Nightfall arrives fast in the Serengeti. Indeed, on a night of driving rain and squally gusts, there is little to suggest that daylight ever existed as the clocks mournfully ring out eight bells. And yet, despite the foul weather, still do the herds of wildebeest plod steadfastly in the direction of the Conservative Club. From all across the vast flatlands of the port they come.
Not even alligators ambling along Adelaide Street or hyenas hiding on Hatfield Avenue, or even the lions lurking around the lower lighthouse can deter this bountiful bovine tide from reaching its ancestral breeding ground. And at eight and a quarter bells, the news of the gnus is good, with only a Fuzzy Duck or two failing to make it safely to Lowther Road, their bleached bones the only sign of their absence as dawn breaks over the savannah on Saturday morning.
Yes it’s time again for the Fleetwood Pairs Knockout, when 120 of the best and worst of port society gathers together, each hopeful that it will be their turn to contest the final on presentation night.
And even though the rutting has only just begun, pretty soon some of the more celebrated bulls of the port find themselves cast adrift from the herd, condemned to chew the cud rather than running loose with the rest of the moose.
Previous winners Johnny Johnstone and John Shaw from Highbury ‘A’ are first to bite the dust, their conquerors the Blyth Spirits, Chris and Mitch. Even more surprising is the demise of Cons duo Jordan Brooks and Dale Newton, their early exit a proud moment for the Rees dynasty, as Harold and son Ian move smoothly through to the second stage. And then we have last season’s runners up, Adam Blyth and Lee Shewan, whose unexpected first round denouement is delivered by those unlikely lads from the Strawberry, John Rowe and Ian Ball.
Other noteworthy first round triumphs include that by Brett Dawson and Tommy Duggan in evicting dangerous dames Tracey Cunningham and Trish Hughes. Similarly well suited are Juggernauts Paul Wood and Dave Spencer, this after disposing of Beach Road brouhahas Mike Tallentire and Lee Howell.
Safely through, as round two gets underway, are Carl Simey and Mark Thwaites from Highbury ‘A’, as indeed are Olympians Cavan Thake and Brian Bond. Also moving smoothly through the gears are 2009 champions Dave Smith and Steve Cowell from the Cons and current title holders Steve Riley and Dave Coulborn.
Also successful for the Lotharios are Dean Barker and Steve Hadgraft, whilst the only Comrades pairing to make it through at this stage are three time losing finalists Stan and Lenny Billington. Sadly, the Wood/Spencer combination unravels at the second time of asking at the hands of Dockers ‘B’ duo Cliff Blyth and Gareth Bidder, as indeed do the Atkins Eddie and Richard via the aforementioned Blyth Spirits Chris and Mitch.
Joining them in round three are the miniscule musketeers Jack Wilson and Jake Stewart, the Jobs Chris and Robert a fine scalp for the youngsters to tell their schoolmates about. Dawson and Duggan ensure that the Rees family’s spell in the limelight is short and sweet, a demise also suffered by Alan Ashton and Jeff Walkington against Mount pairing Peter Jackson and Martin Parry Jones.
Steve Fryer and Ian Ivison from the Bowling Club make it safely through to the next round, where they are joined by teammates Mike Jackson and Terry Beavers, who emphatically end the giant killing exploits of John Rowe and Ian Ball. Mark Smith and Anthony Hadgraft safely see off Kelvin Dahl and Andy Parry Jones to make it through, as indeed do our final pairing Scott Hayton and Steve Bond, the latter still unaware of what it feels like to lose a darts match.
Round three and it is the end of the road for tungsten tyros Jack Wilson and Jake Stewart, albeit that defeat at the hands of Mark Thwaites and Carl Simey is probably par for the course.
The Riley/Coulborn bandwagon continues remorselessly onwards in accounting for Cliff Blyth and Gareth Bidder, a fate also suffered by the Blyth Spirits at the hands of the Duggan/Dawson extravaganza. A magnificent battle between a quartet of the port’s big hitters sees Olympians Cavan Thake and Brian Bond account for Cons giants Dave Smith and Steve Cowell, legs of eight and ten darts leaving little room for argument.
Still plodding along nice and quietly are Pete Jackson and Martin Parry Jones, this after bringing to an end the splendid run of Andy Parry Jones Junior and Steve Dagger. Dean Barker and Steve Hadgraft end the interest of Mike Jackson and Terry Beavers at this stage, as indeed do Scott and Steve demolish the aspirations of the final Biased Boys duo Ian Ivison and Steve Fryer. Making up the quarter final lineup are Stan and Lenny Billington, this after seeing off the challenge of Mark Smith and Anthony Hadgraft with something to spare.
Into the quarterfinals and it is the end of the road for the previously untouchable Cavan Thake and Brian Bond. Highbury ‘A’ pairing Mark Thwaites and Carl Simey are resolute in defying the Olympians, their reward a place in the last four. Another magnificent eight darts leg, this by Steve Riley and Dave Coulborn is proof indeed that the Mount duo are determined in their attempts to become the first to ever win the pairs title in successive seasons. Sadly for Tommy Duggan and Brett Dawson, the gimlet eyed precision of Steve and Dave proves just too hot to handle.
Also making it through to the semi final stage are Stan and Lenny, this after they bring to an end the splendid run off Scott Hayton and Steve Bond. A tense encounter begins with a brace of shared experiences before the Billington Boys finally make the breakthrough to secure safe passage to the last four. There they are joined by Cons pairing Dean Barker and Steve Hadgraft, two players who weren’t even pencilled in to play alongside each other until five minutes before registration deadline. Their exemplary marksmanship brings to an end the great run of esplanaders Peter Jackson and Martin Parry Jones.
First through to the final in May are Carl and Mark, this after grinding down the defending champions at the final hurdle. There is much heartbreak of course for Steve Riley and Dave Coulborn, but what a fight they put up in defence of the title. Meeting the Highbury boys in the final are Stan and Lenny, the Billington boys hoping to take the title at the fourth time of asking, this after seeing off the challenge of Dean and Steve in a match of high tension.
Thanks to the Cons for the splendid facilities, to all the markers, to Hannah for selling the football cards and especially to Neil Buston for all his help on the night and for ensuring that I had two hangovers to contend with over the weekend, this after attending his rumbustuous 50th birthday party on Saturday night.
Thanks for reading.