Allcock’s Memorable Moments

Tony Allcock discusses some of his most memorable moneys on the indoor circuit.

IN August 1987 I closed the door of my office and posted the keys back through the school letterbox and turned my back on a successful career.

I was to concentrate on playing bowls, coaching bowls and supporting my various sponsors. As the current indoor champion I had already enjoyed many months of the summer but had not as yet commenced the indoor programme.

When I did I found a great problem. The success I had enjoyed outdoors was not necessarily to follow on the indoor carpet. I was no different, had successfully defended the title for the second successful year but things just did not appear to be the same.

In March 1987 I arrived at Alexander Palace in London to defend my title. My earlier matches I won unconvincingly but tried to take solace in the fact that I was still in the championship and facing my third successive world indoor semi final.

I woke that morning with butterflies in my stomach and on the trial ends my hands were frozen despite the heat of the TV lights.

I was playing Wynne Richards and found myself 0-2 before I could blink. The prospect of winning the next three sets looked ominous to say the least.

It was at this point that the reality of my title being taking away from me, compounded by the fact that the tournament director was hovering with the microphone, preparing to introduce the second semi final onto the green, forced me to ask myself ‘was I submitting?’

This prompted me to start seeing the scoreline as a great challenge- how dare the tournament director write me off?

I seemed to gather focus, determination and courage to fight. And fight I did. I lay game in the fifth set before succumbing to what has been generally described as one of those great shots played at the magical moment. I lost the match and a title I had held for the best part of three years.

Through my educational background I evaluated this situation many times and whilst this was a very disappointing day for me it certainly taught me a lesson which remained with me for the rest of my career.

I realised I was a fighter and history shows that all of my World Singles gold medals have been won when the chips were down.

To be a playing favourite never sat comfortably with me. Against all the advice of the sports psychologists, thinking confidently did not work for me. At ‘Ally Pally’ on that day in front of thousands of viewers watching BBC Sport that Saturday afternoon, for the first part of the match they were not watching the reigning champion but someone who had simply allowed external influences to take over.

It wasn’t until the time that I saw the tournament director appear on the horizon that I shed all nerves, physically shook them off a focussed on the real situation and not the other external bits which had taken over. It was this significant happening which made a great impact on my future career. Mentally I had to be the underdog!

Toucher takes title

When playing in the final of the English National Indoor Singles for the first time in 1985, after many unsuccessful attempts to get that far, I was playing against Gary Harrington of Oxford in the Hartlepool Stadium.

Despite the fact that many would view I was the pre-match favourite due to being a current International, personally, I really did not feel under any pressure at all.

I was convinced that from Gary’s performance in previous rounds he had more than adequately proven to anyone watching that he possessed special ability.

We both were clearly focussed on that day. The format was 21 shots up. It was a battle indeed; both being so determined.

There were two very important instances which had a direct bearing on the end result. Basically, Gary had almost one yard to draw shot for the title.

As usual, I was trailing behind at this point and threw my duster into my bowls bag, being totally convinced that my bowls would immediately follow.

The standard of play was of such a high calibre that this shot, in isolation, was easy takings for Gary. But he failed.

Several ends later I had a similar shot to play for game. It was my last bowl. I fleetingly reflected on this same situation that Gary had faced a few ends previous and walking back to the mat I felt those butterflies.

It was then that I vividly recalled part of a lecture that I had sat through when training to be a teacher. The lecturer on the stage picked up an orange from the table and gently threw this to a fellow student with the instruction – ‘catch this’.

She did and returned the throw. Turning to her left the lecturer than caught the attention of another student who was sitting next to me. She asked ‘I want you to do the same’ – but this time if you drop it you will pay me £10! I felt him squirm in his seat.

The lecturer shouted from the stage ‘precisely!’ She went on to say that simply the exercise was a straightforward action, easily accomplished and a skill which young children learn at a very young age.

The task for the first throw was to catch the orange; the same for the second but because of the ‘external’ addition of an applied penalty, the person catching the orange made the £10 the issue rather than the basic skill requirement of achieving the task.

So it was with oranges in my mind that I approached the mat, delivered the bowl as though I was merely practising, and drew a toucher to take the National Singles title!

REMEMBERING ADVICE

In a team game playing in the British Isles Indoor triples final in 1988 it felt as though we had been playing for the whole day (this was prior to time limits) .

We were leading all the way and never appeared to be in trouble on any given end as we had worked together as a team covering each other whenever the need.

This was until the last end. We were five shots ahead facing six shots down and I had the last bowl to play. I so wanted to win this title for my two Cotswold IBC team mates who had thoroughly deserved to be feeling the polished silver trophy in their hands.

It may have been nerves but the fact was that from the very first bowl played on this end by our opponents it was clear to me that we were going to be in trouble.

I was feeling the pressure immensely. I had to find a way to reduce the score albeit with using a drive or a weighted shot as our own short bowls were providing perfect obstacles. It was a draw shot and the degree of difficulty extremely high.

Returning to the head I wiped dry my hands, I knew exactly what I had to do and as I picked my bowl up I remembered some very sound advice given to me by England International Bill Irish of Worcester.

As an aspiring bowler he told me that if I was ever facing a count against that I needed to save with a drawn shot- I was to think that I was just drawing to add another.

So I approached this delivery attempting to draw another shot to add to the opponents six shots. I managed it just by drawing fourth bowl and lifted the BIIBC Triples title with two elated and emotional deserving players.

NATURAL CURLS

It is no secret that I am superstitious. I blame my Mother as I spit if I see one magpie and advocate that if I saw a cart of hay or straw on the way to a bowls match that I was going to win!

Whether it is just part of our own mental preparation or idiosyncrasy is debatable but I went through a stage that whenever I had a hair cut I lost the next match! This probably reflects on the fact that in my early days I had lots of curly hair (natural, despite suspicion). This was because I was reluctant to get it cut.

I remember vividly playing on Leicester IBC’s rink five in the quarter final of the club singles the same evening as having a haircut and losing hopelessly to a very much inferior player! I had to clear my mind of all of this so in the Wednesday night league at the same club, I would always play at lead in a tie following a haircut and because my team was extremely strong we hardly ever lost a game during that period so I managed to dispel this rather stupid thinking!

TEAM PERFORMANCE

My final ‘memorable moment’ was an international match when I was playing against Scotland in the Aberdeen Stadium on an end rink.

The crowd was buzzing. The atmosphere electric. A total of three ends remaining over six rinks. The main scoreboard indicated that the overall score was a tie. We were playing one of those three remaining ends – I had the last bowl and was five down.

The shot had been discussed with my rink and I returned to the mat to find that my bowl had vanished. It was nowhere to be seen. The adjacent rink had finished and there was no bowls sitting either on any part of the bank or along the ditch.

After a delay lasting several minutes (which seemed like hours), someone discovered my bowl at the back of the side spectator stand.

The team manager, Peter Brimble, had spoken to me in an encouraging manner. I prepared to bowl with the most determination I had ever mustered in an international match in my playing career as an England skip.

I was angry but wanted to respond by playing the ultimate shot for my country. I knew from the moment the bowl left my hand it was the correct line and the weight felt right. Notwithstanding my bowl received the slightest of glances from a front bowl it then wrestled onto the jack. This made it even more poignant!

I think it’s called ‘poetic justice’!! On the other two rinks both English skips played incredible bowls to each gain a single shot so England won the series through that three shot victory achieved on this most eventful day.

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