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The Winter League is not all about bowling

Winter League

When we talk about team positions everyone assumes we are talking about where they are situated in the league tables but in the Winter League it can mean something entirely different. With all eight teams in each of the five divisions turning up every week to play their matches there is some sort of pecking order to where teams set up base camp around the green. It is noticeable that teams gravitate towards the same spot every week and you can tell a lot about teams from where they congregate. Nearest the bar, nearest the food counter or nearest the toilets?

The start of a new season brings new complications to this Musical Chairs game with teams turning up especially early to lay claim to their preferred position or reclaim their home-by-rights of possession from last season. New teams in a division turn up totally unaware of this ritual and can inadvertently take up a previously taken place bringing a new edge to a match yet to be played.

Remembering that this is winter bowling and the weather is always going to be a major factor in determining where the most revered positions are. Not every green is blessed with sufficient cover from the rain and cold winds so these are prime positions for the experienced team to lay claim to right from day one of the season.

Some positions remain untaken in reverence to former tenants. I am thinking of the 'Executive Suite' (shown below) which was home for the Milnsbridge 'B' team right through the 2021-22 Division 3 season at Thorpe Green. However, the team is playing in Division 4 this year at Lindley Lib but no-one has taken over their previous prestigious home. You hear of football teams retiring a shirt number when a top player moves on and no team taking over a long held position could be viewed as being held back in respect of a return of the Milnsbridge team at some early date still to be confirmed.

So league tables aside team positions are won by seniority, longevity and woe-betide any team trying to muscle in on another team's long-established home territory. However respect only goes so far and when the Yorkshire weather turns cold and wet we will see how deep that respect goes judged against a bowler's prime need for survival from the elements.

But there is even more to Winter League bowling as the format leads to new relationships being created and new community groups being formed. A walk around any of the host greens on matchdays inevitably leads you to become involved in a conversation with more bowlers from at least another seven clubs.

These may be friends and acquaintances formed over many years or it may be a newly qualified veteran taking their first tentative steps on the veteran's ladder with its many rungs to be tackled. Or you are just as likely to come across a bowling spectator as increasingly the casual spectator is becoming a more popular addition to the Winter League scenario.

Whereas in the summer months spectators with no affiliation to the teams on the green are a rarity that all changes in the winter season. Offering a few matches to enjoy watching on three different days each week provides fresh air and sedate exercise to any lost soul seeking their 'bowling fix'. More than half the people at each of the five host greens each week are not bowling at all. Some will be reserves supporting their teams but an increasing number are casual spectators with a passing or avid interest in the sport but no obvious allegiance to any of the teams in action that day.

Last season Thorpe Green attracted a regular attendance of around 70 people on Monday matchdays helped by the fact that it was the only bowling in town on that date. This year they share that day with Lindley Lib and both are attracting around 60 people to their greens along with their thirsts and hunger which the host clubs are well geared up to counter with a range of drinks (tea, coffee, soups, Bovril and more) and hot and cold food. The earlier match start time of 11.30am has led to an increased demand for liquids and solids as attendees become aware of the good value of fresh food on site can offer.

The sole matchday role passes to Netherton Con this season on a Thursday and last week they had their first 70+ attendance of the season. The sun always helps to boost the gathering but the Winter League venues are finding that support is increasing all the time as more and more people enjoy the friendly atmosphere among bowling enthusiasts and the gossip and banter that emanates from the gathering. Long may it continue.

The weekly Winter League bowling programme now looks like this:

Mondays: Thorpe Green (Division 3) and Lindley Lib (Division 4)

Wednesdays: Milnsbridge BC (Division 1) and Division 2 (Springwood) Thursdays: Netherton Con (Division 5)

The start time is 11.30am with a finish time around 2.30pm expected.

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