Northumberland have entered what could be considered their strongest team in years for this season’s Veterans County Championships. Playing in Division 1A, Northumberland’s lineup of Andrew Wilkinson, Eddie Smith, David Robson and Christine Burke will face tough opposition. The format sees the team travelling to Draycott near Derby to play seven matches across two weekends, the first of which was 25th February.
In their first match, Northumberland faced a South Yorkshire team comprised of Stephen Horsfield, Andrew Horsfield, Bill Grant and Pat Thorley. The Horsfield brothers and Grant regularly compete in the Sunderland Masters VETTS tournament and are therefore well known by players in the Northumberland team, but this makes them no less stern an opposition. The Northumberland team got off to an outrageous start as Wilkinson won 2, Smith and Robson won 1 each and Smith and Burke combined to win the first doubles, leading to a 6-0 start. The Horsfield brothers, an experienced doubles pairing, combined to get South Yorkshire’s first victory as they beat Robson and Wilkinson. In the clash of the position 1 players, Dave Robson lost a close-fought five-end game against Stephen Horsfield, losing 12-10 in the final set. The match finished 8-2 to Northumberland and the team were off to a good start.
Last season in the Veterans County Championships, a similar Northumberland team – only Wilkinson is new to the lineup – lost to Lancashire. Their team this season promises to be one of the best in the league with top veteran title winner Keith Williams supported by Steve Scowcroft, defender Paul Cicchelli and the highly-rated Denise McEvoy. Wilkinson’s inclusion – his first year as a veteran – seems to have had significant ramifications on the team though as they found themselves cruising to yet another 8-2 win. Paul Cicchelli did well to beat Eddie Smith in 4 ends and Christine Burke was incredibly unlucky to lose a tight game in the deciding end to Denise McEvoy.
In the final game of the first weekend, Northumberland got off to another good start against Yorkshire II. The opposition’s lineup of Richard Smith, Ivan Lewis, Mark Land and Helen Shields are all high calibre players well known in the UK’s veteran scene. Robson opened up the scoring as he beat Yorkshire’s number two Ivan Lewis, followed in quick succession by tight 5 end wins from Smith and Wilkinson against Mark Land and Richard Smith respectively. Another fifth end decider gave Northumberland their first loss as Burke and Smith lost in the doubles and this sparked a comeback for Yorkshire as Ivan Lewis beat Eddie Smith and Helen Shields beat Christine Burke. Smith and Wilkinson combined to give Northumberland the edge once more, then Wilkinson paved the way for victory with a comfortable win over Mark Land. Unfortunately Robson couldn’t capitalise on this as he lost to Richard Smith and then he and Christine Burke just lost out in the final match to give Yorkshire a hard-earned draw.
As things stand, Northumberland are sitting in second place just one point behind Cheshire who they will play on the next weekend when all of the teams meet again.