamie Burton was given a bowl and initially approached the crease like an arthritic Wilde-beast, barely able to release the ball. Fortunately, after several overs he loosened up and remembered he wasn’t a spin bowler – but a handy medium-pacer. James Hobbs managed to discover a few moments of magic – and I feel confident he would have found his rhythm given another 10 or 12 overs.

Surprisingly, Dave ‘Mr Italy’ Robertson wasn’t asked to turn his arm over. Whether this was because he’s no good at bowling – or whether he was dressed like he was about to play 18 holes at Wentworth, we’ll never know. However, as David had subbed for the other side, umpired and fielded for both teams he could certainly go home knowing he’d made an impact in terms of both athleticism and sporting fashion.

Before long, the game came to a close. The NOBs fourth wicket was caught by Freddie, a W&SCC sub who can bat, bowl and field. For years, the NOBs have derided W&SCC for pursuing a youth policy. But now, the 14 & 15 year old’s of five years ago are energetic 20 year olds who have the advantage of strength, co-ordination – and most significantly – they don’t need to take their glasses off and squint if the ball comes anywhere near them.

Dorris took charge of finishing the run race. The Fox, the W&SCC pro-athlete didn’t even need to come out to bat. After four years of being battered by the NOBs, W&SCC managed to keep the rubber alive with a thrusting and long-overdue victory.

Training for the NOBs vs W&SCC 2035

Training for the NOBs vs W&SCC 2035

Portraits from the Stadium: Photographs by Mark Burton (held at Cut To Size, Palmerston Road)

E17 Art Trail 2010 Gallery

Portraits from the Stadium: Photographs by Mark Burton (held at Cut To Size, Palmerston Road)

Portraits from the Stadium: Photographs by Mark Burton (held at Cut To Size, Palmerston Road)

Portraits from the Stadium: Photographs by Mark Burton (held at Cut To Size, Palmerston Road)

Portraits from the Stadium: Photographs by Mark Burton (held at Cut To Size, Palmerston Road)

Portraits from the Stadium: Photographs by Mark Burton (held at Cut To Size, Palmerston Road)

Portraits from the Stadium: Photographs by Mark Burton (held at Cut To Size, Palmerston Road)

Secret: new photographs by Matt Taylor (held at Village Bakery Shop)

100sqft exhibition (held at The Castle Pub)

Carne Griffiths work at The Castle Pub

100sqft exhibition (held at The Castle Pub)

Ginola and Rob

Rob flanked by Mark (left) and Scott (right)

There are few people more inspirational than my friend Rob. He’s been an inner-city school teacher for over ten years and had a tremendous impact on numerous young student’s lives. But as they – and Rob’s colleagues are all acutely aware – much of Rob’s own inspiration comes from watching Spurs play at White Hart Lane.

Rob and Scott in December 1991. Delighted to hear Ginola will be signing for Spurs in six years time

Rob and Scott in December 2008, still celebrating Ginola’s wonder-goal against Barnsley in March 1999

And there have been few more inspiring Spurs players in recent years, than David Ginola. All football fans remember the Frenchman’s touch of genius, while most will recall a light-hearted stadium-chant suggesting that Ginola might be on Posh Spice’s mind during a certain ’domestic’ activity with her husband.

Anyway, no suprise that Tottenham Hotspur inducted Ginola into the Spurs Hall of Fame, and Rob, Scott and I attended the event on December 11th as part of Rob’s 40th birthday celebrations.

‘When Ledley, goes up, to get the Carling Cup, we’ll be there…’

As we arrived at the ground, we were greeted by a security guard, well known for previously ejecting one of us from the ground during a match for ‘over-exuberence.’ But after brandishing our tickets and giving him a Ginola-like shimmy, we were soon safely within the hallowed confines of the stadium.

‘This is suite…’

Rob, with a reputation for talking ten-to-the-dozen was temporarily quiet… …and took in the surroundings with a reverence usually exhibited by pilgrims to religous shrines.

‘Non! Non, David! We’re not worthy!’

Soon, we were in the club marquee, and watching Ginola make his modest entrance. Rob picked his moment and went and said a few private words to his hero.

Later, some of Ginola’s old team-mates made warm introductions. Midfield hard-men Tim Sherwood and Allan Nielsen recalled their exhertions to win the ball before Ginola could begin his mazy runs. Gary Mabbutt and David Pleat reminisced appropriately. There’s always a danger that awards ceremonies will turn into one big love-in, but the right note of appreciation and gentle ribbing was struck.

Ginola was invited onto the stage and similarly hit the right note of gratitude and appreciation. A moment of quality mirth involved an anecdote about Tim Sherwood. Before playing together at Spurs, their prior encounters for different clubs usually left Ginola on the ground being told by Sherwood to, ‘get up you French twat.’

Top Banter…

‘Who is that over there? Sacre bleu! Its George Graham! I am so pleased to see you!’

Gary Mabbutt giving David Ginola his award

‘Because he’s worth it…’

Ginola seemed really, really delighted to be given his award, and I was glad to see someone so talented – and so often misunderstood by the managers he played for – being given some well-deserved kudos.

Its impossible to know someone from an occasion like this, but I was left with the impression of a man whose dazzling confidence on the pitch was matched by a genuine modesty away from it. Ginola seemed like the sort of bloke that would be very welcome on one of our nights out – although its fair to say he might find it a difficult experience, because of course all the girls would be looking at us handsome hunks and not David…

David Ginola and Turkish

One of the worlds most infamous heart-throbs and ladies man. And David Ginola…

As the evening wore on, Ginola and the other Spurs legends – Pat Jennings, Gary Mabbut et al – were all tremendous good sports signing autographs and having their photos taken. Rob, true to form, greeted each one as if he’d just bumped into them at the pub and was clearly having the time of his life.

Rob, Pat Jennings and Scott. Incidentally, Pat Jennings and I have two similarities: we’re both goalkeepers, and niether of us has changed our hair-styles since the 1970′s

A genuine, old fashioned gent. Pat Jennings was photographed on numeous occasions and was charming and accomodating throughout the evening.

“I think I’m going to win the raffle,” said Mary who was sat next to Scott. A couple of hours later, she did!

Gary Mabbutt. Sixteen years playing for Spurs. When he ran round the pitch at White Hart Lane after his final game, many grown men (including Rob) shed a few tears.

A bonus to the whole evening was watching Scott snoozing at our table. Our charming waitress had cleared everything around him, and as Rob and I returned from our numerous photo-calls she asked, looking at Scott, ‘I don’t know what to do… what should I do?’ At this point, Rob and I realised that this evening of inspiration was now at an end. It was time to wrap Scott up, and escort him home like a sleepy toddler.

The ultimate Flitch-u-mentary

Chris and Jeff, with the Great Dunow sign

'What's a Flitch?' .... 'I don't know, but lets come back in four years and compete for one.'

Some time in the dim and distant mists of time… March 2004 to be precise… Chris Collins, and self-styled ‘directional savant,’ Jeff Dotts, got lost en-route from Heathrow Airport to visit me in Suffolk.

Fortuitously, they stumbled across a sign saying, ‘Great Dunmow, Ancient Flitch Town.’ Their curiosity piqued, they subsquently found out all about the famous Great Dunmow Flitch Trials, where married couples can put their love on trial, and if successful, win half a pig. The die was cast – they resolved to return with wives and friends, and compete for half a cured, salted pig as couples have done since 1104.

Despite the fluctuations on the currency market meaning one of our UK pounds costs approx $1 million, three American couples – Jeff and Erin, Chris and Nathalie, Shawn and Elaine – all decided to apply for the trials. But only five couples are selected for trials, which are held every four years.

We waited with baited breath…. would one of the couples be selected…. and yes, Jeff and Erin were!

Radio Four's radio car

Gordon Brown doesn't look this happy after being interviewed on Radio 4. Jeff, Erin and Flitch Trial Judge, Micahael Chapman

As dawn broke on July 12th, a day which will live forever in the annals of true-love and pork products, Jeff and Erin explained to an expectant nation, via the BBC Radio Four outside broadcast car, why they had come from Nashville, Tennessee to put their love on trial. ‘What better way,’ explained Jeff, to Edward Sturton, ‘to express the love you have for your wife than to compete for bacon?’

Mr Sturton, used to grilling senior politicians and world leaders, on a regular basis wanted to know more. Was Erin worried about the questions she might be asked on the trial. ‘I’m just going to tell the truth,’ she said, ‘that we’re in love and happily married.’

Flitch Trial judge, Michael Chapman, sat alongside, and explained how the trials would unfold. He would sit high on a Dias with the jury to one side and the counsel to the other. There would be counsel for the couple, whose job it was to convince the jury neither had ‘wished each other apart’ in ‘a year and a day,’or committed a ‘nuptial transgression.’ Then, there would be counsel for the owners of the bacon, whose job it was to prevent them winning the prize.

Turn of the centuary Flitch Trial Judge and Counsel

Judge and Counsel from yester-year

While we waited for Jeff and Erin’s trial, we happened acroos a small exhibit of Flitch Trial photographs. These ones above are from the 1905 trials. They were the inspiration for the ‘team’ photo I took of the 2008 Judge and Counsel.

The Trail Team with Jeff and Erin

Jeff and Erin with Flitch Judge, Counsel, Usher and Chaplain

Flitch Trial Usher on Great Dunmow High Street

Make way for the Flitch!

Jeff and Erin were going to be the second trial of the day. However, it wasn’t just a case of turning up, each trial was preceeded by a procession through the town, led by the court usher who stopped traffic to make way for the judge, jury, claimants and Flitch.

Great Dunmow Town Cryer, Richard Harris

'Oh Yay, Oh Yay...' Richard Harris, Great Dunmow's Town Cryer, explaining what's going on...

The Great Dunmow Flitch

The Great Dunmow Flitch Bearers carrying the prize.

BBC Countryfile's team join in

'Do you come here often?'

As Jeff and Erin followed the Flitch, a BBC TV crew appeared.

They were Miriam O’Reilly, and the BBC Countryfile team and they interviewed Jeff and Erin on the …. *ahem*… hoof…

Jeff and Erin entering the Flitch court-room

The Court Usher, Martin Reed, leading Jeff and Erin into the Court Room. There were six hundred expectant people in the audience.

The Flitch Trial jury are sworn-in

The Jury of six maidens and six bachelors were sworn-in. They are all chosen for their tender years in the hope that they are un-scarred and un-cynical about the whole concept of marriage.

‘What we’re looking for,’ the girls explained before the trial, ‘is the sort of relationship we’d like to have in the future…’

Jeff and Erin being sworn in

Jeff and Erin are sworn-in

Chris Hancock, Counsel for Jeff and Erin

'If you think we look funny now, this is what we wear to work.'

Chris Hancock, Counsel for Jeff and Erin started the proceedings. His first question was, ‘Where is your home?’ Erin replied, with their Nashville address, and the whole marquee was suddenly full of whispered exclamations and comments. They were the first American couple in almost 1000 years to compete for a Flitch! Although in fairness, the trials had ben going on for 700 years before America popped up on the world scene.

Chris’s second question, once the hubub had subsided was, ‘And how on earth did you end up in Great Dunnmow?’

There was a hushed pause… Jeff leant towards the microhone, and said, ‘We drove.’

Although this blog may not be able to communicatethe hilarity of the moment, from that second the audience knew they were in for a comedy feast. Jeff and Erin were on absolute top-form. Funny, warm and self-depriciating, the strength of their relationship and their love shone through.

Jeff and Erin on trial

'Show me the funny....'

They explained how they met – when Jeff interviewed Erin for a job, working as a counsellor at a camp for children with life-threatening illnesses. How they started dating once the job was over and began a long-distance relationship. (Jeff was now working on a project that took inner-city kids into the countryside, ‘we called it the hoods in the woods programme,’ he explained).

Usher and Judge wiping tears

Don't cry for me Great Dunmow...

There were few dry eyes in the marquee when Erin explained how Jeff proposed….. they went for a hike, and at the bottom of the bag Jeff had packed a book containing all the photos since they had met. Jeff asked Erin to look through the photos, with captions and messages, and on the last page he’d written, ‘Look at me.’

She did.
He proposed.
She said, ‘Yes.’

Dave Monk at the 2008 Dunmow Flitch Trials

Dave Monk: 'He kept throwing us soft-balls,' said Jeff afterwards, 'and we just kept knocking them out of the park.'

However, it was now time for the counsel for the owners of the bacon to start their attack. Chief counsel was Dave Monk, BBC Radio Essex personality. With verve and witt, he questioned their love, age difference, and why Americans should be given the pig.

Jeff singing at the Great Dunmow Flitch Trials, 2008

'Like a bacon wafting on the wind.'

However, what no-one was prepared for (except Jeff’s friend’s who’d already heard the song) was the production of a guitar, and the spectacle of Jeff singing Erin, his true love, the Dunmow Flitch song he’d especially written for the event.

Here’s a brief excerpt:
What if we don’t win, let me fill you in, the prize is firmly in my hands
She and me will be, smiling everly
Like a bacon wafting on the wind

Flitch trial jury, 2008

The Jury laughing. But will they award the bacon?

While the jury retired to deliberate, Jeff and Erin were interviewed again by Miriam and the BBC Countryfile crew, and were asked for autographs from the audience. The gentleman in the above photo explained his wife had been on the jury when she was a young maiden.

The jury returned. What would they say? Everyone knew it was by no means a certainty that Jeff and Erin would take home the bacon.

‘Do you find for the claimaints or the owners of the bacon.’

For the claimants came the reply!

The winning moment

The winning moment

The audience at the Flitch Trials

The crowd go beserk!

Jeff, Erin and the Flitch

Jeff, Erin and the Flitch: It is highly unlikely that I will ever take a more bizarre portrait

After the excitment had died down, a second couple, Mr and Mrs Thorne, took the stand. It was a little like coming on stage after The Beatles in their heyday. They didn’t help their cause by forgetting the day they got married – although it was 40 years ago – but they were unable to convince the jury to give them the bacon.

This meant, that on the return procession to the market square, Jeff and Erin would be held aloft on their Flitch chair, while the Thornes had to walk behind their chair in shame – with the prospect of a concilliatory Gammon awaiting them.

Jeff and Erin on the Flitch Chair

Jeff and Erin on the Flitch chair. 'Thank goodness for thin Americans,' said the relieved bearers.

 

Once the whole procession arrived at the market Square, all eyes were focussed on the decorated dray.

Jeff and Erin’s next task was to join the Flitch Trial Judge and Chaplain, and kneel on pointed stones while they swore the Flitch Oath.

Michael, the Flitch Trial Judge was then able to proclaim to the crowd, ‘The Pleasure is all ours, the bacon is yours!’

Try explaining this back home…

Now, many of you may be wondering what became of the Flitch Jeff and Erin won. Well, on Thanksgiving Day 2008, Michael Chapman will be organising a hog roast with their winning pig, selling tickets and giving the proceeds to the ‘Hole in the Wall Gang,’ charity where Jeff and Erin met. Bronny and I will be going – it you’d like to come too, then let me know.

The next day, Michael invited us to join him and friends for a…. wait for it…. hog roast with his church! A few days later, Jeff, Erin and the rest of the ‘Flitch 08′ team headed home with new friends and fond memories of Great Dunmow.

Glastonbury or WW1 re-enactment?

Before the misery sets in

Last year, in a moment of madness, Bronny and I decided to join our friends Jane, Jo and Brian at the Glastonbury festival. We’d heard of the fun, the music and the drugs, and in hindsight, if we’d started munching Class-A’s as soon as we left the car park then we’d have been far happier people.

When we were young

Even looking back at this photo is hard. So young, so carefree… without the scars and the miserable memories……

I could have gone to Margate

All during the first night, and into the next day it rained. It wasn’t just your ordinary rain, but the torrential sort that usuallly last a few battering minutes. But not at Glastonbury. It battered non-stop for hours. The place has its own unique micro-climate which dictates monsoon weather as soon as more than three people start pitching tents within twenty yards of each other.

Jane’s matching boots and bag ensemble.

Fortunately, we were travelling with Jane, whose a girl. She went to a posh school, and knows all the cocktails and dates blokes called Trevor and Miles. At the mere sight of this downpour, surely, she’d burst into tears, and demand that we hopped straight back into Daddy’s Range Rover and head back to Hampstead?

Jane: bench presses 350 and fights with knives to relax

Regretably, Jane is also a police detective and is tough as old Jimmy-Choo’s. I don’t think she’d even noticed the sheets of water lashing other people into a dazed submission.

Fancy the loo in 40 minutes?

Fortunately, some genius had ensured there was a tent selling warm cider. A brilliant idea, only marred by the fact that drinking such beverages meant using the toilets would be required sometime in the near future.

Exhibit A: Mud

What I started to find quite amazing, was that people actually seemed to be enjoying this purgatory. The mud, the smell of the toilets, the endless marches from A to B to get food, or to go to the toilet……

We could be in Ibeza right now

It was like watching a strange natural history programme. Who were these strange creatures that enjoyed this unique form of torture? It was like an adult version of detention….

Up close and personal: The Killers, somewhere half a mile away

Well OK, some of the music was pretty good. ‘The Killers’ were superb, and ‘The Arctic Monkeys’ lived up to their billing. Maybe if the acts had been James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield then I’d have looked beyond the mud…. but wherever I looked there it was…..

Exhibit B: more mud

As the weekend progressed, Bronny and I began to realise that Jane wasn’t going to weaken. There was absolutely no chance of her bursting into tears. Three nights running we left her dancing or cavorting, with energy to burn (usually sometime between midnight and 2am). Off we’d go, to seek the temporary refuge of our pitiful tent, that didn’t fit the airbed – and was next to one couple that persistently communicated their vigerous… *ahem*…. ‘hugging’ with animated grunts and groans while the tent next door blared their music at us with a grim determination.

Having or good time or just delerious?

On the last day, there was nothing for it. Waking up to our now miserable neighbours, faces streaked with mud and tears, as they quietly sobbed over their broken hearts, I chirped, ‘Not so ****ing chipper now are we?’ (I didn’t really say that, but I should have.)

Anyway, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em….

Happy? We’re going home in three hours, of course we’re happy!

It was time to get-down, Glastonbury style. Unable to ‘cut-the-rug’ we squelched the mud….

Quite how Jane managed to look this glamourous, after four days of mud, lack of sleep and a strict diet of warm cider and cold falafels, while lying on an old bin liner, in a field of mud, surrounded by raving luncatics, I have no idea….

Exhibit C: ankle breaking mud

And then, late into Sunday evening, Jane suggested that maybe it was time to make our way home. We avoided breaking our ankles, unlike 13 other poor folk who snapped theirs over the weekend, and left 100,000 people behind us as they enjoyed the final acts.

Shaking our booties

We packed our tents and began the long tramp to the car park. Eventually we reached Jane’s Dad’s Range Rover, and negotiated our way out of the car park. The next day, other souls would spend 10, 12, 14 hours or more doing the same journey we did in two minutes.

Then, as the headlights lit up the motorway infront of us, and as the early morning hours clicked by, I knew my home and a warm bed was getting ever closer. It was one of the few moments in my life I can say without any doubt, that I experienced the purest feeling of joy….

Shieldaig vs Lochcarron: highland darts challenge

The Ashes… Rangers vs Celtic…. the north London Derby….. England vs Germany…. Ross County vs Inverness Caledonian Thistle….these are just some of the great sporting rivalries in the world. And now, we can add to this list: the darts challenge between the villages of Shieldaig and Lochcarron.

You’re going home in a Lochcarron mini-bus

Nestled in the picturesque highlands of Scotland, passing tourists will admire the landscape and the rows of whitewashed cottages. However, unknown to them, underneath this picture-postcard facade, there lurk the beating hearts of some of the fiercest darts competitors in the northern hemisphere.

Kenny Cool with Cuddy: brilliant arrows when sober

The Shieldaig team, captained by my good friend, Kenny ‘Cool’ MacLeod, threw down the gauntlet (or ‘Claymore’) to Gus and the gnarled, arrow-chuckers from Lochcarron. Only few weeks before, Shieldaig had beaten Lochcarron, and now there was the smell of revenge (and scotch eggs) in the air.

Tommy and Mattie: the future of darts

The Shieldaig team comprised of the veteran players – as well as the younger athletes including Tommy and Mattie. They obviously look delighted here, as being selected for the Shieldaig team is a great honour, and the result of a rigerous training regimin that invloves early morning runs, complicated mental arithmatic and a strict diet of Irn-Bru and Tennants.

Jim: Shieldaig’s expert pub sportsman and botanist

Over eight singles matches, and four doubles the advantage swayed one way and then the other. For a while it looked like Lochcarron would be a pushover. But they came back strong and Shieldaig had to rely on players like fisherman, one-time botanist and local pub legend, Jim Alexander, to bring Shieldaig back into the game.

Kenny Cool, Shieldaig’s team captain

The main personal rivalry is between the two teams best players and captains, Kenny and Gus. Last time they played, Kenny won. Gus was clearly determined to restore his personal honour and Lochcarron’s reputation as the bully-boys of highland darts.

Gus, Lochcarron’s team captain

This time, Gus’s power game shone through and he won his match with Kenny. But before long, Kenny bounced back with the nights only ‘one hundred and eighty’ and this highlight helped win his doubles match.

Murdo John wins a match for Lochcarron

The tension mounted. Lochcarron’s Murdo John clinched a nail-biter. Meawhile, a phenomenal amount of beer was washed down with numerous multi-coloured shots; players and spectators alike were then thankfully kept on their feet by a well timed arrival of scotch eggs, pizza and haggis drumsticks.

Its thirsty work being a Shieldaig WAG

Despite the Shieldaig WAGS best attempt to distract the Lochcarron fellows with their ravishing good looks and a fine exhibition of speed-drinking, after twelve matches, the teams were even.

To decide the game, it was going to be a team match of ’1001.’ The darts equivalent of a penalty shoot-out. Initially, Lochcarron stormed into the lead as each player took it in turn to throw. But when all looked lost, boy-band look-a-like, and local heart-throb, Scott Taylor, calmly threw a 140.

Throwing on the McFly: an old head on young shoulders

Nevertheless, Lochcarron were way ahead and throwing to win. But they just couldn’t close out. Even so, it seemed a certainly Shieldaig would lose any minute.

Gary: shortly to have a rendevous with destiny

Cometh the hour, cometh the man….. with all eyes on the dart-board (except the Shiledaig WAGS who were sinking another round of shots), Gary calmly stepped up to the ocky.

The WAGS relive the tension with another round of shots

The last time I can remember this amount of sporting tension, Colin ‘Monty’ Montgomery, was putting to win the Ryder Cup.

What would happen? Would Gary cover himself in glory? Would this be the moment of failure that would haunt him to his dying days? One can only imagine the pressure he felt.

He threw… HE SCORED!

The moment of victory: Gary hits the spot

The bar errupted. It was a magnificent victory for Shieldaig, but more than that, it was a victory for darts.

There were handshakes and congratulations all round. Lochcarron were spirited losers, knowing their day would surely come, sometime in the future when the two giants of highland darts meet again.

The darts over, its time for the ‘sesh’ to begin

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MB & the HFP in Ireland

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