It is around four bells on Saturday at Bleasdale Towers and I am not at the peak of my form. Outside the birds are singing merrily and I wish they would stop.
For on the day after Finals Night having Gene Krupa pounding out a frenetic drum solo within my cerebral cavity is quite enough noise to be going on with thanks very much.
As usual the Cons is packed to the rafters at around ten bells on Friday with just the final of the Individual Knockout remaining before the curtain descends on another season. Standing between Steve Hadgraft and a second successive title is brother Jordan Brooks, who himself was champion just two years ago.
Two hours earlier the evening’s action begins with the Strawberry Gardens taking on Fleetwood Cricket Club in the Plate Final, the former hoping to become the first team ever to successfully defend the title. An opening win by Mark Wilson gets the Poulton Road outfit off to the best of possible starts, a setback soon rebutted by their opponents as Ian Stewart and Jimmy Pilling win to edge the Broadwater contingent ahead at 2-1.
Alas, that lead soon evaporates as Andy Gratrix, Graham Hopkinson and Michael Shaw record Fuzzy victories to move to within touching distance of the title. The Strawberry victory duly arrives in the penultimate leg, courtesy of Andy Ingham, this before Phil Schofield makes a belated winning appearance for the square legs when all is already lost.
Next onto stage are the Fleetwood Cons and Rossall Tavern in the final of the Team Knockout, the former determined to secure some silverware after seeing the championship title snatched from their grasp on the final night of league action, the latter just pleased to be involved after a season of erratic inconsistency.
But it is the Blasted Heathens who leap out of the blocks in dramatic fashion in the early exchanges. First, Al Morley takes the opening leg for a 1-0 lead; this before second up John Perkes manages a 40 finish in truly surreal fashion. I doubt whether anyone before has, or indeed in the future ever will go out again 5, 17 and 18. Still though, hope begins to spring eternal in ever Rossall breast at this unexpected turn of events.
However, the response of the Lowther Lotharios is both dramatic and deadly. Victory in game three for Dale Newton gets the Cons bandwagon underway, its progress increasing in velocity as Jordan Brooks, Steve Cowell, Jeff Walkington and all return to the celebratory arms of the host contingent, this before last man Steve Hadgraft wraps things up neatly for an emphatic 6-2 final victory.
This season’s Pairs Knockout winners are Steve Riley and Dave Coulborn from the Mount. Steve last won this title back in 2000 alongside Andy Parry Jones, which seems quite a long time ago. However, fourteen years seems fairly recent when you consider that Dave’s last victory in the event occurred in 1987 alongside Mick Hoole, on the same weekend that Whitney Houston reached number one in the charts with “I Want To Dance With Somebody.” Obviously, Dave has been lost to disco for the past 27 years.
Their success this time around comes at the expense of Dockers ‘A’ duo Lee Shewan and Adam Blyth, the victory celebration of the Mount pairing a mixture of elation and relief at surviving a ferocious challenge from opponents who will in all likelihood take centre stage at some point in the not too distant future.
Whilst events are unfolding upon the main stage, at the far end of the room the best players from each of the league’s sixteen teams are going at it hammer and tongs in this season’s Champion of Champions Knockout.
The competition starts with a bang as Player of the Year Stan Billington stumbles to a first round defeat at the hands of Terrific Tracey Cunningham from the Bowling Ladies. Also safely through is Steve Riley, this after a hard fought marathon against Mitch Blyth from Dockers ‘B’.
Dave Smith from the Cons sees off the challenge of peripatetic pensioner Martin Coleclough, as indeed does Terry Beavers from the Bowling Club that of Jimmy Pilling from the Cricket Club. Having seen the individual title snatched from his grasp on the final day of the season, Highbury ‘A’ star Scott Hayton makes it through against Phil Lee from the Workingmens with a fusillade of fantastic fléchettes.
Also making it through to the second stage is Adam Blyth from Dockers ‘A’, this after a close run 2-1 victory over the gallant Jamie Spore from the Queens Hotel. Making up the quarter final line up are Gaz Whitehead from the Blasted Heathens, his 88 two darts finish finally ending the robust challenge of Tony Brogden from the Royal Oak, and Andy Gratrix from the Strawberry Gardens.
First through to the semi final stage is Terry Beavers, his precise performance proving too much for opponent Steve Riley. Adam Blyth also makes it through to the next stage with another hard fought victory over Gaz Whitehead. Scott Hayton continues to fizz around the oche like an adagio dancer with the ague, opponent Dave Smith unable to make any impression on the belligerent Highbury ‘A’ star. The last player through to the semi finals is Terrific Tracey, her victory over a nonplussed Andy Gratrix an impressive mixture of heavy scoring and adroit finishing.
Terry Beavers matches Adam Blyth score for score in the first semi final, this before this year’s averages champion edges a dramatic encounter by the narrowest of margins. Fittingly, meeting Adam in the final is second in the averages Scott Hayton, his power scoring finally ending the glorious run of Terrific Tracey at the penultimate stage.
And as the clock ticks remorselessly towards ten bells, it is Adam who takes the Champion of Champions title, a fitting end to what has been an unforgettable nine months long tug of war between two of the league’s finest ocheological exponents.
Minutes later it is Jordan Brooks who takes the Individual Knockout title, thus bringing to an end brother Steve’s fourteen match unbeaten run in the competition. Indeed, the last time that Steve lost an individual tie was against Jordan back in January 2012.
Trophies, other than those contested on the night go to Tommy Duggan, his 71, 180, bull seven darter securing the Rob Wilkinson Trophy for the best leg of darts during the year. This season’s high finish award with an outshot of 150 goes to Dave Spencer from the Royal Oak.
Back in 1946 the 301 league was formed at the end of hostilities in the Second World War. At no time during the following 68 years has the Dockers Club had a championship to celebrate. Now they have.
So congratulations to owner Brian Stokes, to skipper Paul McCann and the players of Dockers ‘A’ as they finally become champs in 2014.
Many thanks to the Cons for the use of the room, to Chris Donnelly and Chris Job for chalking the finals and as always, special thanks to Steve Bridge and Neil Buston for helping as they have done over the years.
But thanks most of all to the players from all sixteen teams, whose efforts throughout the winter months makes ours such a special darts league.