Thursday 31 July 2014

Glasgow 2014 - Days 7 and 8

And so we reach the last couple of days of a fantastic bowls tournament. All of the usual stereotypic media coverage has been blown out of the water despite some attempts by some hacks to keep plugging away at the “old age” storylines. It is reassuring to witness some of the young talent that has been on display not only from the home countries and developed bowls nations but also the up and coming nations.

The River Kelvin
On Wednesday I was not working until the afternoon session and so I had a bit of a chance to pop back into the City and do some last minute gift purchasing for loving family who I have missed these last two weeks. I went into town with Graham and we had a leisurely stroll around and a coffee for the morning. We then took a walk back to the TO Village through the park and botanical gardens along the beautiful River Kelvin.

The afternoon session started and 3:45 and I was umpiring on the back green out of the way of the hustle and bustle. There were quite a few measures that I had to deal with which kept me busy. There was also some altercation between two players as there was an accusation of “riding bowls” – willing your opponents bowl to miss or be unsuccessful. Definitely not etiquette. I didn’t need to get involved as it was sorted out with the players and managers in the end. There is also very little I could have done in terms of the laws.

8 of us enjoyed a fantastic meal in an Italian restaurant in a back street somewhere close to the village. Mark Cowan, one of our Aussie colleagues had his daughter over travelling and spending a few days at the games and she joined us for the meal. I am not really sure what she made of us mad Poms but we did have a good laugh.

Up early again for what was to be my final session of the games on Thursday. I was allocated a marking duty in a Quarter Final of the Men’s Singles between Darren Burnett of Scotland and Martin McHugh of Northern Ireland. It promised on paper to be a fantastic tussle and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The crowd were standing 4 deep around the back of the green and the stand was packed. It was a great atmosphere. The match went to the wire with the scores level at 20 – 20 before Darren scored the final shot to earn a place in the Semi-Final. Marty was naturally extremely disappointed not to win the game. He is a true gentleman n and off the rink and it was an absolute pleasure to mark for them both.

In the afternoon we three English Umpires played against our three Australian colleagues in what has not become a regular fixture when we meet called the “trashers match”. It was a great opportunity for us to relax, unwind and try out the commonwealth greens, albeit the practice green. It was a great laugh and to be honest the standard of bowling was shocking but we had fun. We were even blessed with a very special spectator for some of the match – Prince Edward stood and watched a few bowls being delivered but clearly was not impressed and so left with a wave. We thrashed the Aussies by the way!

Aussie and English Umpires
Action in the Trashers Match

There were some important deciding matches played in the afternoon session. The English Men’s four qualified for the Fours Final beating India in the semi-final, they will play Scotland in the final on Friday. Natalie Melmore and Jamie Lee Winch qualified for the final of the Ladies pairs and will play South Africa on Friday. But the best new from today was the English Ladies Triple of Sian Honnor, Ellen Faulkner and Sophie Tolchard winning the Gold Medal by thumping the Australian girls 22 shots to 4. An amazing result for England who had very little funding to support the elite squad in the build up to these games.

Our proud Gold Medalists from L to R: Sophie Tolchard, Sian Honnor & Ellen  Faulkner
The big game on Friday is the Gold Medal final of the Men’s Singles and will be contested by Ryan Bester of Canada and Scotland’s Darren Burnett. The stands will be packed and it will be noisy – a great showcase for our sport. Let’s just hope that it gets some airtime on the main TV channels.

As for me, my games is now over. I can relax and enjoy Friday and the men’s final. It has been a very enjoyable games for me. I managed to get through all the sessions without any major mistakes which is always a bonus. My final report of the games will come on Sunday whilst on my way home.

Please tune in Friday afternoon and support this fabulous sport – one of only a few core Commonwealth Games sports.

Wednesday 30 July 2014

Glasgow 2014 - Days 5 and 6

Scotland win the Pairs with England taking the Bronze
We are in to the final week of the games now and on Monday my only session of the day was the afternoon Men’s Pairs Gold Medal match. I was one of the two umpires for this match between Scottish legends, Paul Foster and Alex Marshall and Malaysia.
The atmosphere at the venue was incredible with the main stand and the rink side stand being completely full I had to pick my spot to stand carefully to avoid abuse for blocking anybody’s view of the game. I think it was predictable that Scotland would dominate this match but I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how much they did dominate. It was not until the 12th end of 18 that the Malaysians were able to add a score to the board making it 19 – 2
I had a couple of measures to do during the game one of which needed assistance from my colleague and a long string. One of the leaning bowls was wedged by the Malaysian lead using a cloth which must have looked really good on TV!
The Malaysians waved the white flag at 15 ends with a final score of 20 shots to 3 at Alex and Paul added yet another medal to their impressive haul.
Andrew and Sam claim the Bronze medal
England's pairing of Andrew Knapper and Sam Tolchard came away with the Bronze medal with is a fabulous achievement.

We decided to walk home from the venue again and were joined by local Alastair Douglas who is acting as deputy head ITO at the games. He took us through the University which overlook the greens at Kelvingrove. What an impressive building, stunning architecture and so much history.

On Tuesday it was another early start with breakfast at 6:30am ready for the first bus to the venue at 6:55am. It was grey and overcast and slightly drizzly so we didn’t hang about setting the greens and timing them before a nice warm coffee. My first session was umpiring 2 rinks of Para-sport Open Triples. Officiating for players with disabilities is an incredibly humbling experience and you have to admire the players abilities. The Para-sport Open Triples is open to mixed or single sex teams of 3 players with category B6, B7 and B8 disabilities. Some players are wheelchair bound and some have prosthetic limbs or limbs missing. They play with two bowls each over 15 ends and can have assistance on the green for wheelchair movement and placing the mat.  

Bob Love from England
On one rink 3 wheelchair bound Welsh athletes took on Scotland and on the other 3 English players took on Malaysia. Probably the most impressive display came from the English lead Bob Love. Bob has no arms and bowls barefoot by placing the bowl on a specially constructed overshoe on his right foot. It is incredible to watch the accuracy and skill that he displays. There were quite a few measures during the session as the players very much depend on umpires to carry out all the measures for them. England beat Malaysia 19 shots to 9 and Scotland beat Wales 16 shots to 8. It was a great morning and a brilliant experience.

Off to Specsavers today!!
My next session was in the afternoon and I was honoured to mark for Darren Burnett, Scotlands Singles representative against Matt Le Ber from Guernsey on the TV rink. I know both players and have marked for Darren many times on the World Bowls Tour events. It was a brilliant game to mark and the standard of bowling was excellent considering the rink was particularly tricky. It does seem a bit strange that rinks with tricky lines are used for TV games as it does not so the best standard of bowls. I was reasonably happy with the way the game went from my point of view but I was off to a shaky start by calling only one shot to Darren which turned out on a measure to be easily Matt’s. I was just getting my eyes warmed up and in the following end I apologised to Darren and promised that I would be straight down to Specsavers. Darren came out the winner with a 21 – 12 score line The crowd were noisy and the atmosphere electric and it was a great game to mark.

We are entering the final stages of competition now with the Men’s Singles sectional play well underway leading to the Gold medal match on Friday. Our sessions are very much decided on the day and mostly we are only getting one session per day now. A chance to try and battle our way through the crowds in the city centre and get the last minute gifts

Monday 28 July 2014

Glasgow 2014 Gallery

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Glasgow 2014 - Days 3 and 4

As predicted the weather changed over the weekend and we had a first rain of the tournament. It was nothing that would disrupt the schedule – we just got wet!

The Medal Ceremony commences
On Saturday I was the “On Rink Official” for the Bronze match between New Zealand and Australia B2/B3 Mixed Pairs. The para-sport athletes have visual impairment and although not classified as completely blind many have very limited vision. In the mixed pairs competitions each team has a man and lady player and each player has a Director. The directors job is to provide information to the visual impaired player to allow them to play their shots. This level of involvement can vary depending on how much vision they do have. It was a great game and also a humbling experience. I had a good laugh with the players during the game and they are certainly not afraid of mocking themselves.

Also on Saturday we had the first instance of a team requesting their opponents be placed on the time clock. This is a new concept for the Commonwealth Games designed to prevent slow play. The normal time limit for a game is 2 hours 15 minutes. If a team feels that their opponent is playing too slowly or deliberately slowing down the game they can call for a time keeper. For each session we allocate two time keepers and they are called upon to sit at the end of the rink and use a stopwatch to time the amount of time it takes the offending team to play their end. It’s all very complicated and in my opinion rather unnecessary but that unfortunately is the nature of the beast nowadays.

An extremely busy city centre
On Saturday afternoon Daryl Rowley, one of our antipodean colleagues and I, ventured into the city centre and have a look round. We managed to negotiate the small Glasgow subway system and get ourselves into the centre. It was packed! It was very difficult to walk round due to the sheer number of people. In the end we took a few photos, had a pint and then decided it was too busy to achieve anything. However, getting back was a little more of a challenge and we were initially faced with a queue for the subway which snaked its way round the corners of 3 streets before we found the end of it. We then decided to catch a bus, but we had no idea which bus.
The big G
The people of Glasgow have been incredibly friendly and have embraced the whole Games atmosphere. It was thanks to 2 very kind bus drivers who guided us back to the Lawn Bowls venue. We could have still been walking back on Sunday if it wasn’t for their kindness. Also worth mentioning that anyone with Games accreditation can use public transport free of charge.

Sunday, it rained!! It was also my Birthday and I was on early shift umpiring one green of Semi Final matches. The atmosphere around the green was fabulous as the Scotland ladies fours were playing against South Africa for a place in the final. Crowds of Scottish supporters surrounded the green and it was standing room only. South Africa eventually came out the winners.

Later in the day my colleagues very kindly presented me with a present, a lovely reminder of my time in Glasgow, a card signed by all the ITO’s and also a card signed by the England Team which was very nice. It is always a worry as you wonder what pranks my so called friends could pull. In Delhi we held Graham down and painted his face with makeup, that sort of thing could happen at any time with us lot.

In the afternoon session I was marking a Mens singles match between Malta and Jersey. It was a great game and good to mark. Unfortunately there was a little controversy at the end of the match when the Maltese player asked if he could consult with his Manager, which they are entitled to do, only to discover that he was consulting with his Manager AND Coach at either end. This had gone unnoticed during the game and is not allowed. Only one person can advise players during a game. It’s a very difficult situation especially now as technology has progressed and many of the team officials are in communication with each other via two way radios. There is very little to prevent them from sitting in the stands and communicating with each other. Not sure what the answers is to that one.

The impressive Glasgow University - Hogwarts?
The transport to and from the venue is provided by buses every 15 minutes. Unfortunately, Glasgow 2014 has not been very successful in providing a reliable service and a number of officials have been caught out with buses not arriving or departing when they should. A few of us have decided that the easiest route to the venue is to walk. It is only about 20-25 minutes and a very pleasant walk through the Botanical Gardens and round the impressive Glasgow University. There are some amazing peaceful places around the parks and some amazing history in the buildings.

The Botanical Gardens
The final of the Ladies singles was played on Sunday evening between defending Gold Medallist, Natalie Melmore from England and Kiwi Jo Edwards. Natalie walked away with the Silver Medal, a fabulous achievement to win Gold and Silver in successive Games in the same discipline.

On Sunday evening a few of us went out for a nice curry and a few drinks. The schedule slows down a little this week and a lot of us are allocated duties on the day due to the unpredictable scheduling that takes place during singles play. 

Friday 25 July 2014

Glasgow 2014 - Days 1 and 2

Spectacular is the word that can only describe the opening ceremony at the Celtic Park Stadium. We had great seats on the side the athletes marched on and just below the Royal Box. It was a late night though and when we finally arrived back at the Technical Officials Village at 1:00am it was straight to bed with an alarm set for 6:00am – yes 6:00am!! 
The start of the Opening Ceremony

The amazing venue as play gets underway
The first day of the bowls tournament was on Thursday and we had an early start. The first games were due on rink at 8:30 for trial ends but there was quite a bit for us early birds to do before they games commenced. This job is not all about standing in the corner of a rink and looking pretty. Oh no we have some important jobs to do at the start of the day. Each of the 5 greens in use has 2 umpires plus two time keepers so at any one session there are a minimum of 12 of us plus any markers and on rink officials (I will come to that later). The first task of the day is to set out the 2 metre markers in the rinks. We do not have to measure the rink widths as they are already preset and checked by the green keeping team. We have to insert small plastic markers into the rink on the centre line and 2 metres from each ditch. This is so that the maximum jack position can be marked and also the respot position. It doesn’t take long for 2 people to lay these out. The second task is to check the pace of the rinks and this is done by bowling a bowl to a distance of 27 metres and timing how long it takes to get there. Very simple if you are not too bad at bowling. The time is recorded and displayed in the players lounge so they get an idea of the pace of each green. We do this process twice per day.

Umpires kits, boundary scopes and other items we require during the games are placed in large black containers on each green. The kit that we need to carry out our duties are carried on us when we are working. When everything is ready we wait for the march on and the start of the trial ends. 

Play on one of the 4 main greens
 There are 4 sessions of play per day and each session is timed at 2 hours 15 minutes. At the start of the sessions a horn is sounded and play can commence. The format of play is quite unique and is as follows: Singles is the traditional format of 21 shots up with four bowls per player. 
Pairs players have three bowls each and play 18 ends
Triples have two bowls each and play 18 ends.
Fours players have two bowls ad play 15 ends
The same goes for the para sport mixed pairs and open triples only they play 15 ends instead of 18 with no time limit.

The weather for the past two days has been very warm and working out on the greens with little of no shade has been quite tiring and very sweaty. I have umpired on 3 sessions and marked one session up to now. Thankfully nothing too taxing or controversial and I hope it stays that way.

The team spirit and banter between all of us officials is great and we are also having a good time with the many volunteers and workers involved in all aspects of the venue and the sport. Of duty we have also had some good fun and it has been great catching up with our overseas colleagues and getting to know new friends. We have had a couple of late nights so far and so its time to get some needed sleep. 

Thankfully Saturday is a slightly easier day for me as I will only be officiating in one of the three sessions. I will be the on rink official for one of the Gold medal matches in either the pairs or triples. An on rink official simply stands on the rink and indicates the numbers of shots held during the end and at the completion of the end for the spectators and TV viewers. I know it’s a tough job but someone has to do it.

The forecast is for slightly cooler temperatures and a spot of rain for the weekend, lets hope it does not affect the play too much.

Wednesday 23 July 2014

Glasgow 2014 - Let the Games Begin

The XX Commonwealth Games commence tonight with what promises to be a spectacular opening ceremony.

I arrived in Glasgow on Monday after a hassle free flight from Gatwick and a simple taxi ride to the Technical Officials Village. After dumping my case in my room, which is one of 5 in a shared dorm in the University campus, it was straight off to the Uniform and Accreditation Centre (UAC).
It was great to meet old friends from around the World and it was not long before the micky taking and banter started. The Scottish officials had already collected their accreditation and uniform a few weeks earlier and it was now just the handful of international officials that were on this bus to the spectacular Kelvin Hall.

The accreditation process was quick and simple. I had already received a Non Validated Pass prior to my arrival and this was converted to a full laminated pass at the UAC. It was then on to collect my uniforms. It was evident by the number of other sports officials that I would be in for a long wait. The atmosphere was jovial though and it made the wait bearable.
We were in for a long wait
When my number was called I was ushered into a cubicle and a selection of clothing was provided for me to try on. I must have been lucky and must be a fairly normal size and shape as pretty much everything I tried was a good fit.

Armed with my sheet of sizes and list of clothing it was off to a long counter to collect my wares. The Warehouse was enormous and packed with boxes, pallets and bags full of accessories and uniforms. After collecting my business suit and working uniform I had a fairly long wait for my colleagues, some of whom were without some items of clothing as they needed to be altered. By the time we had left the UAC to return to the accommodation it was almost 9:00pm.

Back at the village we all met up for a quick meet and introduction and it was again great to meet to some familiar faces and some officials who were at the Games for the first time. Following the meeting we popped into town for a very late meal and a few beers.

Kelvingrove overlooks the main greens
On Tuesday we all attended the venue and following a hearty breakfast we boarded a Games bus for the Kelvingrove Venue. Security was already in operation and we had to pass through airport style checks on entry to the bowls complex. We made ourselves comfortable in the very warm and somewhat cramped Technical Officials Lounge before being introduced to the Competition Managers.

Glasgow University dominates the skyline

The venue for the bowls is spectacular, arguably the most stunning backdrop to any venue. The complex has 5 competition greens and 1 practice green. The two main greens are surrounded by huge seating stands with the University Building in the background. We were taken on a tour of the venue to familiarise ourselves with the layout and important locations – such as toilets!!

After lunch we gathered for a meeting and a run through of the Conditions of Play. It was an opportunity to check some of the equipment we would be using for the event and to become familiar with some of the competition specific jobs that we would need to do each day prior to the games starting.

Myself, Graham Gibbins and Andy Ewens represent England
It was a warm day which is slightly out of character for Scotland but it was much better that rain. Bizarrely the Met Office had issued a hot weather warning for Wednesday where they predicted that the temperature could reach 25 degrees. Of course this was much to the amusement of our Antipodean colleagues who would most likely be needing a fleece to keep themselves warm in that temperature.

We had some official photos taken in our business uniforms in the evening and then it was back to the Village and a wander into town for a bite to eat.

The full team of 40 Officials
So far, I am very impressed with Glasgow, well the little part that I have seen, and the friendliness of the workforce and volunteers

Today we have a free day as the final preparations are being made in the run up to the Opening Ceremony. The excitement is building and I predict a fantastic games in Glasgow for the next 10 days. 

Let the Games Begin.