Friday, December 14, 2012

This Season's Interesting Experiments

Copey writes:

There are a couple of interesting experiments going on in Scottish curling this season, demonstrating if nothing else that the sport has moved on a bit since I last threw a stone in anger. Actually, I throw a lot of my stones in anger these days – largely because I am still recovering from the awfulness of the previous effort, if you catch my drift. Still and all, at least I can still enjoy the odd sojourn on the ice, which is more than can be said for those who chose rugby as their sport of choice. They just get angry at Tongans from the stands.

Back to my point. The first experiment is that of the 'five-man team'. Tom Brewster’s successful Scottish champions of the last couple of seasons have been joined this season by none other than David Murdoch. Views vary on the wisdom of such a move. The traditionalist view is that a curling team has four people and that to build up the all-important team dynamic, those four need to learn to win and, perhaps more importantly, to lose together as a team. Those of a cynical nature (not that there are any of those in curling) point to Tom and co’s early season form up to and including their recent foray at the European Championships in Karlstad, Sweden and, when they have picked themselves up off the floor, splutter indignantly, “I told you so.”

The modern approach here in Scotland seems to allow that the 'five-man-team' has a future. There are a number of outside influences at work and there is cross-fertilisation from other successful sports. This comes with the territory. The more money that comes into the top level of the sport, the more influence the paymasters will demand.

Be very careful though; it is not that this experiment has not been tried before. We could, for example, talk about Rhona Martin’s Olympic team from 2002. The original team was Rhona, Margaret Morton, Fiona Macdonald and Janice Rankin. They had already come fourth in the 1999 Chamonix European Championships before going on to win the Scottish Championship (Rhona’s breakthrough championship, by the way) in 2000; they went to the Glasgow World Championships with Debbie Knox as alternate. During the first half of season 2000-2001, Debbie and Margaret swapped in and out of the team event-by-event, until later on in about the November or so, when Margaret found herself as the permanent alternate and Debbie was installed as the third player.

Without the chance really to settle, they actually missed out on competing in the European championship that year.  Later on, they lost their Scottish Championship title - it was won by Julia Ewart, Heather Byers, Nancy Murdoch and Lynn Cameron.  The rules in play at the time meant that Julia and her team had to get all the way to the final of the World Championships before a play-off would have been triggered between them and Rhona. They missed out, failing at the semi-final stage and the sighs of relief from Team Martin nearly blew various houses down.  It was therefore Rhona and her team who went out to the European Championships in Vierumäki in December 2001. Although there were a couple of tight games, their 2-5 record and sixth spot did not stoke the boilers of confidence.  

Team Martin had settled down for the Vierumäki Europeans but to continue to swap players in and out of the team must have been disconcerting for those involved in Karlstad this season.

Rhona Martin went on with a completely settled team by this stage to the Olympics. Apart from a late round-robin hiccup, they carried all before them and ended up winning a fantastic Gold Medal for GB – the only team to do so, by the way, in the modern era.

Now, I know Tom well and he is a fine fellow. The last thing that he (or any of the other players or coaches for that matter) would ever do is dissemble. He is on record as taking the critics and the likes of me on full frontal. His post-championship interview on the Thursday at Karlstad is a direct rebuttal of what I am suggesting here. He was fully-supportive of all the technical changes and team rotation that we have seen. He blames the relatively poor Karlstad showing on illness and poor play. The evidence, anecdotal though it may be, might suggest otherwise.

Ulrika Bergman – remember her? She was Anette Norberg’s alternate player though that massive run of success that the Swedish ladies had in the noughties. Hardly got a game; never even a look-in! She was not a threat – which meant that the four in the team could concentrate on playing and bonding and that she could concentrate on doing all the important stuff that an alternate does at international championships – stone-matching, liaising between the bench and the team, and morale-boosting.

Ever heard of Terry Meek or Adam Enright? Neither had I. They were Kevin Martin’s alternates between 2008 and 2010. Chucked a couple of stones here and there (Meek is actually credited with a 100% statistical record for the stones he threw), but were they ever going to replace Ben Hebert, Marc Kennedy, John Morris or indeed Kevin Martin on a permanent basis? You may as well ask if David Cameron is about to join the World Socialist movement.

Look, I could go on but I think that those at the top of our game here in Scotland, and by extension, the UK, need to take valuable lessons from all of this.

• First of all, be very careful about introducing uncertainty to a team that is working. David Murdoch is one of the finest players that Scotland has ever produced; he has won more medals – especially gold ones – than just about anyone else. He’s a right fine fellow too, but right now, he is the fifth player who is getting a good few games and, like it or not, that has an effect on the team dynamic; it introduces an element of uncertainty in the other four.

• Make decisions about the playing order and, crucially, who is the alternate early on in the process – as early as you can.

• Recognise that there is a skill in being the fifth player. They are an important communication channel between the players and coaching staff. They need to be able to throw stones consistently and in the same style as the rest of the team, otherwise their stone-matching duties late of an evening will be waste of time. It is as important to have a good fifth player in many respects as it is to have good players in the team.

Our coaches tend to look at these things in four-year cycles; that is not their fault – it is a weakness in the current system. I want to make sure that decisions taken now are not just for the benefit of Scottish curling up to the next Olympics, but are also not – important this; HHYs please note – NOT to the detriment of the long-term future of the competitive game in our country. Why is David not skipping his own team in the meantime and providing competition for Tom, David Edwards and all the rest of them? Why was David Edwards and his team not invited to give Tom and his team a 'best-of-five' challenge to go out to Europe? What is wrong with competition?

“What’s the second experiment going on in the game at the moment?” I hear you ask. Picked teams, that’s what. Teams cobbled together by coaches without as much reference to the players as there should be.

The answer to this conundrum is relatively simple.

Don’t do it.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Scottish Women's Qualifiers

Copey writes:

Eight teams played in the Co-operative Funeralcare Women’s Qualifiers competition in the new rink at Dumfries on the 1st and 2nd December. Jennifer Martin, Lauren Baxter, Lorna Vevers, Kirsty Paterson, Kerry Barr, Gina Aitken, Maggie Wilson and Katie Murray skipped their teams and each team was looking for one of four places. The four qualifiers will join pre-qualified teams skipped by Gail Munro, Eve Muirhead, Hannah Fleming and Jackie Lockhart in the Scottish finals February 11-17 next year.

That’s the good news.

The bad news? Well, the eight teams were split into two groups of four. There was the possibility that a team could go out after only two games in the competition. Trust me. You can recover from two lost games in a league of eight teams – especially when there are four qualifiers out of eight. But you can’t recover after two lost games in a league of four.

Which is why Lorna Vevers, Kirsty Paterson, Maggie Wilson and Katie Murray and their teams will play no further part in the Co-operative Funeralcare Scottish Women’s Curling Championship, 2012 - 2013, described on the Royal Caledonian Curling Club’s website as, 'the highlight of Scotland’s competitive curling calendar with the best teams competing for the national title'.

Played two. Lost two. Out.

It’s not right. Please, HHYs – sort it out for next season.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Seniors' Curling

See the seniors? It’s the new twenties – I kid you not!

I spent a fair bit of time behind the glass recently – looking at two great competitions, the Edinburgh International Men’s and Ladies Championships. Now, I will immediately admit to a bit of bias here, as I am the secretary of the organising committees for both the events, but actually, I am not talking about the organisation (splendid, obviously, though it undoubtedly was!), so much as the curling and the commitment of all the competitors who took part.

These were good, old-fashioned curling competitions – the way they used to be and here I will doff my cap in the general direction of 'my generation', to quote Pete Townshend of 'The Who' fame. No disrespect at all intended to the coaches and young curlers who now populate our sport at its elite level, but here were people, many of who have known each other for thirty years and more and who have competed hard against and with each other for that time as well, playing hard on the ice, then staying to enjoy the fun, chat, camaraderie and all of the rest of it at the end of the game. None of this debriefing stuff; no analysis by video; no coach’s input – just a good game of curling followed by some tales of derring-do.

Ah – but how was the curling, I hear you ask. It was just fine, thanks. Let me tell you about one stone. It was played by Kate Adams (mother of Kay and Vicky), judged by Catherine Dodds (mother of Stuart and Jennifer) and swept by Jill Florence (mother of David – OK, he’s not a curler but you’ll know him because every four years in our football-besotted land, he is suddenly famous for winning silver medals at the Olympic Games in the sport of kayaking) and Elspeth Johnston (mother of Lauren, who skipped the GB team to a bronze medal in the 2005 European Youth Olympics team, then played third in the gold medal winning team in the 2006 European Junior Challenge).

It was the final of the ladies competition (see me – see observation skills, by the way) and Kate was playing against Barbara Watt’s silver medal winners at last season’s world senior championships, Barbara herself (mother of Janice Rankin, Olympic gold medallist in Salt Lake City – oh, I could go on, but I will stop there!), Jean Hammond, Maggie Barry and Val Mahon. Barbara had the hammer. She was lying shot at about 10.00 behind the tee line. There was a stone out front, guarding the edge of the four foot and there was an Adams counter near the Watt stone behind the tee line, but lying second shot. Barbara’s first stone to come. The wags in the gallery (of whom there were a fair few, by the way) wondered whether she might be tempted to rip the guard; she had tried to earlier on in the end, as it happens, but Val Mahon’s stone had only succeeded in rolling to cover the four foot. Barbara decided, queen of the four-foot as she undoubtedly is, to draw top four and maybe tempt Kate into a fairly tricky hit and flop behind the guard. This would have left her with a fairly humdrum repeat draw to win the game and the competition. Her stone came agonisingly two feet too far, it front end straddling the tee line just off the centre of the one foot.

After deliberation, Kate decided to play the tiniest of taps at sweeping weight. She needed to move Barbara’s stone maybe six inches, so that she lay shot, but she did not want it to move any further for fear of giving Barbara a fairly run-of-the-mill hit for the game. She laid the stone and it tracked down the ice towards its destination. Brushes down, then up, then down again – always a good sign! Towards the end of its journey, as the weigh came off it, Jill and Elspeth leathered into it; it tapped the Watt counter back. Catherine looked anxiously at the stones as they lay, but the four of them had done just enough – and no more. It was the perfect team stone. Had this been the final of the world championships, I am telling you that the crowds would have leapt to their feet in admiration!

Barbara was suddenly faced with a nightmare shot; she needed to hit the Adams stone on the high side to force it over the top of her shot. Hopefully, both would spill, leaving her second stone (remember the one at 10.00?) as the game winner. Unfortunately for team Watt, her stone curled slightly over the face of the target stone and all she could do was watch as it drove Kate’s stone straight back onto her own, leaving Kate and her team the winners of the competition.

You had to feel sorry for Barbara and company, but at the same time admire the skills displayed by team Adams. It was as good a stone as the BTG mob are liable to see all season and the odds have already shortened in this watcher’s opinion on a repeat of that final come the Scottish Senior Championships in February.

In the men’s competition, another strong team, the reigning Scottish senior champions, no less, skipped by Keith Prentice, with Lockhart Steele, Robert Anderson (replacing Robin Aitken from last season) and Tommy Fleming in support, overcame the stuffy Kinross team skipped by David Clydesdale. David has made a habit in recent weeks of going four or five down in a game, only to roar back and win defiantly at the end! Not this time though – team Prentice used all their experience and talent to overcome the fightback and a big four in the seventh end secured things for them.

I have a word of advice to ice rinks out there, all of which seem intent on running junior or mainstream weekend competitions. Don’t stop doing the junior / mainstream stuff – it is really important that we have thriving age group and mainstream competitions and a meaningful circuit. But I’ll tell you what; think about running a 50s plus competition as well. Not only will they curl well, but they will put money behind your bar and give your club a real 'buzz' for the weekend.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Junior Men

Copey writes:

Sixteen junior men’s teams have entered the Scottish Junior Championships this year. Back to defend his title is Perth’s Kyle Smith. He retains Thomas Muirhead and Kyle Waddell from last season’s championship-winning team. Kerr Drummond has now aged out after a stellar junior career as a specialist lead. He has won the Scottish Junior Championship twice and was runner-up on two separate occasions as well. At world level, he made the podium on the two occasions he competed but the gold medal that he craved evaded him. This season, he is playing with Glen Muirhead, the skip that he beat in the first of his four Scottish finals. As an aside, Kerr’s older brother, Greg, played third in Glen’s team that year. Greg, as we know, has gone on to win two Scottish Championships and two World Silver Medals since his disappointment that day.

It is a big ask for Cammie Smith to fill those shoes, but that’s just what his big brother, Kyle, has asked him to do. This is a good-looking, strong team. They have that great advantage over the rest of the field – the “been there, done that” factor. When it comes to the business end of the competition on the Saturday and Sunday, that experience counts for a lot.

They have challenges though – perhaps the most obvious comes from Grant Hardie, Blair Fraser, Hammy McMillan and Ruairidh Greenwood, and here is a rub: the team will hardly have had a game together in the early part of the season. Grant and Hammy are playing in the Scottish Championship with Jay McWilliam and Billy Morton whilst Blair and Ruairidh are competing in a different team with Murray Young and Ian Copland. This is not good preparation for the Scottish Junior Championship, but they should still be good enough to get to the final stages of the Scottish junior championship on the Sunday.

Bruce Mouat and his team do not have that problem. Bruce, Duncan Menzies, Derrick Sloan and Angus Dowell are playing together all season. This will stand them in good stead.  I expect them to be around come the play-off stages. Just this week, they reached the final of the EJCT competition in Thun, only to lose to Switzerland’s André Neuenschwander. They are doing well on the tour though and are the leading Scottish team, one point ahead of the Kyle Smith team and handily-placed at equal fifth.

What is pleasing about the Scottish junior men’s entry this year is the number of young teams that have entered the competition. I have already seen some of the names featuring in finals and the U17 slam series has helped develop a curling competitive edge in youngsters. The Scottish junior championships introduce the idea of ten-end games, fifth end breaks, coaches and all of the rest. I do hope that coaches are mindful of their duties to young and impressionable charges. Know when it is time to call your team off the ice and recognise that nobody tries to play bad shots. The one thing that youngsters do not need is an over-zealous coach shouting at them about percentages and missed out-turn hits!

The preliminary playdowns are in Perth, December 7-9, and the finals are in Aberdeen, January 23-27, 2013. Worth a trip!

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Junior Ladies

Copey writes:

After a number of years in the international doldrums, Scottish ladies junior curling has enjoyed unparalleled success these past few years. The decade-long medal drought was ended when Kilmarnock’s Sarah Reid skipped Eve Muirhead, Barbara McFarlane, Sarah Macintyre and fifth player, Alison Black, to a 2007 World Junior Ladies gold medal that, to be very fair, had not necessarily been predicted. Just a couple of months previously, the two Sarahs and Alison had been to Pinerolo to compete in the World University Games and, though their play was much better than their final position gave them credit for, they ended up tenth! Since then, Eve Muirhead has gone on to skip Scotland to three more gold medals in World Junior Championships, and Hannah Fleming finally stepped out of Eve’s shadow to skip Lauren Gray, Alice Spence, Abi Brown and fifth player Jennifer Martin to a deserved gold medal in last season’s World Junior Championship in Östersund, Sweden. Five gold medals in six years is an astonishing success story, and make no mistake, the Canadians, Swedes, Swiss, Norwegians etc. are all sick of the sight of us and want revenge!

So who will go to Sochi in Russia to represent Scotland and to defend our honour? Hannah Fleming returns with two of her gold medal winning rink from last season, third Lauren Gray and lead, Abi Brown. Alice Spence has aged out and has been replaced by Abi’s cousin, Jennifer Dodds. This remains a really strong team and you must consider them warm, if not positively hot, favourites for the Scottish Junior Championship. They have already won the Braehead Open in Glasgow and forced Logan Gray to draw against three shots in the last end of their semifinal match up later in Dumfries. They are mixing at the top level in Scottish open curling and giving as good as they get with experienced senior teams. They will be pressed by a number of good-looking and strong teams in the junior ladies ranks, mind you, whose progress I will follow with great interest.

As an example, the other performance squad in the junior ladies this season is the team skipped by Jennifer Martin. She has Hamilton’s Hazel Smith at third, Vicky Wright from Stranraer at second and Murrayfield’s Mhairi Baird at lead. They were runners-up in the Kinross Classic junior event, though, to be fair, Jennifer had to sit the competition out due to injury.  Their conquerors that day were Rebecca Steven, Karen Munro, Clare Degan and substitute Rowena Steven.  This was a major breakthrough for Rebecca and she will hope to build on it come the business end of the season!

Winners of the low road were Laura Barr, Emma Hair, Jane Barr and Sophie Sinclair. This is a team to watch and whilst I do not think that they will win the Scottish championship this year, they will certainly challenge in years to come – a look at their surnames tells you that!

Past Scottish champion Tasha Aitken skips Louise Joiner, Naomi Brown and her youngest sister, Karina. This is Tasha’s last year in the juniors and she would like to repeat her Scottish success of two seasons ago when she played second to Lauren Gray.

Maggie Wilson won the first Braehead junior international competition, this year’s Scottish leg of the European junior curling tour. This again is a strong-looking line up, with experience all the way down the rink; third is Lesley Young, second is Becca Kesley and lead Rachel Hannen. Runners-up in the Braehead competition was the team skipped by Gina Aitken (see these Aitkens? They’re everywhere!), third is Katy Richardson, second is Rowena Kerr and their lead is Fiona Telfer.

Finally, Lauren Baxter has stepped into Hazel Smith’s shoes this season and is skipping Naomi Whyte, Sarah Wood and Eilidh Templeton.

What has also struck me this season about the junior ladies teams is their diversity. There is actually only one rink where all the members come from the same home ice rink. Step forward Katie Wright, Lauren Morgan and Jenni Cannon from Stranraer. I have no doubt that their fourth team mate will probably be from the south west of Scotland as well! That there is such a spread of talent speaks to a high level of commitment at junior club level. It is no surprise to see the likes of Murrayfield with ten participants, Stranraer with seven (maybe eight!), Greenacres and Hamilton with five each, Forfar with four and Inverness, Stirling and Dumfries with three. There are sleeping giants needing a prod, mind you: I can only see one Perth young curler and one from Lockerbie (quite a good one, mind you – Hannah Fleming, no less!) in the mix. These things are cyclical though and I have no doubt that there are lots of twelve- and thirteen-year olds doing their thing in those two rinks just waiting to prove me wrong!

The Scottish junior women’s qualifier competition will be played in Perth, December 7-9. There are two sections of six teams and the top three from each section will qualify for the finals in Aberdeen, January 23-27, 2013. There will be a play-off between the fourth-placed teams in each section, the winner of that game also going through to Aberdeen. There, the seven qualifiers will meet Hannah and her team and the eight will fight it out in time-honoured fashion.

Don’t miss it.

Monday, October 08, 2012

New Season Thoughts 2: The Ladies

Copey writes:

Twelve teams have entered the Scottish ladies' championships this year and I am pleased! Ok, so it is not thirty; but it is a few more than the past couple of seasons and I really hope that all the competitors enjoy their competition and that they are encouraged to enter again next season. I was worried for a while that Scottish lady curlers had lost their competitive mojo and that everyone else had just given up taking the fight to Eve Muirhead and her world-class team. I am glad that a few younger teams are taking up the challenge and I am looking forward to seeing some cracking games between talented teams as the season progresses.

The Scottish championships will have a pre-qualifying weekend on the 1st and 2nd December when eight of the twelve teams (teams Muirhead, Lockhart, Fleming and McMillan have been 'pre-qualified' to the final weekend) will play in two round-robin leagues of four, with the top two from each league qualifying for the eight-team finals in Perth, February 11-17. So, how will it all go?

Eve, Anna Sloan, Vicki Adams and Claire Hamilton are a talented foursome and no mistake. Are they the best team that Scotland has ever sent out to international championships? Well, they have to go some to equal the exploits of their predecessors, Rhona Martin’s Olympic gold medallist team and Jackie Lockhart’s world champion team, but they are on their way and time alone will tell if they reach those ultimate heights or not. They have to be installed as warm favourites for the Scottish championships.

Unlike the men (shame on that decision, by the way!), they will face a challenge to represent Scotland at the Europeans; that challenge will come from the redoubtable Gail Munro and Lyndsay Cumming. Lyndsay is a strong and supportive third; Gail has that McMillan 'chutzpah', for want of a better word – she never knows when she is beaten. Their front-end has yet to be confirmed, though Jodie Milroy returns from last season’s runners-up team. In a sense, it doesn’t matter who they get in as their second player (though it should, of course), but Gail and Lyndsay know each others’ games so well at the top end that I expect them to challenge strongly again – not only in the European play-offs, but also in the Scottish championships proper.

Jackie Lockhart plays with Karen Kennedy and Sarah Macintyre. They have recruited Katriona Davidson (nee Fairweather) to replace Kay Adams at second. Katriona and Jackie have 'form' of course; they won the world championship together in Bismarck. If they were good enough to win a world championship then, they will undoubtedly challenge for a Scottish championship now. Those three teams will be there or thereabouts when the fat lady joins the party and starts singing.

But, do you know what? I really hope that some other twenty-somethings make the party as well. I really like the look of Kerry Barr’s team this year. Rachael Simms is a strong player at three and Rhiann Macleod and Barbara McPake make up a useful front end, though Rhiann is better known as a top-class lead than second. They should challenge. So should Lorna Vevers, Sarah Reid, Alice Spence and Kay Adams. There is a wealth of winning international experience in this team; three world junior gold medallists and an Olympian serial winner of the Scottish junior and ladies' championships will be a tough act to knock out. The way the team reads, the top end are playing out of their 'natural' positions; Sarah is used to skipping and Lorna is used to playing in the middle order – the boiler house of the team at either third or, more recently, second. It will be interesting to see how they get on; the great curlers, mind you, can play anywhere in the team.

Leading the junior charge in the ladies' championships this season is the team skipped by Hannah Fleming. Fresh from their world junior ladies gold medal, Hannah, Lauren Gray and Abi Brown bring in Abi’s cousin, Jennifer Dodds to replace the aged-out Alice Spence. This is still a very strong-looking team and one whose progress I will follow with interest as the season progresses to the business end early next year. They won the Cardwell Garden Centre Braehead Open yesterday!

Look out also for young teams skipped by Jennifer Martin and Gina Aitken. I do not expect them to win the Scottish ladies this season, but I do expect them to do well in their own championship.

On the wider front, whilst I am pleased that there are more entries this year than last, we should not rest on our laurels. Somebody, somewhere in Cairnie House should be making plans to achieve a goal for ladies' curling. The goal should be this: by 2016, there should be a minimum of twenty-four teams entering the Scottish ladies' championships. Further, at least six of those teams should have a fighting and realistic chance of winning the championships.

I shall return to this theme as the months progress, but next – the juniors!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

The Curling Professional

I received an email from my old mucker, Richard Harding, the other day. In it, he referred to an attached flier advertising David Murdoch’s coaching at the Greenacres curling rink. I forgave him the fact that there was, in fact, no flier attached to the email – it’s the kind of thing I do all the time myself and I think it might be an 'age' thing – so I chuckled and sent him back a suitably rigorous rejoinder. Sure enough, the next day, Rod Dickson picked up the pieces and this time sent the flier as well (see below).

I thought so at the time and I still think now that this is an innovative and creative idea. I remember that there were dark murmurings about David’s lack of coaching qualifications when the idea was first floated and to be honest I don’t know what level of coaching badge he has – if any. I suppose I can understand the points that were being made and there are certain important milestoney-type moments that more traditionally-trained coaches need to reach and pass. There is, I suppose, a natural kind of reluctance to accept a newbie who walks into a position when the rest of us have to get ourselves badged and booted first.

But here’s the choice put starkly: I did have a coaching badge for a while (thankfully for all concerned, now lapsed), but I am trying to imagine who would deliver best value to a committed curler trying to improve some aspect of their delivery – me with my badge, or David Murdoch.

Let me pause just for a second there; I’ll maybe get a Havana out and have a few contented puffs as I turn that one over in my head – the pros, the cons – oh, the decisions, the decisions.


But I think I would go with David!

Good luck to him and to Greenacres this season as they progress the initiative. I’m all for it and hope that the idea spreads.

Robin Copland

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

New Season Thoughts 1

What a summer of sport that we have had! I was enthralled by the Olympics and the Paralympics. The performances were spectacular but the dedication and commitment that led to those performances – well, they were simply outstanding. Standouts for me as a true Brit were the performances of the cyclists and rowers (obviously!), the Opening Ceremony (and tell me that you too didn’t shed a tear or two), that marvellous Saturday night when it all came together in the athletics stadium, Usain Bolt – oh, I could go on.

But do you know the biggest highlight for me? Four or five weeks when our national radio stations’ airwaves were not hogged by the great god, our so-called 'national' sport (at which we are totally and utterly woeful, by the way) football. With the gloriously apt exception of the shenanigans at the Rangers Football Club (Newco or Oldco – take your pick) and the interruption provided by a bunch of football fans indulging in what they seem to do best – fighting on the terraces at Dundee in Dundee United’s match against Moscow Dynamo, our screens and airwaves were filled instead with properly committed sportspeople, funded I will grant you, but not to the obscene levels of the top footballers, indulging in competition of the very highest quality and level. It was brilliant.

Sadly, it is over. After a brief respite, football hogs everything and is everywhere and those of us who despair are left with memories of the Tour de France, Wimbledon and the odd oasis provided by the likes of the Ryder Cup (What a performance!) and the US Open tennis championship (didn’t the boy do well?).

Oh. And the curling!

The season has started; I have already had my first fall and have suffered the pangs of defeat at the hands of the Midcalder curling club in the Jackson trophy. But you don’t want to hear about that! Instead, let me take a look at the upcoming season and post some thoughts on the runners and riders in Scotland. I shall start with the men.

The shenanigans at the top of our sport have Tom Brewster and his unchanged team from last season of Greg Drummond, Scott Andrews and Michael Goodfellow being joined by David Murdoch, erstwhile Scottish and Olympic skip. It seems to me that these five players look like the HHY’s shoo-ins for the next Olympics – call me an old-fashioned cynic if you will. It is going to be interesting to see how David Murdoch melds in and makes a tight four into an equally tight five. Certainly, they have to be considered favourites for the Scottish championship. Tom and co are now double world silver-medallists. It would be good if they could go one better this year!

To do that though, we first have to qualify for the world championships by doing well in the European championships and that done, they have to get past some other useful looking teams. Last season, the talented David Edwards won many more games than he lost at the Scottish championship finals. I expect that he will do the same again. He has kept his team together, so continues with former Scottish junior champion skip John Penny, Scott Macleod and Colin Campbell.

Logan Gray looks to me to have got things sorted out this year. I like the fact that he has Ross Paterson at third. Ross has developed into a fine top-end player in my view. In playing with Logan, they recreate the top end from Logan’s very first junior Scottish success. These two could do something special this season. At second is Al Guthrie, another strong player in the mid- to late-twenties generation and at lead, they have the (slightly older!) Richard Woods.

I fancy these three teams will make the top three of the Scottish championships this year. There you are – I can’t say fairer than that.

Mind you, three veteran teams will take a few scalps this season and are just loving the fact that I have tipped other teams to top them in the Scottish! Look out for Smiths (but not related) Warwick, David and Alan, who are joined by experienced lead Ross Hepburn in a strong-looking team. Ewan Macdonald has persuaded Duncan Fernie out of premature retirement to play third with a front end of young Ally Fraser (to be fair, he’s just out of juniors and can hardly be called a 'veteran'!) and Euan Byers. Sandy Reid and Moray Combe have persuaded another old warhorse, Hammy McMillan, to pick up where he left off a couple of seasons ago. Murrayfield’s Sandy Gilmour takes up the mantle with Hammy again. These are strong teams and are capable of beating anyone on their day.

I also expect strong challenges from Glen Muirhead, Graeme Black and John Hamilton. All three skips played in the Scottish championship finals last season and could well do so again. Junior teams (or teams just out the juniors) skipped by Grant Hardie, Kyle Smith (reigning Scottish junior champions) and Murray Young will be keen to compete in the finals. They will all challenge too at the two Scottish member events of the Champions Tour, the Edinburgh International, November 9-11, and the Ramada Perth Masters, January 5-8. Both events have attracted top overseas teams to augment the Scottish teams that will take part.

It’s a long slow burn towards Olympic stardom and the chance for new heroes to introduce themselves to the sporting scene at the top level of our sport and a chance for the rest to make statements of intent. An interesting season ahead, I would wager!

Robin Copland

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

The New Dawn

By Robin Copland. 

I was struck by a post that Logan Gray put up on his Facebook page this week, in fact, I was so struck by the post that I was moved to reply! In it, he admitted to looking forward to hearing who his new team was going to be this season.

Read that last sentence again.

Now, let me share something with you. If I were Rhona Martin, Sören Grahn, Nancy Murdoch, Dave Crosbee or any of the other High Heid Yins in charge of competitive curling development in Scotland, I would want to have a group of talented athletes around me over whom I had complete control and who were in my thrall. I would want to have them at my beck and call. I would want to be able to manage them effectively – which means I would want them to be more committed to their curling than to their work. I would want them all to be living in Stirling; in fact, I would set up camp beds in Stirling ice rink for them to sleep on.

I would want all of this because I would be earning my living and adding to (or detracting from) my reputation – and hence my promotion / new job prospects, based on the performance on the ice of that group of people. Of course I would want that control; the more imponderables I control, the more chance I have of stamping my authority on things and the better I can control my own destiny.

Imagine, if you will for a minute, Sir Alex Ferguson and his players. “Sorry boss, I can’t come to training tomorrow because I have a work deadline to meet.” Aye, right. So, as I say, if I ruled the world, I would want to rule it properly.


I am concerned. There are all the usual reasons for my concern. Let me share some with you:

• Curling teams have always been 'organic'.
• Skips pick their teams and the rest is history.
• Psychology is far more important in a curling team than it is in, for example or rugby or a football team (where the coach traditionally picks the team).
• The best teams are friends off as well as on the ice.

But really, these are the 'old hat' arguments. All we are really arguing about here is who picks the teams. There has been coach input into that process for the last decade at least, so there is nothing really new there. What concerns me more – well there are two potential things, but I think one of them is already covered.

The one that I think is already covered is the team 'input' to the decision. I would hate to hear that there had been no input from the players themselves into who is playing with whom. Our coaches are, I think, sensible enough to realise that there needs to be harmony within a curling team much more so – and I mean much more so – than almost any other sport. Wayne Rooney does not need to like Rio Ferdinand, but David Murdoch needs to see eye to eye with Tom Brewster is all that I am saying here.

I would also hate to hear that a player has kept their mouth shut in these circumstances for fear of rocking the boat or putting themselves out on a limb with the coaching staff. In extremis, that could lead to four (sometimes five) players having an unhappy time of things playing with people with whom they just don’t get on. Nightmare on so many levels. That said, I am a young ambitious player; would I speak out against the people in power? Probably not and that is definitely not healthy.

My second concern is more fundamental. I am worried by the commitment that the coaching team are insisting on. I spoke about this at a recent dinner (and got pelters, I may add), but I really do worry that we are limiting the talent pool at our disposal by disenfranchising all those whose answer to the question, which comes first, curling or your work / studies, is not curling.

Come on and get real! Anyone over the age of twenty-five who is holding down a job might very well answer 'curling', but everyone in their right mind knows that the answer to that question is 'work', unless one or more of the following apply:

• You are married to a sugar-daddy
• You are married to a sugar-mummy
• You are as rich as Croesus
• Your parents continue to financially support you (and are themselves as rich as Croesus)
• You have a job willing to give you oodles of paid time off
• You are prepared to put your career aspirations on hold
• You are willing to defer your studies
• You are content to fail a few exams and finish up with poorer qualifications than if you had put the studying effort in
• You are funded to such an extent that your financial worries are taken care of
• You are prepared to live / work within a reasonable distance of Stirling
• You are Wayne Rooney.

So what’s the problem, you may very well ask. I’ll give you the answer in one person – David Edwards. David is an honest young man, who was not prepared to dissemble in order to get some funding. He is recently married and is holding down an important job. This job helps him pay his mortgage. Perhaps more worryingly from the perspective of Scottish curling, he is also a talented young curler, whose talent we can ill afford to lose from an already small enough pool. None of the above bullet points apply as far as he is concerned, so he is, not to put too fine a point on it, out. You may argue that he has made his choice. I would argue that he should never have had to make the choice in the first place. We can ill-afford to lose him and others like him.

Just to add a little bit of insult to this already injured soul, his second player from last season, Scott Macleod, is in the performance squad. It is not clear yet which team Scott will be placed in, but I am willing to place a wee wager on a performance team with people like Glen Muirhead, Jay McWilliam and perhaps Billy Morton. If that is the case, then David is looking for a new second player. This team, by the way, were good enough to finish on an 8-1 record in the Scottish Championship last season. Scott may very well be asked to leave that team to join three other players, at least two of whom are relative strangers. Could someone please explain to me why this is a good idea from anyone’s perspective?

The best teams are the ones where talented players get together because they want to. They enjoy playing with each other and they build up a rapport within the team. The coaches’ challenge will be to ensure that still holds true in the 'made-up' teams. The fact that Tom Brewster and Eve Muirhead’s successful teams have been kept together speaks volumes to that important point. Mind you, although every one of the four existing members of team Brewster speaks of the 'welcome' news that David Murdoch is joining them as fifth man, I would be looking over my shoulder. Maybe that’s because I was never, ever, in the same league as any of those fine players, mind you. Aye – that’s maybe it. But I’d still be looking over my shoulder, nonetheless!

And now for my last point – and it is about the Scottish Championships. Does anyone else out there bemoan the fact that one of Tom’s major competitors is no longer skipping his own team in the Scottish next season? Does anyone else feel just the merest smidgin cheated that we won’t see another clash of these two fine skips? I do earnestly hope and pray that the High Heid Yins do not have designs on the Scottish. I do hope that they do not intend it to be rendered second class by 'picking' a team to represent Scotland at the World Championships. The Scottish is the one competition we have that sorts out the men from the boys. It is the one competition where a curler is asked to play the kind of shot that leads occasionally to one of those 'squeaky bum' moments.

Lose the Scottish and you lose the Crown Jewel of Scottish curling. Lose the Scottish and you lose the chance to see a new team emerge, bright-eyed and excited into the light of success. Look at the season before last. Would anyone have picked Team Brewster to go the World Championship? Look at season 2003. Would anyone have picked Team Murdoch at that point? What the Scottish gives you is a competition in which new talent fights its way to the fore in the heat of competition. It gives that talent the chance to make the shots under intense pressure. It gives them the chance to play their curling under the same kind of pressure that they will face in World and European Championships.

Lose the Scottish and you give the chosen few a sinecure to overstay their welcome at the top of the game.

Lose the Scottish and Mr Angry from Balerno will be on your case good and proper. It should never, ever be allowed to happen. Our Scottish champions have earned the right to represent their country.

Full stop. End of story.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ten Ends Is a Proper Game of Curling. Or Is it?

Paul Stevenson is something of a chap. Originally from Aberdeen, he finds himself making business waves in his adopted city of Edinburgh and we are lucky to have him as an interested and, as I hope you will agree, interesting commentator on all things curling as well as all things Edinburgh curling.

He wrote to me, a fuddy-duddy of the old traditionalist school – a member, if you will of the Heinz 57 old fa**s club – to share with me a fact. Facts are worrying; they tend to get in the way of old fuddy-duddy, Heinz 57 prejudices. Here was I, secure in the knowledge that, on this issue at least, I was right. Ten ends is a proper game of curling. Anything less is, frankly, for the old and infirm. People like me, in other words. Why, I toured Canada in 2003 and never played more than eight end games the entire trip. On my occasional foray into senior curling, I found myself playing eight ends. But I am old, overweight and infirm. Proper curling, as played by the young and fit should always be over ten ends, because ...

So Paul asked why. Then he gave me one of these pesky, annoying little facts. I ranted and then I railed. But the fact remained, staring me in the face. It laughed in the face of my prejudice. It revelled in my discomfort. It scorned my bigotry. Here it is.

Eighteen percent of fifty-one matches at the recent Scottish Championship started with two blank ends. I am no mathematician, but I work that out to be one in five games. Furthermore, 53% of the total games played included at least one blank end in the first two.

See facts? I hate them.

Let’s put this another way. In one in five of the games played, there was no score after the first two ends of a ten-end game and in one in two games, one of the first two ends was blanked. That’s pretty conclusive stuff and begs the question, “Why play ten ends?”

Why indeed?

I think it’s spluttering time again; the sound of uncontrollable bouts of anger-induced breaking wind will have stained glass windows shaking in their mounts. Bunneted curlers are swishing their besoms and turning in their graves. Cigars are being furiously waved around throughout the country and people are throwing these new-fangled phone thingies onto the ground.

But really – why not play eight ends instead of ten?

Here are some thoughts.
• There is now a pressing need for ice to be prepared properly before each championship round. This takes time out of a busy rota
• Add that to the practice ice that teams now need prior to the matches taking place and you realise why we are now sometimes down to three rounds in a day – madness when you are expecting professional people to take time off their work
• With the fitness of today’s curlers and the nylon pads that they use on their brushes, the ice is liable to 'fudge' towards the end of a game
• Nothing much happens at the start of a game in any case (according to the statistics), so why not cut out the first two wasted ends play?

This would mean that in a World Championship (or indeed, a Scottish Championship, for that matter) you would need six less ends in a three-round day. Put that another way: a three-round day could become a four-round day or indeed a four-round day could become a five-round day. Would the first two ends still have a fair chance of being blanked? Maybe they would and maybe they wouldn’t but it might serve to make the games faster-moving and easier to sell to a TV or a webcast audience.

Worth thinking about seriously, I would venture.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Where would you rather curl?

Back in the 'good old days', it really was very simple: if it froze outside, you curled. If it didn’t, you didn’t. Oh, I know that the romantics out there yearn for the time when curling was only ever played when the plough was frozen in the furrow, but really? Years passed with stones lying unused and forgotten. Check your club’s old records and spot the gaps.

The 'indoor curling on artificial ice revolution' really started when some wise men in the west constructed the first Scottish Ice Rink at Crossmyloof, a suburb on Glasgow’s south side. It was opened in October 1907. Curlers were quick to take advantage – indeed the first visiting Canadian team came over and played for the Strathcona Cup in January and February 1909. Most of the test matches were played at the new indoor rink. In 1912, Edinburgh followed suit and Haymarket ice rink opened for business. Not long afterwards, a rink was opened in Aberdeen. When the original Crossmyloof rink was severely damaged by fire in 1917, Haymarket became, and remained, the only indoor venue in the Central Belt until 1928 when a new rink opened its doors on the old Crossmyloof site.

And that was kind of it until Great Britain upset the Canadian reigning champions and favourites by winning the ice hockey Gold Medal at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch Partenkirchen, Germany. Funny how completely unrelated events conspire to help another sport! Ice hockey took off in Britain and for a heady three years before the Second World War put paid to things, ice rinks, most with spectator facilities, sprang up all over the place. In 1936, Perth opened its doors for the first time and in 1938 new rinks opened in Ayr, Edinburgh (Murrayfield) and Kirkcaldy.

Throughout the forties and fifties, the sport of curling in Scotland was played (indoors) at Ayr, Crossmyloof, Falkirk, Edinburgh (Haymarket), Kirkcaldy, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen. There were occasional games at other rinks like Paisley, but in the main, those eight rinks catered for the sport. They were all mixed use and the curlers had to share their ice (though not at the same time!) with skaters and ice hockey players. The rinks were run as businesses and ownership tended to be by shareholders and latterly, by individuals. There were no council-run facilities as far as I can ascertain and there was probably enough business to go around. Games took place over three hour sessions and it was not uncommon for there to be fifteen ends played on what we would now consider slow ice.

Starting with Kelso in 1962, there followed a rash of ice rink building in Scotland and it was during the next ten or so years that new rinks were built at Lockerbie, Stranraer, Ayr (replacing the original), Hamilton, Aviemore and Inverness. The sixties was a time of real and – important this – sustainable growth in the sport’s facilities and it is no surprise to report that all of those rinks, with the exception of Aviemore, are still in existence and that they all have contributed to the well-being of the game. Typically, a group of keen curlers, often lead by a 'worthy' – one thinks of Willie Wilson in Kelso, Bob Grierson in Stranraer or Tom Dickson at Hamilton, would get together, often after returning from a tour to Canada, and lobby the local community for a rink, which would duly be built.

Hammy McMillan started a new trend in 1970. He already owned the North West Castle hotel and had been approached by Bob Grierson about the possibility of building a rink attached to the hotel. Hammy went ahead and built it! It proved a winning formula with the weekend curling competitions attracting curlers from all over Scotland to compete. Others copied Hammy and new 'attached' rinks sprang up in places like Lochgoilhead, Letham Grange, Forest Hills and Brora. Sadly, they have all gone and we are left with the Green Hotel rink in Kinross and Greenacres in Renfrewshire. Interestingly, John Stevenson started Greenacres off as an addition to his hotel, but it has since developed as a rink in its own right – the only example of an ice rink outliving the original hotel!

The two original indoor rinks at Haymarket and Crossmyloof have since been replaced. In Edinburgh, curling now takes place at a dedicated rink attached to the original 1930s Murrayfield ice rink and in Glasgow, Braehead took over from the Summit Centre in the 1990s.

Four other privately-run rinks deserve a mention. Gogar Park was owned and run by the Gumley family. Sadly, it shut down and is now a garden shed for RBS. The Stirling rink replaced the old Falkirk rink and was financed by a share issue - £200 per share. I know this because I bought one. Interestingly, ownership bought you a free sheet of ice in lieu of interest. The rink finally closed down a couple of years ago when the new council-funded Peak Centre replaced it. The Curl Aberdeen facility replaced a rink at Dyce which in turn had replaced the old Donald’s rink. It was financed by a combination of private donation and lottery-funded grant money. The Inverness Ice Centre has been bought by the users (curlers and skaters) and is run by a board chaired by my old mucker, Tom Pendreigh.

Council-run facilities began to be used by curlers around about the nineteen-eighties and the sport has found new homes in centres like Harvies in Stevenson (the Magnum in Irvine having closed), the Galleon in Kilmarnock and the Dumfries Ice Bowl. There are, of course, others as well.

Now here is a big problem for our sport. On the one hand we should welcome any additional facilities that enable our sport to grow in a particular area, but on the other, we need to be careful where a situation pertains like that in the south of Scotland. There is an existing facility (Lockerbie) that is owned by shareholders. The rink has to 'clean its face' financially and has to set aside monies for the rainy day that the stones need replacing, for example. Perhaps, as at Murrayfield, the curlers are in the throes of 'buying the rin'”, so there is an additional cost that needs to be funded. The banks do not go away in all of this and if there are loans, then they need both to be serviced and, ultimately, paid off.

And along comes a cuckoo! The council build a brand spanking new rink at Dumfries Ice Bowl with all of the mod cons that you would expect of a new-build facility, and curling availability seven days a week. Hopefully, it will attract new curlers to the sport, but there cannot help but be leakage of existing business from the old to the new rink. All’s fair in love and war; competition is what makes the world go around, but ... There is not the same financial imperative on a council-run facility as there is on a business. It is not a competition of equals. Greenacres is a privately-owned ice rink that has to show a return. The Waterfront is a council-run facility that does not need to show the same return.

It would be a terrible shame if one of our existing rinks went bust because a council-run facility opened up next door. Where would you rather curl – a curling club over which you have some control, or a sports centre over which you have hee-haw control? Interesting question for us all to ponder this crisp winter’s morn.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Swan

In 2012, the Edinburgh Curling Club celebrates its centenary. Plans are well advanced for the centenary dinner at the city’s Corn Exchange on Saturday, February 25, and before that a series of ten centenary bonspiels at the Murrayfield Curling Rink on January 28 and 29. The bonspiels are all but fully-subscribed as I write and we have sold over three hundred tickets for the dinner. All of these celebrations were made possible by a linked, but totally separate series of events in 1910.

By that time, the west end of Edinburgh was built up as we know it today. If you were to travel back in time, your twenty-first century olfactory sensibilities would be assaulted by the different smells of the time and you might notice a smoky pall in the air; almost everyone would be smoking something or other and the noises you would hear would not be the sounds of idling internal combustion engines waiting interminably at the traffic lights, but instead be the clip-clopping of horses’ hooves on cobblestones mixed with the screech of metal wheels on tram lines. But the buildings that you see today were already built and the Haymarket station was a longstanding feature of the landscape, having opened in 1842 as the original terminus for the Edinburgh and Glasgow railway.

Just beside the station, John Swan and company had their Edinburgh operation, but it was landlocked and too small for purpose, so they moved their auctioneering business out to Gorgie, near the newly-developed Corn Exchange building. The new Haymarket ice rink was built on the freed-up parcel of land and opened for business in February 1912. The directors of John Swan and company presented a magnificent trophy to the Edinburgh Curling Club for double rink competition. To this day the trophy is presented to the winners of 'the Swan', as the competition is known.

It really is a great format, perhaps because it is so little used. A club presents two teams; they play against another club’s two teams side-by-side and the game scores are totalled. No ends or points come into play – just the shots-up. You have to keep a wary eye on your own game, but adjust your tactics in case the other game is going (or not going) according to plan. Great fun.

This year – the centenary year of the competition – the two semi finals pitched Midcalder CC against Haddington CC, and Currie and Balerno CC against Oxenfoord CC. Currie and Balerno and Midcalder prevailed, so the scene was set for a thrilling final. Currie and Balerno’s Andrew Galloway skipped Robin Copland, Raymond Preston and Caitlin Barr against Midcalder’s Stewart Barr, Basil Baird, Andrew Brash and Lesley Barr. The game started off tight but a big steal of two in the fourth end gave the Midcalder team a two-point lead which they added to in the next couple of ends. In the meantime, Currie and Balerno’s Brian Fleming skipped club president Dave Munro, Bob Barr and Andrew Cargill to a small lead in a tight game against Midcalder’s Alan Russell, John Baird, Scott Baird and Graham Young.

Come the eighth end Midcalder led in one game by three shots in the Barr versus Galloway game but were down in the Fleming versus Russell game by two shots. Try as they might, the Galloway team could not get a stone in the four foot behind the cover. They had plenty of chances and did not take one! Meanwhile, on the other sheet, Midcalder had put the squeeze on and managed a two-shot steal to peel their game. A great performance by Midcalder’s two teams; they drew one game and won the other. In so doing they stopped a Currie and Balerno hat trick.

Jack Clark, the managing director of John Swan Ltd presented the trophy at a happy prize giving ceremony in the club rooms immediately after the games. The celebratory party went on well into the night!

Top: Winners of the Swan Trophy, Midcalder CC. Back L-R: Jack Clark (managing director of John Swan Ltd), Stewart Barr, Alan Russell, John Baird, Scott Baird and Andrew Brash. Front: Graham Young, Lesley Barr and Basil Baird. Photo by Ian Millar.

Above: Currie and Balerno CC, the runners-up in the competition. L-R: Jack Clark (managing director of John Swan Ltd), Andrew Galloway, Robin Copland, Andrew Cargill, Dave Munro, Brian Fleming, Raymond Preston, Caitlin Barr and Bob Barr. Photo by Ian Millar.

The two winning skips, Stewart Barr, Jack Clark (MD of John Swan Ltd) and Alan Russell, with the Swan trophy. Photo by Ian Millar.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A Wee Look at the Seniors

I have been having a wee look at the Scottish Senior Championships as I see that their playdowns take place in Greenacres and Forfar, January 6-8.

I can do this now that I am no longer involved. Well – for this year at least! It is always interesting for the serious student of the sport to see how champions of yesteryear face up to those who have come to the competitive game later in their lives. Interesting also to see how knees and joints have faced up to the trauma that the years have bestowed on them. Some wear better than others though it is astonishing, to these eyes at least, to note that the deliveries that served their masters well twenty and thirty years ago still seem up to the task all this time later.

I swear, for example, that if you were to look at Ken Horton throw a stone now and compare his delivery to the Ken Horton that was winning Scottish and Scottish Junior Championships back in the seventies and eighties, you would see not a lot of difference. He is still early into his delivery position and is able to release the stone accurately fairly early by today’s fashion. He was never one of these players who gave the hogline judge much trouble - except maybe on a hack-weight takeout on really keen ice - but the balance and accuracy is still there, witnessed by the fact that he has now won the Scottish Senior Championships twice – once as third to his old mucker, Graeme Adam, and once as skip in his own right.

The rest have to get past Ken and his champion rink of Gordon Butler, Angus Storrie and Eddie Binks before they can say they have done it and are crowned champions. I fancy that Keith Prentice – still smarting after losing two early games in last season’s finals at Hamilton and finding himself out of contention before he really got started – may be one of teams that Ken has his eyes on. Keith has a strong rink in front of him - Lockhart Steele, Robin Aitken and Tommy Fleming – and they have played together for a number of years. This is important at any level of curling. In their first season as champions, they went out to Canada and took on the famous Al Hackner/Rick Lang combination not once, but twice; and twice they won to bring back the gold medals.

Those of us old enough well remember just what a class top end Hackner and Lang were. They represented Canada in the 1985 Silver Broom at the Kelvin Hall in Glasgow and were streets ahead of their opponents. Another advantage that Keith has is that he coaches the junior team skipped by Jay McWilliam. These boys keep him young, but the fact that he coaches at that level has kept him informed and aware.

Last season’s runners-up, Colin Hamilton, Mike Dick, Trevor Dodds and Colin Baxter (replacing Ian MacPherson) will also be there or thereabouts when the fat lady starts warbling. Mike and Colin H are two other examples of the 'same delivery thirty years on' theory and are both fiercely competitive. Trevor and Colin B will be as strong a front end as will be on show – another formidable outfit.

Willie Jamieson returns with the same team from last season. Whisper this, but David Kelly at second has been for lessons with David Murdoch at Greenacres. He has had to change his delivery from tuck to flat foot to stop his leg from falling off and David McGann at lead has resorted to quite the most ridiculous pair of spectacles ever seen on a curling rink. Who knows though? Gordon Kennedy brings steel and tactical nous to the party; all four are good chums on and off the ice; they were semifinalists last season. They could very well challenge.

Graeme Adam has teamed up this season with Bob Kelly, reverting to his favoured team position of third, Stuart Naismith and Jean Lesperance. Many argue that Graeme was the finest tactician of his generation; if he and Bob click, and if the front end play up to their reputation, then he may very well mount a serious challenge as well to pick up his second senior title.

There are others to consider. Old-school teams like Barton Henderson (but will Greig be skipping that team?) will need to face up to newer names (comparatively speaking) like Gary Macfarlane and Ian Gillespie. Past champions like Ronnie Peat will face off against the likes of David Clydesdale and Alan Durno. All to play for!

Now to the ladies and I will be blunt – I don’t know what to tell you! No qualifiers here, all twenty teams go through to the Finals at the Lanarkshire Ice Rink, February 7-12. To me, the championship is as open as the Russian Steppes. More about the girls later.


Since writing this, I have learned that my services are, in fact, required for the district championships! The poor team involved had apparently been right through the card of eligible players that they decided to cut their losses and phone me. They knew I was desperate for a game. I will spare their blushes. Suffice to say that any remote chance they may have had has now vanished – a bit like the snow and ice off the Russian Steppes come the spring.

Get me a phone – quick now. I need to speak to my gym chap. Barman – another gin, please. And I’ll leave the size to your good self.