Sporting dreams come in many shapes and sizes – from lifting the FA Cup at Wembley or the claret jug at St Andrews to winning the Ashes at the Oval or an Olympic gold medal.
For a competitive English bowler being on the National Finals winners’ rostrum at Victoria Park is definitely on this list and the emotion felt by those who have climbed lawn bowls’ Mount Everest cannot be overstated.
Following their success in the 2022 Men’s Two Fours competition Sunderland-based Silksworth Pumas experienced this elation and according to club secretary Jaxon McKenna for three members of his club it was especially memorable.
“We had some tremendous support and one of our longest-standing members Vic Avery, who joined Silksworth in the 1970’s, collected the trophy,” he said.
“Despite being a reserve this year, Vic had previously been in multiple semi-finals and even though he didn’t bowl himself to finally be part of the squad and see us win was really special for him.
“It was also great for Layton Sykes – who is our youngest club member aged 11 – to be named as part of the squad and get a medal and a winner’s jacket.
“But in particular I think I will always remember Paul Baker in floods of tears on Facetime after we won. His son Scott was ‘lead’ on my rink and because Paul was on holiday he couldn’t be there. He has been involved with the club for years, is our shirt sponsor and it just meant so much to him that we’d eventually won after so many years of trying.”
Silksworth’s distinctive black gear made a real impression at Victoria Park this year, and as a club based on a council-owned facility which continually strives to grow its membership in an area which Jaxon describes as “a bowls hotbed” there is no doubt that they punch well above their weight.
“We always have plenty of entries in the Nationals and we already know we have loads of interest for 2023 in the singles, pairs, triples, fours, under-25 singles and pairs plus senior fours and mixed fours,” Jaxon said.
“I always enter – for me it’s the highlight of the year. Whenever you hear bowlers talking it never takes long to get round to ‘have you qualified for Regionals or Leamington?’ or ‘have you ever won a National?’
“If you are competitive about sport you want to play at the highest possible level. The Nationals give you the chance of playing not just against everyone in the whole country but also against the very best.
“If you showed someone a league game on a Friday night then took them to Leamington they would get a real shock as they have such a totally different feel about them – there is real intensity.
“The Nationals are what we play for as competitive bowlers. I’ve been very lucky to get to Leamington a few times – I qualified in the Two Bowl a few years back, and also was beaten in the quarter-final of the U25 singles two years ago before being part of the winning Two Fours team this year.”
Very few of us are fortunate enough to achieve our sporting dreams so Silksworth’s journey to glory makes compelling listening.
“We ended up winning the quarter-final, semi-final and beating Brampton in the final all by one shot – it was tremendously exciting,” Jaxon recalled.
“We had the same eight players on the rink throughout, but had to manage without our most experienced player David Bolt both at Leamington and in the Regionals because he broke his foot.
“We feared the worst when we heard he was injured but we changed things round and ended up winning it without him. It’s quite funny in a way because we’ve tried for many years to qualify with Davy in the team but always stumbled somewhere along the line, then the year he’s missing we go and win it.
“That said, it is typical of Davy that he was there with us on the side of the green doing Facebook Live through the last few ends so everyone at home knew what was going on.
“When we got to the semi-final I was telling myself: “Stay calm, just keep playing your bowls,” but once you’re in a final it’s anyone’s game.
“I’m fortunate as I don’t really feel nerves, so I was more excited than anything. I just kept thinking ‘Don’t leave anything behind,’ and looking back now that’s what we all managed to do. Because Davy wasn’t there to rely on we had to do it ourselves and we all stepped up.
“On my rink Nicky Brett who had won a Commonwealth Games gold just three weeks beforehand was part of Brampton’s team and after we managed to beat them by a single shot I guess I can die happy!”