Mitchell Young previews the St George’s Cup – in which he’ll be competing…
The Ryder Cup, a great golfing spectacle and arguably the best sporting event of them all. But what if I said a minority sport took this concept and made it into the best event in its calendar? You would say, ‘No way!’
Well, it has in the sport of bowls (yes, it is a sport, before you start) in the variation that is short mat bowls.
Short mat bowls, for those of you that have not been blessed to play the game, is similar to curling, where the aim is to get your bowl (not one you eat out of) as close to the jack (a small yellow/white ball) as possible. The game is played on a carpet of six foot wide and 42 to 45 foot long, with a block of 12 inches in the middle which you have to navigate around. You think that is easy? I beg to differ. The player or team with the most points over the designated amount of ‘ends’ wins the game.
The St George’s Cup idea is an English variation of the Ryder Cup with the contest involving ‘the North’ of England versus ‘the South’ of England. The boundaries on which side you qualify are still not set in stone (unless you are on the brink of Scotland or you are in Cornwall). A selected captain for each side picks their top 32 players from their half of the country. All proceeds raised from the event go to charity in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital.
I personally cannot wait for the event to begin with both sides set to lock horns and ultimately take the title and prove who is best for another year. Needless to say bragging rights are also at stake. The rivalry tops that of Europe vs USA every day of the week. ‘The South’ are replicating Europe at the moment, dominating, and it is a trend I do not see changing any time soon.
I have been fortunate enough to take part in this popular event since it began, and this year I will be part of the fifth instalment.
The event was founded five years ago by two northerners, Nick Tideswell and Darren Beardsmore. The idea caught the attention of southerner Craig Burgess, who helped Tideswell and Beardsmore take the idea to another level, and it has now become a prestigious event in the short mat bowls season.
With the idea brought to life in 2010/11, the first captains were Burgess and Beardsmore, with the South winning 35-12.
“I was very proud to be part of this event which raises money for such a worthy cause. Winning the first ever event as captain was special,” said Burgess.
Last year’s battle was worthy of full Sky Sports coverage as it went down to the final singles match to conclude the whole weekend. It ended in a dramatic draw at 32-32 (this can be seen on YouTube), and as per Ryder Cup rules ‘the South’ breathed a sigh of relief and retained the title, despite ‘the North’ claiming a draw.
The captains for this year’s event are Mark White for ‘the South’ from Dorset and for ‘the North’ a joint duo of Allan Williams and Chris Williams from Shropshire, chosen by the St George’s Cup committee.
“Looking at this season’s event it is going to be interesting to see what happens, with the last event ending as a tie I am sure we are in for another close weekend,” said fence-sitter Burgess.
“Having played in the event from the start it will be a different challenge, as in the past I have only had my own games to worry about,” said White. “With the South not having lost an event so far it comes with the added pressure as you don’t want to be the first.”
“To be the North captain is an honour, but does prove somewhat difficult with selection…actually the hardest part of the selection is to actually get 32 players,” said Allan Williams.
“Being a South Captain for this year’s event is something I hadn’t considered doing before. And it feels like a bit of an honour to manage the abundance of quality players we have in the South team,” added White.
‘The South’ team announced recently is strong as it always is and I feel the side has enough to withstand ‘the North’, whatever they throw at us.
“This year’s squad was a difficult task to pick. We had a number of new people interested plus other people I thought good enough to play and to try and reduce the number from around 60 to the starting 32 was no easy task and I am sure some people are disappointed not to have been selected.”
“The squad will not look too much different from last year due to the relatively small pool of players to choose from, ” said Allan Williams.
He suggested that allowing ‘the North’ to choose from a wider amount of counties would help with the range of selection, which could make the event even more competitive.
However, Williams has expressed his competitive but modest outlook: “Obviously my target is to win and be the first North captain to do so, but I know how difficult that will prove to be.”
“The event itself I think will be as good if not better, than previous years. The rivalry and friendly banter makes the event for me. With last year’s match ending as a tie, I think that will spice things up as the North will be confident they can pull off an upset and the South (I hope) will be out to prove last year’s result was not a fluke!” added White.
‘The North’ and ‘the South’ are set to go head to head on 14th and 15th March at Bromsgrove Indoor Bowls Club.