Friday, January 25, 2013

The Strathcona Cup

Copey writes:

In amongst all of the regional playdowns that have been going on in the various age-group and gender Scottish championships these past few weeks – all of them hugely important, of course – a group of middle- to late middle-aged (0K - old!) men have disappeared off on a jaunt to Canada: twenty of them have flown off to the far west; a further twenty are in the centre of the country and twenty more are curling in the east.

Let me admit something up front here; I was on the 2003 centenary tour to Canada, so there will be the slightest smidgin of bias in this blog! I was also lucky enough to compete in the final stages of quite a few Scottish championships and consider my one appearance in a world championship as the highlight of my curling life, but playing as a member of the Scottish Strathcona Cup team in 2003 is right up there as well – albeit in a different and perhaps more private kind of a way.

We need to get real – it is different. First, you are picked to go on the tour and there are various criteria used to whittle down over 90 applicants to the 60 tourists. Patently, curling ability is one of them, but not the only one; the ability to win playdowns is not high on the agenda, if only because there aren’t any! Actually, perhaps the most important criterion is the ability to get on with 19 disparate people over a period of three weeks without irrevocably falling out.

One of my 2003 team mates put it all rather nicely when he described going on tour as “not the holiday of a lifetime, but certainly the experience of a lifetime”. Touring is a marathon. Each day starts with “morning class”. This longstanding tradition was introduced to curling by the late Collie Campbell, a noted Canadian curling personality and administrator. It involves gin is all I am saying!

Normally, there are two sessions of curling per day; often but not always, one of the tourist teams is off session by session. Even with the off session every fifth or sixth game – even then, it is a tough gig, so you had better be fit and ready. You travel around the country from rink to rink in a blur of curling, sleeping, drinking, fun and fellowship.

Back in the day, the Strathcona Cup tour travelled the length and breadth of the country. Pre-war, tourists travelled by ship and the tour lasted six or seven weeks. Nowadays, the tour lasts around three weeks and tourists can expect to play around thirty games of curling in all kinds of different rinks – from small two-sheeter village rinks to the grand eight-sheeters in the cities. Some of the curling clubs are run by the members for the members; others are part of a larger country club complex with all the mod-cons and luxury you would expect. What astounds the first-time Scot visiting Canada to curl is the sheer number of rinks – every village, township, town and city will have at least one rink. The sport is huge over there; it is part of the social fabric of the country. If you meet a Canadian, they will know someone who curls and have probably have had a go themselves.

Everyone knows Eve Muirhead, Hammy McMillan, Tom Brewster, David Murdoch and David Smith; they are all more famous in Canada than they are in the land of their birth. It’s a fact. Scotland is the home of the game, but Canada has adopted it and developed it beyond our wildest dreams.

Another fact for you: the standard of club curler out there is, in my experience, a lot higher than it is over here in Scotland. We would regularly come up against a team of what you might think of as “dirt-trackers”. Then, they would get on the ice and the one shot of which none of them seemed in the least scared was the cold draw to the four-foot. Time and again, we would be lying nicely and time and again, the skip would calmly wander down to the hack and cover the pot-lid!

Another thing we noticed was the consistency of the ice. It is, of course, a lot easier to make ice in a dry and very cold climate than it is in our mixed and often quite wet weather. All of the rinks that we played on were dedicated curling rinks – another factor that helps the ice technicians. But it was always keen and true; in thirty-odd games, I only played on one sheet that you would describe as “drug”.

Anyhow, back to the Strathcona Cup 2013. They are coming to the end of their tour as I write and you can follow their last week – indeed you can read about the whole tour - on their website here.

It is a grand old tradition and it gives many curlers their only shout at playing for Scotland. OK – it’s not a world championship, but in its own way, these five-year get-togethers between the curlers of Scotland and Canada are every bit as important. If you get a chance to go – take it!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The Scottish Curling Tour

Copey writes:

I have been impressed by the work that the committee of the Goldline Scottish Curling Tour has done these past couple of seasons. They have gathered together a series of competitions, worked out a set of rules and let the individual competition organisers get on with running their own competitions, organising sponsorship, getting teams to compete and all of the other palaver that comes with the territory. Basically, the organisers get to run their competitions in peace and all that the tour want is a list of winners, runners-up, losing semifinalists and losing quarterfinalists. The tour does the rest. Winners get 10 points; runners-up get 7; losing semifinalists take five and losing quarterfinalists are awarded 3 points. A league table is drawn up and it’s on to the next competition.

As a meerkat once opined, in a moment of insurable weakness – "simples".

These guys got things sorted out. The first thing they did was to sit round the table and ask themselves, "What does Scottish curling really need?" They looked at their answer and worked out a mission statement that clearly and transparently told everyone what they were getting into, they wrote it down and published it online for all the world to see. The meerkat is shaking with glee; if he’s not careful, he is going to fall over and – if you’re a meerkat (which thank the Lord, I’m not, sir) – that can have serious consequences, to wit a painful death.

Without their permission (but I don’t think they will mind), I publish the mission statement below.

• Provide structure to the existing circuit of competitive events
• Grow number and quality of competitive curling events around Scotland
• Provide high-quality competitions in Scotland for international teams looking to improve their game outside of the European tour
• Establish a 2nd tier competitive path for graduating juniors wishing to stay in the competitive game
• Improve participation by encouraging strong local teams to travel to different rinks.

Everything about the above is just 'right'. The quality of teams taking part in the various competitions has been excellent – there is nothing 2nd tier about the likes of Tom Brewster, David Edwards, Ewan MacDonald, Logan Gray and Warwick Smith. There have even been the odd foreign teams attracted over to compete in the old country.

The final round takes place at the Petrofac Aberdeen Open, February 1-3. Any one of four teams can lift the prize that Kyle Smith won last year on his way to the Scottish Junior Championship. David Edwards currently leads the pack on 23 points; Frazer Hare, winner of two of the earlier events is on 21; the consistent Murray Young is on 20 points and Hannah Fleming, who won the Braehead Open, is on 18 points.

The next time you see Neil Joss, Iain Stobo, Gavin Fleming, Colin Hamilton, David Edwards, Paul Stevenson, Graham Shedden, Jude McFarlane or Kay Adams in an ice rink – do me a favour and buy them pint, will you? They’re the committee and we should all doff our caps in their general direction.

Good work, chaps.

And a Good New Year to one and all while I’m at it.