Tuesday, April 08, 2014

In Defence of the Scottish

Actually, it all started with a miss by one of the five against the other four.  Otherwise the four would never have become five and, I suspect, we would have had a different team at the recent Winter Olympics.  Confused?  Let me explain.

It is February 2011 at Perth ice rink and the Scottish Championship is approaching its denouement.  In the semi-final, Tom Brewster is skipping a team of young hopefuls – a couple of whom wore the same kind of scars as their more experienced skip had in abundance.  Both Greg Drummond and Michael Goodfellow had recently aged out without winning the Scottish Junior Championship.  Their last chance had been against the Ally Fraser team, with Greg’s brother, Kerr at lead. 

Anyhow.  Back to the semi-final; Tom and company had put up a good fight, but they were up against David Murdoch, with Warwick Smith at third, Ross Hepburn at lead and – Glen Muirhead at second.  David had last stone advantage.  I was behind the barrier and saw the whole thing unfold.  With the skips’ stones to play, here’s what I wrote.

With Tom’s first stone in the fateful last end, he attempted to draw round a short guard but was light and came up short.  David attempted a difficult double clear, but was about an inch tight and ended up clearing Tom’s two guards but left his own shooter in play and covering the edge of the four foot.  Tom’s out-turn draw was perfect and bit a piece of the one foot, showing maybe three-quarters of a stone.  David elected to play the cold draw to the one foot, though he knew that he had a bit of backing with Tom’s stone on the tee line.  Meat and drink.  He slid down to the far end, conferred with his front end – strong sweepers both, settled in the hack, concentrated and began his delivery.  Warwick Smith’s brush was almost exactly where Greg’s had been a couple of minutes before.  David slid out – he seemed to be sliding ever-so-slightly tight from where I was, but that could have been an illusion.  In any case, he released and from there, it was down to Glen and Ross.  Except it wasn’t.  Maybe ten yards along its path, David just dropped his brush and looked heavenwards.  He knew already.  The sweepers stayed close.  Warwick shrugged and shook his head – he knew.  Still the sweepers stayed close, but in their hearts, they knew too.  Handshakes all round.  I looked at Glen.  I knew how he felt.  Shell-shocked.  If you haven’t been there, my friend, you will never, ever know, is all I’m telling you.  Glen’s been there a few times.  He knows.  He will be stronger for it, though that particular platitude wears thin with him at the moment.

Tom, Greg, Scott Andrews and Michael went on to beat Moray Combe in a tense final and then won Silver at the World Championships.  The next year, they repeated the feat – losing a tense World final to Canada’s Glenn Howard and that summer following, the four became five when David Murdoch joined the team.

Question: would anyone have picked Tom and his team to go to the World Championships that year?  I’ll answer that one for you.  No.

Would anyone have picked Ken Horton in 1977?  No.  Mike Hay in 1984?   No.  David Murdoch in 2003?  You’re getting the picture.

Maybe my point is even more tellingly made if we look at the ladies game.  Rhona Howie.  Would anyone have picked Rhona anytime?  No.  She doggedly came back for more heartache after more heartache; she was Mrs second-place Howie year after heart-breaking year.  She was like a punch-drunk fighter coming back for more.  And she kept coming back and finally, splendidly, magnificently, she claimed her Scottish Championship.  She proved herself in the cauldron of competition and did enough to get picked as the GBR skip in the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.  Rhona Martin, Debbie Knox, Fiona MacDonald, Janice Watt and Margaret Morton.  What a team of losers they turned out to be.

I am hearing and reading it all over again.  Let’s have picked teams for the World Championships; let’s downgrade the Scottish Championship to a second-rate competition.

Let’s not bother, shall we?  Let’s look at history.  Pay attention, people; we have a jewel in our crown.  Keep it polished.
Robin Copland