Full unabridged history of North Midlands Crown Green Association

County status was granted in 1951 under the title of the North Midlands Counties Crown Green Amateur Bowling Association. This followed two years of canvassing and hard work by representatives of the Coventry & North Warwickshire Amateur Bowling League supported by the Nuneaton & District Bowling League, Coventry & District Thursday Bowling League, Coventry & District Club Union Bowling League, Atherstone & District League, Warwick, Kenilworth & District Bowling League. and the Coleshill & District Bowls League. These comprised a total of 65 clubs. A notable absentee was the Coventry & District Works Bowling League. Prior to this the Coventry & North Warwickshire Amateur Bowling League and the Coventry & District Works Bowling League were affiliated to the Warwickshire & Worcestershire Counties Bowling Association who were based in Birmingham.

The first application in 1950 was rejected but the second in 1951 succeeded.

The Warwickshire & Worcestershire Association strongly objected to the breakaway and insisted that nowhere in the title could ’Warwickshire’  be included. This led to the title ‘North Midlands Counties Crown Green Amateur Bowling Association’ being created virtually on the spur of the moment at the BCGABA meeting granting the application.

At that time the British Crown Green Amateur Bowling Association County Championship was divided into two sections  – north and south with the newcomers being placed in the southern section. They commenced operating in 1952. and the Officers were as follows:

  • President W.H. Wagstaff,
  • Hon. Secretary, T.R. Ryder,
  • Assistant Secretary & Treasurer, M.L. White.

The Coventry & North Warwickshire League devolved into the North Midlands C.C.G.A.B.A. the remaining Leagues under their own titles.

The County Championship debut was against North Wales winning by 1 shot at home losing by 47 away. They fared no better in the other three matches against Shropshire, Staffordshire and Warwick & Worcester.

A new President, Alderman H. Weston took office in 1953 with R. Williams becoming Chairman and H. Bissell, Treasurer.

In 1954 the County competed in the northern section for the County Championship against Yorkshire, Cheshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire gaining success against the latter but struggling against the other three. In the same year the B.C.G.A.B.A. ruled that the situation of the Coventry & District Works League affiliating to the Warwickshire & Worcester Association could not be allowed. Having little or no option the Coventry Works League affiliated to the North Midlands in 1955 adding a further 13 clubs to the Association. A much-needed fillip on the green came in 1956 with two North Midlands players  – Bill Baldwin and Eric Orton  – reaching the semi-finals of the All England. Hopes were high for an all North Midlands final, Orton was defeated but Baldwin was successful. Sadly he lost 21-14 in the final but became the first North Midlands player to reach the final.  The Coleshill & District League ceased to function in 1956 with the Atherstone League following in 1957.

Prior to the start of the 1958 season the Association had suffered a setback with the untimely death of Secretary Ron Ryder. He had worked tirelessly to establish the Association. The fruits of his labours were becoming apparent, competitions were firmly established, Leagues were running full programmes and whilst the County could defeat Derbyshire in the County Championship the might of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire were still proving too strong. The Association were fortunate in that the Assistant Secretary & Treasurer – Mr. T. Whealey willingly took over the office of Secretary.

At the close of the 1958 season discussions took place to reform the North Midlands League and become a separate entity under the title of the Coventry Suburban League with its own officers and operate from 1959.  In line with other Leagues it had two representatives on the Management Committee of the County Association.

The 1959 season saw the establishment of the Coventry & Suburban League with Senior and Junior Sections. The end of the season saw the demise of the Warwick, Kenilworth & District League.

The British Crown Green Association altered the composition of the County Championship placing the County in the Southern Section against Warwick & Worcester, North Wales and Staffordshire.

In 1960 the Association staged the finals of the B.C.G.A.B.A. Merit finals – popularly known as the All England – at the Alfred Herberts Bowls Club on Monday 1st August. The Social Club and the Company gave tremendous assistance to ensure the success of the event. At the semi-final stage hopes were high of seeing the first North Midlands winner of this prestigious event through either Reg Skidmore and Bill Baldwin . Alas both failed to win their semi-finals but it gave a much needed fillip to the Association.

However, the County had reached the final of the County Championship and were up against Lancashire and the hopes of bringing off a major upset. Sadly, it was not to be, the opposition proving far too strong. At least progress was being made in many directions. Locally the standard of play was steadily improving but players were yet to make their mark nationally.

Again in 1961 they reached the final of the County Championship and were up against Lancashire. Again the opposition was far too strong.

The Coventry Works Sports Association League were producing some fine players and performances, dominating the Association competitions. In particular the Morris Motors and Alfred Herbert Clubs were very strong. The bulk of the County teams were players from this League.

 1965 was a landmark year in two respects. At long last the Association provided their first winner of the B.C.G.A.B.A Merit Bill Baldwin of the Standard BC. He was an outstanding player and richly deserved the honour. Secondly, there was a change of Secretary with Eddie Elson taking over. Later he was to become well known throughout the crown green world.

Open competitions came into fashion with Alvis, Dunlop, Kenilworth, Stockingford AA and Wickman having no difficulty in obtaining full entries. Prize money varied from £30.00 to £42.00 with entry fees at 10/- to £1.00.

The 1968 A.G.M. of the B.C G.A.B.A. saw the installation of our President  –  Alderman Harry Weston as President of the governing body. A well known Coventry personality he had been North Midlands President since 1953.

The County team again reached the final of the County Championship for the third time. Their opponents on this occasion being Yorkshire but they were much too strong winning at home and away.

Although there were now ten County Associations, it became our turn to again in 1969 to stage the All England. This took place at the Alfred Herbert Club who pulled out everything to make the day a success. Hopes were high for a local victory when Dick Burdett (Wickman BC) reached the semi-final but after a great effort he was defeated.

The Coventry Works League whose membership had always been confined to Works clubs were the strongest League in the Association. In 1963 they amended their Rules to accept non-works clubs of good standing into membership. There had been a gradual move of clubs to that League to the detriment of the Coventry Suburban League. In November 1969, at the request of the latter League the Secretary of the Association convened a meeting of both Leagues. As a result of the meeting the Works League agreed to accept the remaining clubs from the Coventry Suburban League which then ceased to function.

County Secretary Eddie Elson had given six months notice that he would not seek re-election in 1972. He attended what he anticipated would be his last B.C.G.A.B.A. meeting, at which, the then Secretary – Harold White – to everyone’s surprise tendered his resignation. Eddie was prevailed upon to accept nomination for the post and at the AGM was elected Secretary/Treasurer. He held office for 13 years standing down in February 1985.

Locally the Association and the Leagues were proceeding smoothly but nationally little or no headway was made. Time and again they failed to impress in the Southern Section of the County Championship. 1974 saw a change of President when Harry Weston stood down after 21 years in office. Well known former Coventry City footballer , Harry Barratt took over.The County badly needed a fillip and it came in 1975 when the County provided three in the last eight of the All England. It seemed at last it would be celebration time but alas Cliff Bordley was defeated 21-12 in the final.

Having been operating for 25 years the Association were seeing a new crop of promising players coming through. Cliff Bordley was at the forefront and in 1977 in front of a home crowd he looked all the way an All England winner. Again it was not to be losing out 21-20 after a nail biting final.

He made amends later in the season becoming the first North Midlands player to win the newly established Champion of Champions at the Waterloo Hotel, Blackpool. It set the seal for the year in office of our second National President – Harry Barratt who had made a tremendous impression on the member County Associations. During his year he visited all but one of the them. He was instrumental in setting up the B.C.G.B.A. Coaching Scheme, spending many hours and travelling many miles to obtain information and conduct seminars. He wrote the first basic coaching manual. A truly great ambassador for his County Association and the game.

In 1979 Reg Harris took over as President and in 1987 became our third National President. In 1976 and 1978 two of our young bowlers finished runner-up in the B.C.G.B.A. Junior Merit but in 1980 it was third time lucky when Mark Burdon was the winner. This proved a good incentive for our young bowlers, showing what could be done. By 1981 there were 14 County Associations but qualifying for the County Championship final was proving as elusive as ever.

Crown green bowls was being regularly featured on television through BBC Top Crown and Champion of Champions. Not to be outdone North Midlands became the first Association wherein a competition was organised and televised. In August 1982 an Invitation competition with £2500 prize money was staged at the Alvis BC, Coventry, recorded by Central TV and shown throughout the Midlands at a later date.  A year later, August 1983 there was a repeat with an invitation competition comprised of Midland bowlers,was staged again at the Alvis BC. with £3000 prize money. Although it was a small County Association it rose to the occasion when necessary. This was proved in the staging of the All England in 1987. With Herberts no longer available a new two green venue had to be found. The Stockingford AA club at Nuneaton was the choice. In spite of lack of some facilities the event went off without any major hitches. Difficulty was being experienced in finding willing people to take on the various offices.

Through varying circumstances the were three secretaries in four years. Bob Harrigan had taken over as President in 1987 and in 1991 Claude Reid became Secretary. These two officers have given a much needed period of stability to the Association.

Hopes were high that the nineties would bring better times to the County. It looked as though there would be an early start to fulfilment when the County team reached the semi-final of the 1990 County Championship but that was as far as they got going down to Derbyshire. It looked better in 1991 when for the first time in 23 years they reached the final of the County Championship.

Having beaten Cheshire home and away in the semi-final the team were full of confidence even though they were taking on Yorkshire. Alas they lost home and away and suffered to the tune of 85 shots.

Having taken part in the BCGBA Junior County matches and the Junior Merit since their introduction interest had grown. In 1990 a Junior Section was formed with their own Secretary. They received a tremendous boost in1992 when Richard Burdett Mnr won the BCGBA Junior Merit. Team wise they were finding it a bit difficult but this result proved to be of great help.

Sadly the Association began to feel the effects of the national economy with the closure of factories and the subsequent loss of top class bowling greens. Morris, Alvis and Wickman were early casualties. Large scale redundancies meant clubs were losing players, the future looked anything but bright. Many clubs were struggling financially, largely due to having been supported by their parent body since their creation. Following a lengthy battle the Alfred Herbert Club finally lost their greens in 1993. They had staged the BCGBA Senior Merit  in 1960, 1969 and 1977.  The players kept the club functioning and found other premises but lost many players in the process.

Playing wise 1993 proved fairly successful on the individual front when Bob Gilfillan finished runner-up in the Senior Merit and Jack Robertson won the Champion of Champions. The County team reached the final of the BCGBA County Championship for the second time in three years. Unfortunately they could not get the better of Yorkshire losing by 44 shots. Nevertheless this was heady stuff indeed.

Although League and Association competitions continued to flourish the major open events petered out through lack of sponsorship. The County team were going through a lean period finding difficulty in even reaching the semi-finals of the County championship. Clubs were having problems in finding willing bodies to take on even the most simplest of jobs to assist in running affairs.

A changing pattern of attitude was emerging, and, in 1997 the Coventry & District Saturday League allowed ladies to play. Not universally popular but clubs were having problems in fielding two teams of twelve each Saturday. Greens were not being fully occupied and parent bodies were exploring every means to increase revenue.

The bright spot came in 1998 when Stuart Perry was successful in winning the Senior BCGBA Merit. Young players were beginning to emerge from the junior section and given their chance for the senior team. There was every prospect that it was only a matter of time before the seniors would become a force to be reckoned with. At the same time numbers in the junior section were showing a significant increase since being put on a more organised base. Several greens attached to public houses were lost, mainly through change of landlord with no interest in bowls. At the same time some leagues were losing members with little sign of any significant increase in young players coming into the game.

In spite of efforts for many years no one had come forward to take up the position of County Coach. Similarly when BCGBA created a Development Committee, hoping that each County Association would appoint a Development Officer. The post was widely advertised but there was not even a glimmer of interest from any quarter.

With the millennium fast approaching suggestions were invited to mark the occasion. One or two half hearted ideas were aired but in reality there was little interest. To conform with the requirements of the parent body it was necessary to make nomination for the office of Deputy President BCGBA 2001 and President 2002. Needless to say Bob Harrigan received a unanimous invitation to accept.

It looked a good omen and in 2001 the County team reached the BCG County Championship final. With Cheshire the opposition it would be hard but confidence was high, that was until the home venue for the final was announced. Sadly, the critics were proved right losing at home by 50 shots. 

2002 was the year for North Midland’s turn to stage the All England. Our President’s own club was invited to stage the event and they made a brilliant job. The icing looked to be on the cake when Steve Pratt reached the final but he found one too good for him on the day and had to be content with runner-up. There was still a chance to mark the President’s year in style when again the County team were in the County championship final. Their opponents? Cheshire. Would they succeed this time? The home leg was on the Dunlop green and keenly anticipated. After a titanic struggle they we cruelly beaten by one shot overall, extending our wait for the crown.

In 2005 we won the final group stage match against Shropshire to book our place in the semis against Yorkshire, arguable the best County team. What happen next was the stuff of legends…

On the 7th August a titantic battle raged across the greens at Bedworth Bowling Club and The Waterloo. Every player reached double figures on each side and after 24 games the two sides were drawn on 432 shots and 12 games each. A tiebreaker took place was several games taking place at each game. Late in the evening, we secured victory, by two shots.

The final against North Lancs & Fylde was a walk in the park in comparison! With victories home and away, it finally happened; the long wait was over. We were Champions!

The Leagues continued to contract in size and the County team suffered for this. Another good run of eight home games on the trot in 2008/9 was a high point but away games proved problematic. Those heady days of 2001 – 2005 seemed a long time ago and wouldn’t be reached for almost another decade.

Finally in 2012 the county gained it’s first Development Officer with stated aims of bringing Crown to a wider audience as possible and securing the future. It is a long term vision but it has already reaped dividends, increasing awareness and membership in the County. This, together with the good progress of the County Junior team, will surely help the County flourish.

2014 saw the County reach it’s ninth Senior County Final with a draw against The Potteries and a fine win against North Lancs. After thrashing Greater Manchester in the final, our neighbours Warwick & Worcester easily beat us in the final. But we had the taste again…

The County Junior team continued to gain in confidence under the guidance of Dave Chapman, which culminated in the Supplementary Competition on Sunday 9th August 2015. Wins against South Yorkshire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester saw our team through to the finals, to meet our arch rivals Warwick and Worcester. That just made winning our first ever Junior Competition even sweeter! It was a stunning result by our team and a day to remember for all concerned. It was also a fitting end to Jordan Baddeley’s time with the County Junior team after winning the Junior All England in 2014.

We are the smallest County but we continued to punch above our weight in 2017 as Darren Plenderleith become only the third County bowler to win the Senior Merits, our Senior team made it to the County finals for the ninth time and our Junior side missed out on a second Supplemental victory by just three shots.

Sunday 3rd September 2017 – Senior Finals Day – was as tense as it could be. Good wins at home and good losses away left us well up but Potteries kept chipping away and with just on match left they were in the lead for the first time by 3. Richard Burdett Mnr brilliantly held his nerve with a 21 – 16 win and North Midlands became Champions for the second time in the most thrilling of circumstances.