Veteran Scot Charlie Bence the darling of Potters crowd as he pushes Nick Brett all the way
- Credit: Archant
Charlie Bence, who stepped on to the portable rink to a fanfare and fireworks and left to a standing ovation, eloquently made the case for bowls being the most accessible of sports, and, at the same time, captured the hearts of the spectators in Potters International Arena.
It was the second round of the Just World indoor singles championship, and the winner was Huntingdon's Nick Brett. But the story, undeniably, was Charlie, who lives in Motherwell and plays for the Blantyre club. Astonishingly, he is 71 years of age.
In a sport that is open to all – men and women, young and old, able-bodied and disabled – the feisty septuagenarian had won the right to strut his stuff in the portable rink after coming through the Scottish PBA qualifiers at Falkirk.
Qualifying for Potters is a dream come true for many, but Charlie, who was the envy of all his club-mates, was not satisfied with merely qualifying for the sport's Greatest Show on Earth. In the first round, he sent Mark Dawes, the number 16 seed, back to Blackpool with his tail between his legs.
'Not bad for an old 'un,' Charlie said. 'It's only a game of bowls to me. He's got four bowls and I've got four bowls.'
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And that was how, with a place in the quarter-finals of the Just World indoor singles championship at stake, he came to be facing the reigning champion and world number one Nick Brett yesterday.
Here he was, the Convener of Senior Bowls at his beloved Blantyre club, taking on the 42-year-old Brett, who, in terms of the World Bowls Tour rankings, currently wears the mantle of the Best Bowler on the Planet. Surely, it was a mis-match, and there could only be one result.
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Charlie started slowly, with two mediocre bowls, but a great last bowl saw him turn four-down into one-up, and boosted his confidence, before singles on the next two ends gave the veteran Scot a 3-0 lead, and the fanciful idea that Bence could beat Brett was suddenly not all that far-fetched.
Jolted out of his comfort zone, Brett recovered his poise and took the lead at 5-3, with a treble and two singles, but, to the delight of the crowd, many of whom were the sort of age to identify with the game Scot, Bence struck with a double on the seventh end, and added two hard-earned singles to win the first set, 7-5.
Pandemonium broke out, and not only at Potters. The match was being transmitted nationwide on BBC TV, and news reached Potters that travellers in the BA lounge at Heathrow Airport cheered when the 71-year-old rank outsider took that first set.
Delight turned to disbelief when Bence took singles on the first three ends of the second set. Never mind the set, could he win the match? Brett was clearly under pressure, but he handled the situation brilliantly, showing his class as he powered to a 10-4 win to force a tie-break.
A best-of-three-ends shoot-out? No pressure there, then. Just ask the world's top players, who regard tie-breaks as a form of purgatory. Brett drew first blood, but, to more applause, Bence drew level at 1-1, and it was anyone's game until the Scot's last bowl missed its target on the third end, and whizzed harmlessly by.
Then came the standing ovation – fully deserved – followed by an entertaining interview with Rishi Persad, in which the two players brought smiles to the faces of the spectators.
'For me, it was only a game of bowls,' chuckled Charlie. 'There was no pressure on me, it was all on Nicky, who was great to play against. The crowd here have been fantastic.'
If Bence had pulled off the biggest shock in bowls history, he would have faced his Blantyre club-mate Stewart Anderson in the quarter-finals. Anderson, the number nine seed, made short work of Graham McKee, winning 11-4, 12-2.