Enter David Cotton
"For those of you who are not fluent in 'AC' please stay with us, I pray! What follows is a goodly yarn, even if you see Association Croquet as 'the dark side'.
Act 1, The Clubhouse
Every year, the great and the good croquet clubs submit a team to play in the most prestigious of all the B class AC competitions, the Mary Rose. This year, 14 clubs entered. The prize is a pewter mug modelled on one dredged up from Henry VIII's flagship in 1971, and mounted on a wooden stand. (See picture). You may recall, at least from your history lessons if you were not actually there, that the flagship was doing a turn around the Solent when she turned over and sank. Our team has mixed views about the aesthetics of the trophy, with labels ranging from 'ugly as sin' and 'throw it back', to 'beautiful'. In reality the appeal of the cup is less important than the magnitude of High Wycombe's victory.
B Class players, as the names implies, want to be A Class players when they grow up, but because they are intrinsically lazy, their handicaps are too high at scratch and above and so they have to sit their B levels before they progress to A levels. In fact the rules state that the Mary Rose teams members must have a minimum aggregate handicap of 4. High Wycombe achieved this with flying colours - our cumulative handicap was 12.5. Hurlingham, our opponents in the final, had an aggregate handicap of exactly 4 - comprising three scratch players and a 4! OK, you say, handicaps are designed to level up the play, and it shouldn't have made much difference. We checked with Michael Gove, Minister of, inter alia, Levelling Up, who confirmed that this is exactly what handicaps are meant to do. But, here's the rub (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 1 -- Editor: Plagiarism!) - the Mary Rose is played to Advanced Rules, which means we don't get to use our handicaps at all - we play level. After all the effort of adding up to 12.5 we have to dispense with our handicaps. In lay terms, this means that, like good actors, our team has to dress up and pretend. In this case, we dressed in impractical white outfits and pretended that we are all as good as each other. And this is what makes the victory so massive - on paper, Hurlingham were absolute favourites to win. But as Alan Clark pointed out in his earlier and very witty report to this organ, we weren't playing on paper, and we beat Hurlingham 5 games to 2. Here are some reflections from Richard...
Act 2, Lawn 2
Enter Richard Peperell:
A mega performance by every one of our team. Mega by Alan Clark. Mega by Ed Olhausen. Mega by David Cotton. Mega by Richard Peperell. No bisques to help out.
Ed and Richard played an absolute blinder of a doubles in the morning against two scratch players (both zero) whereas Ed and Richard's handicaps totalled 5.5. They were winning by a big margin with both balls on peg and were on course for a comfortable win when Richard, after some amazing play, made one of his characteristic misses at short range that allowed Hurlingham back into the game to squeak past for the win. It was a very nervy and tense battle. The morning game was a warning shot over Hurlingham’s bows for the afternoon matches. First up, Ed played a superb game against a zero handicap to win 26-1 followed shortly afterwards by Richard who also played far beyond his normal standard of play with a faultless win over Hurlingham’s Captain, Alan Chance, 26-2. This game clinched the match with 4 wins for HWCC, an unassailable number.
Each member of our team was playing out of their skin with some magic touches and cunning tactics and on the day we were the better side despite the handicap deficit.
Act 3, Lawn 3
Enter Alan Clark
[Meanwhile on another lawn]...Cotton shot round in record time clocking up a 26-16 victory before David Owen had time to find his rhythm. Guy Hewitt had a slow start, failing to hit in, while Clark managed to get a ball to 3 back and 4 back. Once Guy hit in, he showed his form and quickly took a ball round to 4 back. However, Clark had two more good turns and won 26-10. The afternoon saw Hewitt revert to form beating Cotton and levelling the overall score. However, as spoken above, Olhausen and Peperell had impressive victories against Wise and Chance to win. Meanwhile Owen and Clark were having a grand battle, Owen leading for much of the match. Clark’s final turn started with both players on 2 back and peg. A gentleman might have discreetly thrown the last game knowing that it was of no consequence to the overall result. However, no one has ever accused HW players of being gentlemen. Clark finished the close fought game 26-19.
Epilogue, the club house
Enter David Cotton
Quiller Barrett kindly presented the pewter chalice to David who had become captain of the Mary Rose team by the tried and tested principle of "OK, you people, who wants to be captain". Three old hands take a step back, leaving new boy making an unrehearsed acceptance speech.
Thank you very much to the whole Mary Rose squad, which comprised not only the four players in the final, but Robin Morrison and Hugh Manson. Thank you, too, to Ealing Croquet Club for the generous loan of two lawns, and delightful catering.
And if any of ye GC players have read this far, congratulations and thank you too. There's always a welcome for you on the dark side. See what fun we have?! (And just to help, we can only add up accurately to 6, so after we have run the 6th hoop we call the remaining hoops 1 back, 2 back, 3 back etc. Then we run out of steam after 10 and call hoop 11 'penult' and hoop 12 'rover'. Simple, eh?)
Curtain falls (until next year...)