There was home triumph in the 102nd British Senior Merit held in Nuneaton at the Griff and Coton Bowling Club. The title went to 33 year old Darren Plenderleith who showed the grit, determination and years of experience to claim the biggest win of his career. This green has been in use since 1909 and used in miners leagues since 1912. It brought an escape to the deadly work its members had to endure. I doubt any other day since then had seen bowls like this.
Darren, a team leader at the local Jaguar factory, is well known on the competition circuit and used all the experience gained to triumph in the final against South Yorkshire Ross Meese. Ross had shown all the skills gained in his young bowling career to set Darren all sorts of challenges in the final. This day is famed for providing unbeatable atmosphere and shocks and surprises to keep the crowd, who had travelled the length and breadth of the country, enthralled.
The first game of the day saw Friday’s Fleetwood Festival champion, Callum Wraight, become the first victim of Warwick and Worcesters Adam Kirby. Callum started the day as 2nd favourite and he found Adam just too good. Adam who looked unbeatable all day then saw off the 1998 champion Stuart Perry and then the bookies favourite Simon Coupe before engaging in a sensationally excitable game, which had the crowd bouncing and screaming, with North Midlands Ben Percival. Ben was in stunning form, tearing after each of his bowls and guiding them as they honed into the jack. Ben swept into a 9-4 lead as it was testament to Adam’s skill and determination, whilst playing the tremendously tricky corners, that he came back from that start to win 21-15.
Ross Meese had quietly and very skilfully beat Jim Robertson, Rob Winnington and John Kennish before having a thriller against Shropshires Colin Beaman. Colin had been in stunning form all day but he couldn’t live with skilful short play that Ross was specialising in. Ross was serene to lead out at 20-12, though arguably he should have already won the game, before Colin started on a sensational fight back. Slowly and stunningly Colin drew close then drew level before a sensational final end of the game saw Ross triumph.
Colin led across the green to 18 inches behind the jack, Ross was worryingly short with his first before Colin counted another with a short bowl which looked like a wall in front and protecting his lead bowl. The crowd was wondering what Ross would do as he sent his last bowl, it looked too far but he could not be short, somehow it got past the wall and nestled against Colin’s bowl as the crowd went wild.
Ross looked under all sorts of pressure in the semi-final against Adam but he had the skills and had gained the green knowledge to find a mark that Adam could not master to win 21-14. An uphill finish one way and a gathering mark off the crown that required a dead length, Ross would use that mark, found first in the game against Colin, and used so well against Adam, again in the final.
Steve Morrey had been in inspired battling form leaving his opponents beaten into submission. Mitchell Harvey, Mark Britton, Danny Barwise and Shane Day were all in the game but had no answer to the questions Steve was putting to them. The game against Shane was classical. Shane started so well and looked imperious and unbeatable and just about any other cliche you could imagine but Steve was not to be denied. From miles behind he found a mark on the stand edge that was like playing up a ski slope one way. Steve adapted and Shane did not. By the end it was Steve who was looking in sensational form and looked unbeatable on the green. The semi-final was a different story though.
Darren had been stunning form all day. A series of tough opponents were blown away by this left-handed North Midlands champion. Kevan Shaw, John Dewey, Ryan Prosser and Dean Ferris were left scratching their heads by the bowls sent by Darren. Dean started the quarter-final game in better form but as soon as Darren got control of the jack it was too tough a contest for the experienced ex-Potteries man.
The semi-final started with Darren in the form that had proved too hot to handle in the previous games. Playing just off the crown Darren was stopping the jack and his 2-9 Drakes in places that could not be beaten. Steve was expert in firing them off but there was just too many, played expertly and with an unquenchable desire to win that could not be denied. It was a dejected Steve that came off after scoring 8 and Darren had his eyes on the final against Ross.
After an impeccable minutes applause for the late Mel Evans MBE the final started under the watchful eyes of a large crowd who ringed the green. Ross started the better and wouldn’t let Darren take control. Both were looking at playing shorter length marks and it took sensational bowls from Darren to get Ross away from his favourite mark. Darren who had so much success playing just over the crown and Ross playing just underneath it to where his bowls gathered around the jack. The quiet and seemingly composed Ross was a contrast to the ferociously determined Darren.
What stood out was an end where Ross led well to an edge with an uphill finish, almost a ski slope it was, Darren was struggling to control Ross at this point but threw caution to the wind and played at Ross’s lead, off the green it went with Darren’s bowl in its place. Ross tried to replace but to no avail and Darren played another, you could almost hear the inner roar as Darren signalled a pair. A roar befitting of a coliseum which this corner of Nuneaton had now become.
Darren then changed to playing a longer length mark and it looked to be outside Ross’s comfort zone. Playing towards the, not so little, North Midlands ‘massive’ who were urging Darren on with every bowl, finally Darren led well as Ross’s narrow soled bowls struggled to adapt, first he drew level then ahead as the fired that burned within was turned up to its highest, Ross was in trouble on this mark.
Though not for long, Ross sending his narrow 2-8 Taylor’s with a hard to read flick almost off his inside leg was proving to be Darren’s toughest opponent. Back he came before almost drawing level along the top edge before giving Darren room to to go all but.
The last end saw Ross trying for perfection when a rambling last bowl may have been a better option. Almost perfect he had been for so much of the day but what he tried would have been one of the greatest bowls ever sent. Darren punched the air in delight as Ross’s last bowl couldn’t compare with the the 12-inch short lead Darren had skilfully played.
It was a delighted Phil Brown, BCGBA President, who handed this famous trophy over to a delighted and emotional Darren Plenderleith. There are 102 names on that trophy, the great and the good are on it and some of the games very best are not. Their achievements echo through eternity, they sing to us from forgotten years, their success forever recorded, etched in silver.
The efforts of Darren Plenderleith now rank with them, forever and a day they will call out that this 33 year old team leader at Jaguar, roared on by his partner Laura, earned his greatest of bowling triumphs in front of his own, his friends and his family.
This day will forever be his.