The last 16 of the Co-op Funeralcare Waterloo Handicap was played out in front of a large crowd and broadcast across the globe on ITV4.
The first game gave us a very impressive display from Liverpool’s Phil Lee. Thirty-four-year-old Phil is looking to be the first scouser to win the competition and gave a stunning exhibition which didn’t let his opponent, Altrincham’s Steve Baskerville in the game. A 21-09 win showed left-handed Phil skills and he will have impressed those backing this young man to win the competition.
Using a 25 yard pegging mark he was grouping his bowls so well. Phil carried on with his form from the last few days and didn’t let Steve show his form from yesterday. Phil never let Steve settle, always putting pressure on and not letting Steve have consecutive throws of the jack. What was evident though was that Phil was not tested on a long mark and you would think he will have to display those skills at some point.
Next up was Cumbria’s Andy Thornton, not long celebrated his 50th birthday, playing the popular Sheffield player Ryan Clark (a young and spritely 34 years old).
Andy had the better start, chasing his bowls in as he dominated the early game. Ryan changing the length to a shorter 23 or 24-yard mark, to great effect, started to apply pressure. A crucial end had Andy causing the jack to fall his way which gave him a measure of control again but Ryan was by now playing well. Ryan was now leading as well as Andy was earlier in he game and drew level at 15 across with Andy now fishing for a length. Andy used highly skilled controlled weight to get the jack back and headed for longer length mark. Andy didn’t let Ryan back into the game. Ryan so nearly got in front but it was that controlled weight strike that proved decisive.
Third game of the day saw Cheshire Malcolm Sims, a young and healthy 74 years, and giving 20 of them to Shropshire’s Ritchie Goddard. Ritchie was looking to take Malcolm the full distance and Malcolm was using his vast experience to stay in the game. In turn Malcolm was not shy in taking Ritchie back in the corners. Especially as he was adept at playing them over the last couple of days. It was Ritchie who was happier throughout. Keeping a decent length and picking his twos. Ritchie nearly always converted a single into a double and Malcolm didn’t have an answer for much of the game. Malcolm always gave his bowls a chance but he couldn’t keep with Ritchie’s better length play. Fourteen ends was all it took for the Shropshire man to qualify for the finals day.
The final game of the morning saw Simon Coupe from Preston play Wrexham’s Andy Hughes. This battle between 47-year-old Simon and 41-year-old Andy was anticipated by many in the crowd. Andy had played very steady and would not be afraid of Simon’s ability in the corners. Whereas Simon was the twice previous winner and in good form this bowling season and was the overwhelming favourite with the bookmakers. Both Simon and Andy both looked to play 50 yards plus as their first option. Simon of course is more than adept either way in on all the marks on this green. With neither player really in top form early in the game the jack kept swapping hands. Simon had the better of the corner play and Andy was impressive on the shorter marks. Although Simon was very good at striking off anything that Andy put close. Andy was not able to keep hold of the jack and to be honest Simon was not leading well. Both players gave flashes of the ability they have but both were unhappy with their performance during the game. Simon though was the winner and he keeps his favourites tag going into the finals day.
The afternoon started with sixty-eight-year-old Ray Goodhand from Warrington against fourty-nine-year-old Chris Ward from Staffordshire. Ray had really impressed everyone with how he played on Saturday and Monday. Chris had been the model of consistency in both his games so far. Chris had the better start of the game, scoring heavily when he could. Ray though started to play at least one really close bowl per end. Slowly but surely he got closer and closer. Chris though is vastly experienced and capitalised when he could. Like many of the games they were playing better to their opponent’s jack. Chris was so successful at converting singles into doubles and seven doubles gave him the win.
The second game of the afternoon saw the battle of the youngsters. Twenty-seven-year-old Michael Beer from Shrewsbury against twenty-six-year-old Wayne Ditchfield from Eccleston near Preston. Wayne is the three-time winner of the under-18 version of this event and four-time winner of the BCGBA Junior Merit and beat Michael in the final of that event in 2006 when it was held in Wolverhampton. Wayne, known as the Beast, has lost a fair bit of weight over the last year and has got back to the size he was when so phenomenally successful as a junior.
Both players settled well and the crowd could tell we had potentially the game of the day. It was Michael who had the better start putting Wayne under early pressure with some of the best bowls seen this week. After a few ends it was already the game of the day. Good bowls were being beaten each end and the confidence of youth was evident in the type of bowls selected to play. They put some of their elder colleagues to shame in the game they played. Wayne started controlling the jack length and also the speed of the game. This broke Michael’s game up and got Wayne back ahead from being seven behind. It was though a stunner of a game, certainly the game of the week so far and in my opinion one of the best games seen on this green for many a year. Wayne won it but there wasn’t a loser in that good a game. After the game Wayne stated that he thought he’d never played the green so well and hadn’t been involved in a game as good as that.
Trying to follow that game was forty-three-year old Lee Heaton against forty-year-old Chris Brown. Lee was the winner of this competition in 1996 and Chris runner-up to Gary Ellis a couple of years ago. After the heights of the last game this felt a little flat. Lee couldn’t settle at all and allowed the quick playing Chris to settle into a rhythm and dominate. A quick seven break and it was all over in a brisk twelve ends. This game helped the ITV producers get back on schedule.
The final game of the last saw seventy-year-old Michael Leach, Spring Waterloo champion from earlier in the season, play thirty-six-year-old Jason Jones the winner of the under-18 version of this competition in 1995. As brilliant sunshine shone down on this historic venue the crowd settled for the last game of the day. Michael has been so successful on this green and he uses the edges better than anyone. He settled on the pub edge initially until a wonderful bowl from Jason gave him his first touch of the jack. Michael was so experienced at keeping Jason at arms length. Some wonderful short mark play just had too much for Jason.
Steve Baskerville (Altrincham) 09 v Phil Lee (Liverpool) 21
Andy Thornton (Cumbria) 21 v Ryan Clark (Sheffield) 15
Malcolm Sims (Poynton) 11 v Ritchie Goddard (Shrewsbury) 21
Simon Coupe (Preston) 21 v Andy Hughes (Cunliffe) 14
Ray Goodhand (Warrington) 14 v Chris Ward (Victoria Park) 21
Mike Beer (Shrewsbury) 20 v Wayne Ditchfield (Eccleston) 21
Lee Heaton (Croston) 10 v Chris Brown (Sheffield) 21
Michael Leach (Blackpool) 21 v Jason Jones (Abergale) 12