The crowds gathered, from the four corners of the bowling world they came, to this sacred bowling ground. They queued to get in, asking who their queuing colleagues thought would win, giving their theories, backing them at the bookies. Backing against them when their nerve failed.
They came for the finals day of the Co-op Funeralcare Waterloo Handicap. Over 100 names fill the honours board they came to see who would be etched alongside the great and the good as winners of this most famous of bowling events. There are stories that go along with every name on the board, stories that sing of triumphs and controversies from forgotten times. What would be stories entwined with the record of this year’s event.
The TV cameras were ready, the commentators were ready, the crowd were ready and most importantly the eight bowlers were ready.
Phil Lee (Liverpool) v Andy Thornton (Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria)
Phil had excelled on playing shorter marks and would have to combat Andy’s longer length game. Andy had been in excellent form and knocked out the bookies favourite, Greg Smith, on Monday. Phil had survived a battle on Saturday and was supreme yesterday.
Although neither led well early on, it was Phil who seemed to have slightly more consistency and certainly was firing well. Although it was most definitely settling into a game of nervous singles. An excellent bowl from Andy when playing through stopped Phil getting a six lead and got some momentum his way.
It was Phil though who managed to collect pairs at a vital time in the game and helped him claim a 21-16 win. Neither player could reach the heights of previous games and Andy seemed to play his worse at the end of the game.
Ritchie Goddard (Shrewsbury) v Simon Coupe (Preston)
Ritchie from Shrewsbury has been playing well this week with a good run to the semi-finals in the Marston Institute competition. Simon the course and distance man of the finals day probably knows the green better than anyone else left in the competition. Simon needed a pre-game kiss from his wife Louise and he and Ritchie shared the first dead end of the week.
Simon certainly settled the quickest, used to this occasion, but Ritchie soon was playing some of the bowls he had been sending all week. Ritchie has been sending better bowls than Simon this week, well at least so far. Ritchie was looking to play longer lengths and Simon was looking to play barely twenty-three yards. Simon was certainly playing better at this length than previous games over a longer length.
Ritchie looked like he needed a few throws of the jack to settle and Simon was not going to let him do that. Then all of a sudden the momentum changed. Ritchie played a couple of really good bowls to get the jack back and, although leaving room for Simon, had the chance to control the jack length. What is thought to be a strength of Simon’s was proving not the be the case. Ritchie played so many good second bowls and got in front at 18-17 but then had a bad end when he had the chance to put Simon out of the game.
Simon lay up before Ritchie played through to level it up. Ritchie’s last end was not good though and gave too much room for the twice-winner from Preston.
Chris Ward (Victoria Park) v Wayne Ditchfield (Eccleston)
Both of these players had been impressive yesterday. Wayne had triumphed in a game, against Michael Beer, widely thought to be one of the best seen on this green. Chris had beaten the impressive Ray Goodhand. Could either player bring that form to the finals day?
Wayne certainly looked happier the first few ends and looked to put the pressure on Chris before he could settle into the game. Wayne seems a happier player this week, settled and relaxed, and playing better bowls for it. He has stated that he has worked to improve his technique and seemed to be playing better for it.
Although not reaching the heights of yesterday Wayne was very impressive again. The pressure Chris was under made sure he was never completely settled into the game.
Chris Brown (Sheffield) v Michael Leach (Blackpool)
The final quarter-final and last game before the lunch break saw a roses battle. Chris Brown has disposed of his opponents in double quick time. Michael Leach has been equally impressive in his games this week. Both players have been using the green edges very well and it could well be a battle of the pub edge. It was Chris who settled and playing excellent bowls and firing Michael close bowls off when needed. Michael was probably playing his worst bowls of the week, such was the pressure Chris was putting him under.
Chris was in cruise control, playing well and posing questions that Michael could not answer. Mike was really struggling to control his length and leaving Chris with attacking bowls to play most ends. Mike did get a run with the jack in the corners and without playing well got back to 15-19 before committing the sin of throwing the jack off. What was apparent was the seeming lack of control Mike had on the shorter marks and this meant Chris had an easy end to win the game.
Semi-finals – Phil Lee v Simon Coupe
Both players had excelled over shorter marks in the last game but what would happen now. Simon won the first end and decided that reverting to his longer length game would be his first option. Could Phil play against Simon’s ability in the corners? Simon started to settle on longer length mark and put Phil under pressure. Simon was not playing as well as he could but went 13-6 up before Phil used his striking ability to get the jack back.
Suddenly Phil led well and quickly got his confidence back. This became a different game. Simon had to play well to get control of the jack again and changed back to a longer game. Simon then had to sort an errant sticker out on his bowl which broke the play up for a bit. Phil though drew level and you couldn’t pick a winner. Simon went ahead but back came Phil, answering questions about his corner play.
Phil got back to level before having a horrendous end to let Simon get to 20. Simon then a cheap pair back to Phil as we levelled up at 20 across. It looked like it was going Phil’s way before a fantastic last bowl to within six inches claimed the victory for Simon.
Semi-final – Wayne Ditchfield v Chris Brown
The predictions for this game were complicated by the fact that it rained heavily before the game. Drizzle was falling as the game started. The first end indicated that we should be in for a classic. Excellent lead by Wayne but he was stunned by a Chris playing through and getting a pair. The initiative seemed to with Chris but he played a poor couple of ends and Wayne was able to capitalise.
A game predicted to be close was living up to it, 8’s became 9’s which became 10’s. Then Wayne benefitted from playing close bowls and lucky Brown not having his normal luck. Chris was soon back to the top of his game though as both players were coping well with the wet conditions. The friendly Seagull which has graced us each afternoon with its presence made an appearance.
Wayne was keeping his nose in front as drying the bowl well enough to send it properly became a priority. Wayne kept his composure in the rain and played close bowls to deny the South Yorkshire man.
Manning Global Ladies Waterloo Final – Anne O’Loughlin v Linda Williams
These two ladies had battled through a touch field on Sunday. They came today to showcase the Ladies game and show that they could do just as well as the men. Reigning champion Linda Williams, pride of Wales, against Warwickshire’s Anne O’Loughlin. Linda was looking for a third consecutive title. The tricky conditions were setting both ladies a test and they were responding well.
The game ebbed and flowed but good bowls were always played. Both Linda and Anne were leading so well and the experience they both have showed. Linda looking for longer lengths and Anne cutting it down to thirty yards. The game plans were set and it was a tough battle. Every time Anne threatened the lead of Linda she responded well. Linda just had too much on the day for Anne. A 21-15 win for the Wales Champion and a third consecutive Ladies crown here at the Waterloo.
Co-op Funeralcare Waterloo Handicap Final – Simon Coupe v Wayne Ditchfield
The final, the culmination of the greatest bowls tournament, was between two North Lancashire men. Two of the favourites before the week had started and two players who know each others game so well. Wayne and Simon both had the composure and the skill to overcome all challenges and get to the final.
Early in the game it was honours even with good bowls played by both players. Although not hitting the heights of previous games it was very tense. It was almost as if both players, in an attempt not to rush, had slowed their games down too much. A lack of rhythm by both players. The rain, although now eased, had softened the green and made the surface ‘sticky’.
Slowly but surely Wayne took control. He used a mark across the green which I don’t think either had been on all week. Although the lead bowls were not always up to their standards. Simon then played class bowls to get Wayne off the mark and looked set for a run in the corners. Wayne however, had other ideas. A pair of superb bowls in the pub corner put him within four points of victory and more importantly a change of the jack length. A stunning second bowl at the next end, although Simon was so unlucky trying to play it out, got him a point closer, and he was back on the mark across the middle of the green.
The last of bowl from Simon on the next end got him even deeper in trouble. Turning over and hitting Wayne in for another and got Wayne to all but. Simon replied with an excellent pair next end but he needed to be perfect from now on. The next end a pair of short bowls from Simon left Wayne all the room he needed to collect the winning point. The 2017 Champion is Wayne Ditchfield and it joins his multiple both as a senior and junior to confirm him among the very best this game has to offer.