The South Tyne Chess Association: the first 25 years (1988-2013)
The South Tyne Chess Association was the brainchild of Mike Nicholson and Ernst Schroder, of Tynedale Chess Club, in discussion with Bill McConnachie of Alston Moor Chess Club. During the 1980s the two clubs had played friendly matches with each other and the idea of a new chess association in the area was a logical extension of those matches. At that time, the only chess leagues covering the area were the county-based Northumberland and Cumbria leagues, which left small clubs like Haydon Bridge, the Queen Elizabeth High School Hexham (QEHS for short) and Warden without regular access to inter-club chess. From the minutes of the inaugural general meeting of the Association (to which I shall return), held on September 6th 1988, we learn that
“Mike Nicholson outlined the developments which had led to this inaugural meeting. An informal discussion between members at Tynedale CC early in the summer favoured the promotion of chess activities amongst the five clubs in the area: Alston, Haydon Bridge, QEHS, Tynedale and Warden.”
And so an open meeting was called for June 28th 1988, to consider the idea of forming a new league. It was attended by Mike Nicholson, Ruth Turner, Ernst Schroder and Ian Lambie, all of Tynedale, Roger Ball and Bill McConnachie from Alston, Tony Skelly from QEHS, and Mike Christopher and Tim Wrigley from Warden.
From the outset, the plan was for a smallish, mid-week league involving teams of four players, each meeting twice during the season. It was also hoped to encourage junior chess, perhaps run individual competitions and seek sponsorship.
A working party with representatives of each of the five interested clubs (Alston, Haydon Bridge, QEHS, Tynedale and Warden) was set up and met on July 20th, with Roger Ball representing a sixth club, Hallbankgate. There was unanimous support for the creation of a league, but a feeling that the geographical area covered by it needed to be defined.
At a further meeting on July 26th, a working party comprising Bill McConnachie (Alston), John McKee (QEHS), Mike Nicholson (Tynedale), David Tulp (Haydon Bridge) and Tim Wrigley (Warden) drew up a draft constitution and a set of fourteen league rules.
The draft constitution gave the new organisation its name and set out its object: “To encourage and develop the playing of chess in the geographical area defined below.” Membership was open to “all clubs whose playing venues are within five miles of the River South Tyne” and also to “any other club whose objects are consistent with the object of the STCA and whose membership is approved by the Executive Committee of the STCA.”
The Association would have a chairman, secretary and treasurer “and such other officers as may be appointed by a general meeting.” Its executive committee would “comprise the officers of the STCA plus one representative of each club not represented amongst the officers.” As well as an AGM, provision was made for extraordinary general meetings. Both these and the AGM required “a majority of clubs” to be represented in order to be quorate. Amendments to the constitution would require “a two-thirds majority of those attending general meetings.” As for the working capital of the STCA, this would be “provided from annual subscriptions from member clubs”, and an audited statement of account would be submitted to the AGM.
With the nuts and bolts in place, the inaugural general meeting of the Association was held on September 6th 1988. Both the draft constitution and the league rules were adopted, with one minor modification in each case. The league itself “would commence as soon as possible”, with one or two teams from Tynedale, one each from Alston, Hallbankgate, Haydon Bridge and QEHS, and possibly one from Warden. Bill McConnachie (Alston) was elected chairman, Tom Middleton (QEHS) secretary, Mike Nicholson (Tynedale) league controller and David Tulip (Haydon Bridge) treasurer. Participating clubs would pay a subscription of £4 to cover costs.
So there it was, a fully-fledged new chess league brought into existence in the space of ten weeks! There is absolutely no doubt that the driving force behind it all was Mike Nicholson, who organised the meetings, attended them all, and drew up a draft constitution and league rules for consideration. And as league controller, he would be the decisive figure in the day-to-day running of the league. But the input from Alston was also vital, involving both Bill McConnachie and Roger Ball. It was the latter who introduced Paul Hardcastle into the mix, thereby making the STCA into a genuinely bi-county organisation. And it was Alston who ensured that the new league commitments would meld with the demands of the Cumbria league.
Typically, Mike had a full fixture-list in place for the opening season, which started in September and ran through to April. Seven teams took part: Alston (captained by Bill McConnachie); Hallbankgate (Paul Hardastle); Haydon Bridge (Herbie Greener); QEHS Mitres (Tom Middleton); QEHS Monarchs (Anthony Kelly); Tynedale Hers (Ruth Turner) and Tynedale His (Ian Lambie). These last two teams took their names from the anticipated majority constituents of their respective teams. However, Ruth Turner seems to have been the only female to play for Tynedale Hers, while Tynedale His would sometimes include Jill Nicholson amongst their number. Warden Chess Club did not enter a team and by December was defunct.
According to the minutes of the executive committee meeting held on December 8th, “the League was progressing satisfactorily, despite two or three match postponements […] Matches were believed to be enjoyable, reflecting the good spirit in which they were played”. Sure enough, the first season was successfully completed, with all clubs playing their full complement of matches. Alston topped the table with 21 match points from a possible 24. Their only loss was to a strong Tynedale His side and they also dropped a point against Haydon Bridge. Otherwise, they swept all before them, winning the league by a comfortable five-point margin from Tynedale His (16 points), who in turn were six points clear of Haydon Bridge, Tynedale Hers and QEHS Monarchs (10 points each). Hallbankgate, for whom T. Wilkins scored 10.1/2 out of 12 on board 2, were a point adrift on 9, and bringing up the rear were QEHS Mitres on 8 points.
The Mitres had clearly been struggling to put out a full team and they accounted for nine of the thirteen individual games defaulted during the season. In all fifteen juniors took part, playing sixty-five games between them. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of them played for one or other of the QEHS sides and one of them, Tom Middleton, ended up with the enviable record of six wins, five draws and one loss!
At the first AGM, held at Haydon Bridge on June 21st 1989, Alston were duly presented with the league championship trophy, which had been presented to the Association by Mike and Jill Nicholson. It was a large wooden plaque, with enough spaces on it to record twenty-four title winners, so Mike and Jill were evidently thinking long-term! Certainly, the new league was well and truly in business.
There were other spin-offs from this league activity. The minutes of the executive committee meeting held on December 8th inform us that “Hallbankgate might be planning to meet regularly as a club rather than as a team on match nights only.” And publicity-wise, “Mike Nicholson had submitted fortnightly reports to the Hexham Courant. These had been published in full.”
The same source makes clear that relations with the Northumberland Chess Association, to which the STCA was not affiliated, were good. The NCA had agreed to grade the results from the new league, and there was talk of an end-of-the-season representative match between the two leagues over 8, 10 or 12 boards, though this never materialised.
As if the successful creation and operation of a new league were not enough, the executive committee, at its next meeting on January 9th, pressed ahead with the organisation of an STCA rapid-play event to be held at the Queen Elizabeth High School, Hexham on April 23rd. It was to be a five-round Swiss tournament, with entry open to members or prospective members of the five STCA clubs and to residents within STCA’s catchment area (i.e. those living within five miles of the River South Tyne). The indefatigable Mike Nicholson was once again the prime organiser and would act as controller of the event. Twenty competitors took part, the prize-winners being Tom Middleton (QEHS) on 5/5, Alex McConnachie (Alston) on 4/5, Rex Horrocks (Alston) and Stuart Hardcastle (Hallbankgate).
And so ended a remarkably successful first year for the STCA.
At the AGM held in June 1989, Paul Hardcastle of Hallbankgate had been elected secretary to replace Tom Middleton, and Jim Dixon had become the Association’s auditor. Further organisational change occurred in October when the chairman, Bill McConnachie, had to resign for personal reasons and his place was taken by another Alston member, Rex Horrocks.
There were changes to the league too. Hallbankgate added a second team which, as Mike Nicholson wryly observed, “almost gives them more chess players than inhabitants.” The teams were christened Hallbankgate Ogres and Hallbankgate Goblins. This would have taken the number of teams in the league to eight, but for the fact that QEHS Mitres had disbanded, leaving just one QEHS team, the Monarchs.
One new development was the availability of an unofficial South Tyne league grading list comprising 47 players. Compiled by Mike Nicholson, it drew on the official Northumberland list, plus individually calculated gradings provided by the Cumbria and Northumberland graders for players not appearing in the official lists. While there was no handicap system in operation at this time, the list did make it possible to determine the board order which clubs should observe, as well as providing some encouragement for players who would not otherwise have a grading.
The new secretary, who was proving to be the play-maker on the Cumbrian side of things, got the new season off to a flying start by organising a five-round quick-play event at the Lacy Thompson Hall in Hallbankgate on September 17th. There were three sections – Open, Grade 130 and below, and Junior (under 16) – and forty-two entries, more than double the number at the Hexham event in April, so the word was spreading. Tim Wall (Wallsend) won the Open with 5/5. The Minor was shared by A. and S. Bailey from Cumbria, and the Junior event went to R. Yeales from Tyneside.
There were other irons in the fire too, with plans for a lightning chess event at Hallbankgate towards Christmas, a one-day junior event late in the season, and a dinner. Everything, it seems, was going swimmingly … except that the league was beginning to creak.
In a letter dated November 12 1989 and addressed to all team captains, Mike Nicholson wrote:
“At the time of writing, three matches out of the nine scheduled so far have been postponed, at the request of three separate teams. This is highly undesirable, and I wish to recover the position at the earliest opportunity.
There are two main reasons why postponements are bad:
1. I cannot publish a league table in the Hexham Courant or the Northumberland Chess Association Bulletin without drawing attention to the fact that the league is a shambles. We cannot therefore hope to attract new members or create new clubs, and our initiative will wither and die, not prosper.
2. Our existing players will lose interest if they cannot rely on the published league programme.
In the light of the above, I have taken the following decisions:
A. The three postponed matches […] must be completed before Christmas […]
B. No other matches […] may be postponed without my prior approval […]
We enjoyed our matches last season. Let’s keep it that way!”
This bit of whip-cracking by the league controller does not seem to have solved the problem entirely, for in the minutes of an executive committee meeting held some time before Easter 1990 we read that
“It was again mentioned that people responsible were not reporting back to Mike Nicholson on matches, making it difficult for Mike to keep track of how the league was running and preparing press releases. There were at the time of the meeting several outstanding matches and, as the feeling of the meeting was that all matches should be completed by Easter, it was left to individual members to chase up their respective teams to complete.”
In due course all fixtures were completed and the result was a sea-change in the fortunes of the various teams. Reigning champions Alston slumped to fifth place, with just 8 points from a possible 24. The new champions were Hallbankgate Ogres (Hallbankgate had finished sixth in the inaugural season) with 21 points, just one point ahead of Tynedale Hers. A long way behind came QEHS Monarchs on 12 points, followed by newcomers Hallbankgate Goblins (9 points), a point ahead of Alston. Tynedale His (8 points) dropped from second to sixth place, and Haydon Bridge (6 points) went from third to seventh, defaulting three matches along the way.
The Ogres owed their success to remarkable results on boards 2, 3 and 4, where T. Wilkins (2) and Phil Brown (3) both recorded 8.1/2 out of 11, while Stuart Hardcastle (4) did even better with 9 out of 10. Tom Middleton, of QEHS Monarchs, returned a straight 6 out of 6 on board 1!
As for “extra-curricular activities”, Hallbankgate held a simultaneous event at which Malcolm Armstrong of Carlisle conceded just half a point over twelve boards; the proposed Tynedale dinner to which STCA members were invited was cancelled; and the proposed junior event seems not to have happened.
The season started with a rapid-play tournament at Lacy Thompson Hall, Hallbankgate on September 23rd. It was again organised by Paul Hardcastle and this time fifty-two players took part. The Open event, with sixteen entries, was won by David Walker (Sunderland). In the Minor, Hunter and Wallace, both of Cruddas Park, topped the field, while the Junior event went to Colin Dickson of Hexham and Kristian Blackburn of Whitehaven.
The league seems to have operated smoothly, and while individual games were defaulted, no matches were. A new champion emerged in the shape of Tynedale Hers, with 21 points. Second, on 17 points, were Tindale, the renamed Hallbankgate Goblins side. Third were Hallbankgate (formerly the Ogres) on 12 points, just ahead of Alston, also on 12, and Tynedale His on 10. QEHS Monarchs (7 points) and Haydon Bridge (5), occupied the bottom two places.
The outstanding performance of the season came from Ian Lambie (Tynedale Hers) with a straight 10 out of 10 on board 2. With team-mate David Weldon scoring 8.1/2 out of 11 on board 1 and M. Turnbull returning 6 out of 9 on board 3, Tynedale Hers were an unstoppable force. Tindale owed much to Phil Brown (9.1/2 out of 11 on board 3) and A. Carter (7 out of 8 on board 4).
Mike Nicholson’s grading list for 1990-91 listed forty-two players, with a sharp drop in the number of juniors to just four. The issue figured in the deliberations at the Association’s deferred AGM, held at Alston on December 4th , as the minutes make clear:
“The expansion of junior chess was thought to be highly desirable, and there was substantial activity reported in Alston and Hexham. It was understood that Hallbankgate, which had had several events last season, had been quiet so far this season because of Paul Hardcastle’s business commitments. It was suggested that a junior organiser was required, and Mike Nicholson agreed to approach Mike Turnbull.”
Clearly, having someone whose specific responsibility was junior chess was the key to the issue, but equally clearly there was a major problem about involving people actively in the running of the STCA. Thus this AGM was attended by just three members: Rex Horrocks, the chairman; David Tulip, the treasurer; and of course Mike Nicholson. And the only apologies for absence received were from Paul Hardcastle, the secretary.
In his chairman’s comments, Rex observed that “The league continued to fulfil an important role in linking chess in the north-west and north-east.” The question was, could it continue to operate successfully, when so few players took an active part in the running of the Association.
The next AGM, held in Hexham on May 22nd 1991, was not promising in this respect. The only people to attend were the chairman, treasurer, secretary and league controller, plus one ordinary member, Ian Lambie. Moreover, Paul Hardcastle resigned his post as secretary, while offering to “try to arrange for a Hallbankgate member to replace him.” It also transpires that “the approach made by Mike Nicholson to Mike Turnbull was unsuccessful”, and it was decided that the chairman, Rex, would approach Tony Skelly to try to fill the vital position of junior organiser.
Following Mike’s observation that “There were no signs of centres developing in such places as Allendale, Corbridge and Haltwhistle”, Rex “expressed some disappointment at the lack of expansion of the league and hoped for some improvement in the new season.” And Paul “stated that Hallbankgate will not be holding the one day quick-play tournament”, though Haydon Bridge in the shape of David Tulip did express an interest in hosting the event. So was the Association running out of steam?
Not as far as Mike was concerned. In his report to the AGM as league controller, he declared himself “pleased to see a more settled season with fewer postponements. QEHS and Haydon Bridge had held their numbers and it was noted that the other clubs seemed to be maintaining their strength.” He went on to say that “players are enjoying their games and the league is providing enjoyable chess.”
As for the forthcoming season (1991-92), “it was suggested that some form of recognition of individual performance be introduced.” This is the first mention of what would in due course become the annual leader-boards and associated prizes. And finally, “teams would be asked to arrange their players for matches in order of strength”, something which Mike’s grading list now made possible. And it is good to read that “the chairman expressed his appreciation to Mike Nicholson for his commitment to the league.”
This fourth year in the existence of the Association saw a new secretary, Tom Keenan of Hallbankgate, in place, but the issue of a junior officer was still hanging fire, with Tony Skelly yet to be approached. As the minutes of an executive committee meeting held on September 10th 1991 inform us, prompt action was required in order to “facilitate some early competition for junior players within the area. It was noted that currently Hexham, Alston and Haydon Bridge all have a definite quota of interested youngsters.”
At the same meeting, it was decided that the rapid-play tournament would be held at Haydon Bridge, but in March/April instead of September. On the issue of recognition for individual performance, “it was agreed that there would be four merit awards, i.e. one prize for each board,” the nature of the prize to be determined in due course.
Finally, tucked away in any other business, we learn that “the League Controller hoped to start a bulletin this season, in order to keep members in touch with events and results within the league.” Sure enough, Mike produced the first South Tyne newsletter on October 23rd 1991. A single sheet of paper, it recorded the result of matches played thus far, gave a current league table, set out a grading list containing forty-eight names, and gave some guidelines about how playing strength affected team order.
Newsletter no. 2 followed on November 29th. A new feature was a leader-board, showing the performance of individual players on each of the four boards, listed in order of their success rate which was calculated as a percentage. Mike refers to it as “my completely unofficial system”, which determined for which board a player qualified. Unofficial it may have been, but it worked and survives to this day!
Newsletter no. 3, dated December 21st, raised the vexed issue of smoking during matches, prompted by an awareness that “attendance at matches and club nights were being adversely affected.” How could the legitimate needs of both smokers and non-smokers be reconciled? After setting out the problem, Mike offered these thoughts:
“We need to know more about the extent to which club attendances are suffering. We mustn’t put barriers in the way of introducing young people to the game. Could it just be that chess is on the decline in part because we aren’t moving with the times?”
Two further newsletters came out, on January 20th 1992 and March 15th, and subsequently Mike produced a further sheet giving the remaining results and final tables for the 1991-92 season. Hallbankgate Ogres, on 18 points, took the title by two points from Alston, who in turn were two points clear of Tynedale Hers and Tynedale His. Hallbankgate Goblins (10 points), QEHS Monarchs (7) and Haydon Bridge (3) brought up the rear. The newly instituted leader-boards saw the board prizes go to David Weldon (Tynedale Hers) on board 1, Mike Nicholson (Tynedale His) on 2, Phil Brown (Hallbankgate Ogres) on 3, and Kevin Graham (Alston) on 4.
The season was rounded off by the Association’s rapid-play tournament, held at Haydon Bridge on March 29th, 1992. The winners were Paul Dargan (Whitley Bay) and John Wheeler (Newcastle) in the Open; Jonathan Nicholas (Tynedale) in the Minor; and Kevin Graham (Alston) in the Junior event.
The AGM, held in Hexham on September 15th 1992, was slightly better supported than on previous occasions, with six people in attendance. The secretary, Tom Keenan, was absent and had evidently resigned earlier in the season. The minutes state that “it proved impossible to appoint a Secretary at the meeting.” Mike reported that the league programme had been completed, though one end-of-season match had been abandoned. He also referred to the monthly bulletins and the reports appearing monthly in the Hexham Courant.
The issue of board order was still proving somewhat contentious, for under A.O.B. we read that “There was protracted discussion on possible methods for achieving the desirable aim of getting teams to play in order of playing strength. The following resolution was passed unanimously: ‘Teams should play in order of playing strength. Overturning grading differences of up to 10 points is acceptable. If a captain wishes to overturn a grading difference of more than 10 points, he can do so only with the approval of the opposing captain. Ungraded players must play below graded players unless a higher position is accepted by the opposing captain.”
Another issue raised was that of the number of players in league teams. Chris Perrin (Hallbankgate) “asked whether it might be desirable to reduce the number of players in a team to three, primarily to ease the problem of raising four-player teams. After discussion, the suggestion was rejected. Only Tynedale were likely to experience difficulty, but they had hopes of increasing membership.” That last sentence is a little strange. True, the final match between Monarchs and Goblins had been defaulted, but by both sides. That apart, neither Tynedale side had defaulted a single board during the season, while the Goblins had defaulted one board on three occasions and Haydon Bridge on two.
An exhibition entitled “Chess” had been organised by Jill Nicholson on behalf of the Association. It was held at Hexham library and was opened on September 14th by the Chairman of Northumberland County Council, Kevin Flaherty, himself a keen chess player. Exhibits came from a range of interested parties, including John Wheeler and John Turnock of the Northumberland Chess Association, and a large outdoor chess set graced the floor of the library for all to use. Running until September 26th, it attracted a lot of attention locally. And Jill was also busy organising a league dinner, to be held before Christmas.
On the issue of smoking, “The non-smokers present felt that in view of the positive response by smokers in the STCA, no further action was necessary.”
Of junior chess there was no mention.
Minutes of an executive committee meeting held on November 30th reveal that the post of secretary had at last been filled, this time by Ian Emmerson (Tynedale). The league was progressing well, with just one postponement. Junior chess generally was thriving, especially at Tynedale. There was much discussion about “bringing on younger players . It was agreed that a prize should be given for the most interesting combination of moves, either brilliant or calamitous, reported before the end of the season […] this would be valuable to encourage recording.” This ingenious idea seems not to have come to fruition.
The rapid-play event was hosted this time by Tynedale on December 13th in Hexham. Alas, as both Mike’s newsletter of December 20th and the minutes of an executive committee meeting held on March 15th 1993 make clear, “This was not a success.” There were only 32 competitors, where 60 were needed in order to be safe financially. As a result, there was a hefty deficit of £70, with the Association covering £30 of the loss and Tynedale the remainder.
Possible causes for the disappointing turnout included poor public transport to Hexham on a Sunday morning; a Newcastle United televised match; a date near to Christmas; and a smoking ban in force. Significantly, there were only six entries from Association members. The rest came almost entirely from Tyne and Wear. “The Open tournament was very strong, with 200+ graded players David Mooney (Sunderland YMCA) and Tim Wall (Wallsend) sharing the first and second prizes with 4.1/2 out of 5. […] Tom MacAllister (Wallsend) won the Major with 4/5 […] Tony Davey and Sam Swain (both NLTSR) shared the Minor with 4/5 […] There were 12 competitors in the Open and 10 each in the Major (145 and under) and Minor (100 and under).”
On a more positive note, the first league dinner took place at the Oddfellows in Haydon Bridge on December 18th and was attended by twenty-one people.
As the remaining newsletters of the league season and the minutes of the executive committee meeting of March 15th 1993 make clear, there was an on-going problem in the league about matches postponed through shortage of players. In his newsletter of December 20th 1992, Mike ruled that “for the remainder of the season, lack of availability of a fourth player shall not constitute a reason for postponement.” Even so the next newsletter, dated February 7th 1993, listed the dates of four rearranged matches, and Mike was moved to let off steam:
“One of the prime reasons why I am so reluctant to have matches re-arranged is that team captains are far better at calling matches off than they are at actually making new arrangements! Almost invariably I have to get involved and put the pressure on to get a new date fixed. Before I do that I go through phases of wondering why I haven’t got the match result, hearing a rumour that there’s been a postponement, putting off writing the next newsletter, getting all up tight and wondering whether to invoke my powers to impose penalties for not sticking to the league schedule, then getting on the blower and trying to sound all nice and mellow and understanding about things. Finally I let off steam in the next Newsletter which I’ve delayed (along with the next Courant entry) because I don’t like washing the League’s dirty linen in public.”
And he concluded his remarks with the following declaration:
“Re-arranging matches is categorically a last resort!”
The problem rumbled on until the next AGM, held at Haydon Bridge on May 17th 1993. Mike reported that “there were one or two problems with postponed matches where teams were cancelling because they could not field their strongest team.” The minutes show that there was some resistance to Mike’s attempts to tackle the problem: “Difficult to know where to draw the line, and there was some discussion which suggested that the team cancelling must accept a date within four weeks and agree a new fixture at the time of cancellation. However there was no resolution on this matter.”
By the time of the AGM the league season was over. Tynedale Hers took the title with 18 points, three points clear of Hallbankgate Ogres, with Alston third on 13 points, followed by Hallbankgate Goblins (12 points), QEHS Monarchs (11), Tynedale His (10) and Haydon Bridge (5). Board prizes went to David Weldon (Tynedale Hers) on board 1, Mike Nicholson (Tynedale His) on 2, Kevin Graham (Alston) on 3 and Stuart Hardcastle (Hallbankgate Ogres) on 4.
The AGM was much better attended than in previous years, with no fewer than nine people present. This was perhaps in response to the opening paragraph of Mike’s tenth newsletter, issued on April 9th 1993, and the longest yet at three sides. Announcing the date of the AGM, Mike wrote:
“Please try to attend, and bring along as many of your club members as you can. This is the one time in the year when we can all get together to discuss the Association and where we go from here. We’ve been running for five years now, with little change to the format. It would be good to know how players feel and what they want.”
According to the minutes of the AGM, “Mike Nicholson was thanked by the chairman (Rex Horrocks), on behalf of all present, for his unstinting and brilliant oganisation.” Treasurer David Tulip reported a healthy balance of £70, despite the Association’s paying out £30 to cover part of the loss made by the rapid-play event. However, the annual subscription for each team, which had stood at £4 since the creation of the Association, would have to be raised to £10 in order to cover the cost of £6 per team levied by the British Chess Federation as a grading fee. And junior chess was discussed at some length, “from which it was obvious that there is considerable enthusiasm from both Tynedale and Alston […] There is every expectation that this aspect of chess in Tynedale will thrive in the coming year.”
The new season saw significant changes to the league, with both Hallbankgate and Tynedale down to one team each. However, part of the shortfall was made up by the addition of a team from Haltwhistle, the Black Bull Crowners. The league got under way in October, and the QEHS Monarchs v Tynedale Hers match was played over eight boards at the request of Monarchs – a healthy state of affairs there at least, involving a good many juniors.
The Tynedale rapid-play event, held on November 13th, went much better this time, with an entry of 75, of whom 73 turned up, no fewer than 36 of them being juniors. The one disappointment was that, excluding Tynedale, only three members of the Association entered. There were 23 players in the Open, where A. R. Lawson (Wallsend) and C. Ray (Cramlington) shared first prize. The Major had 14 players and was won by Paul Costello (King’s). And the Minor, with 36 players, was won by Fred Stobbart (Hetton Lyons).
The second league dinner was held at the Greenhead Hotel on March 18th. As Mike Nicholson put it, “an enjoyable evening ran on into the early hours. Vocal entertainment was self-inflicted to the accompaniment of a piano accordion.”
The new league champions, on 14 points, were Hallbankgate Ogres, one point ahead of Tynedale Hers and a revitalised Haydon Bridge. Alston and QEHS Monarchs finished on 9, with newcomers Black Bull Crowners notching up just 2 points from one win out of ten matches. Board prizes again went to David Weldon on 1, Mike Nicholson on 2 and Stuart Hardcastle on 4, the only newcomer being Bill McConnachie (Alston) on 3.
The Association’s annual rapid-play event did not take place. Tynedale had decided not to run it, as they had insufficient seniors to cope safely with the likely numbers. In his fifteenth newsletter, dated December 4th 1994, Mike Nicholson noted that “the STCA hasn’t finally decided whether to run the congress itself” and went on to comment: “It has to be said that there has been very limited interest amongst STCA players in playing in a congress. Maybe some alternative type of event would suit. Ideas to Ian [Emmerson, the secretary] please!” Evidently there was insufficient enthusiasm within the STCA for the event and it lapsed definitively.
As for the league, it was contested by the same six teams as in the previous season, but by December the problem of postponed matches had raised its head once more. Mike highlighted the issue in the newsletter already quoted, under the heading “Mike’s Gripe”.
“It’s the old, old problem of matches being postponed and then not re-arranged. Trouble is, in a league as small as ours, the odd few matches that aren’t played leave gaping holes in the league table. I take the attitude that publishing a table for a league that isn’t functioning efficiently is bad publicity, so I haven’t put anything in the Courant this season. The league table shows where the problems lie. We’re here to play chess and enjoy it. Let’s play chess!”
The next newsletter, dated March 6th 1995, revealed that the Black Bull Crowners had only managed two matches, both of which they lost 4-0, before folding, so that the league was now down to five teams. Tynedale Hers looked unstoppable and by the end of the season had 15 out of a possible 16 points. Alston followed at a distance with 9 points, then came Hallbankgate Ogres (8), QEHS Monarchs (6) and Haydon Bridge, back on their customary bottom spot with just two points. Board prizes went to Ian Lambie (Tynedale Hers) on 1, Roger Ball (Alston) on 2, Tim Wrigley (Tynedale Hers) on 3 and Keith Watson (Tynedale Hers) on 4.
At the AGM held at Haydon Bridge on June 6th 1995 and attended by nine members, it was “agreed that the league would extend its area to Wark if there was a team there willing to play, as had been rumoured.” The rumour proved unfounded, despite a visit to the Battlesteads Hotel by Ian Lambie and Mike Nicholson to discuss the possibility, and no Wark team materialised. No league dinner had been arranged, but nine junior “tournaments” had been held at Tynedale, and Haltwhistle were keen to be involved.
At the end of newsletter no. 17, dated April 27th 1995, Mike Nicholson had announced that he had been invited to become President of the Northumberland Chess Association for the period 1995-2000, which clearly made him an even more busy man. So it is perhaps not surprising that the next newsletter did not appear until February 27th 1996, a hiatus for which Mike duly apologised.
The league was contested by the same five teams, with Hallbankgate Ogres emerging victorious with 14 points out of a possible 16. Next came Tynedale Hers and QEHS Monarchs, both on 11, and far, far behind were Alston and Haydon Bridge, both on 2. It had clearly been a three-horse race! Board winners were Ian Lambie (Tynedale Hers) on 1, Mike Nicholson (Tynedale Hers) on 2, P. L. Brown (Hallbankgate) on 3 and T. Lester (Hallbankgate) on 4.
The AGM was held at Alston on May 13th, but no trace of it survives.
With Mike under pressure work-wise, newsletters were once again a bit few and far between, with one dated January 12th 1997 and another April 27th .
The same five teams contested the league and they finished in exactly the same order as in the previous season. Hallbankgate Ogres ran away with the title, netting 15 points from a possible 16 and becoming the first team to win the league on two successive occasions. In so doing, they broke a pattern extending back seven years during which they and Tynedale Hers had won the title on alternate years. Tynedale Hers and QEHS Monarchs garnered just 7 points each, while Alston (6 points) and Haydon Bridge (5) improved significantly on their previous season. Board prizes went to Jonathan Nicholas (QEHS Monarchs) on 1, Tim Wrigley (Tynedale Hers) on 2, R. L. Bowley (Hallbankgate) on 3 and Ian Emmerson (QEHS Monarchs) on 4.
At the AGM held at Hexham on May 12th 1997, Mike observed that
“There are signs that two or three clubs could play more players, or even consider second teams, while Haydon Bridge continue to have difficulty fielding four boards consistently […] The league format has the effect of forcing regular inter-club competition – with what appear to be generally enjoyable outcomes – but does not necessarily provide for all those who might like to play.”
This optimistic assessment was to prove shortlived, as we shall see.
Mike also proposed “an alternative method of determining board prize winners. I feel it might be preferable to award the prizes to players scoring the largest number of points (instead of those scoring the highest percentage). Thus in the [leader-board] tables […] the winners this year would have been Herbie Greener, David Tulip, Chris Swales and Ian Emmerson. Naturally such a system would favour those playing regularly rather than those scoring heavily in perhaps only half of the available games, but this seems only proper.”
His proposal was duly adopted for the 1997-98 season and has remained in place ever since.
His final observations concerned the survival of the league: “We are still not doing enough to ensure our succession. Too many of us are at the wrong end of our playing careers! Ideas would be welcome.”
Whether ideas were forthcoming or not is hard to tell, as no minutes of the AGM survive (the passages above are taken from a document – the league controller’s report to the AGM – prepared in advance of the meeting), but subsequent newsletters suggest it was a case of business as usual.
The new season got under way in October, with the same five teams. Tynedale Hers got back to their winning ways this time, taking the title with six wins and two draws for a total of 14 points out of a possible 16. QEHS Monarchs were next on 12 points, then came Hallbankgate Ogres on 8, Alston on 4 and Haydon Bridge on 2. Board winners under the new system were Ian Lambie (Tynedale Hers) on 1, Tim Wrigley (Tynedale Hers) on 2, Ralph Fawcett (QEHS Monarchs) on 3 and Ian Emmerson (QEHS Monarchs) on 4. So between them the two Hexham-based sides cleaned up.
Held on September 22nd 1998, the tenth AGM “noted with regret that Ernst Schroder had died during the last year.” Ernst had been involved in the very first meetings to set up the Association and had played for Tynedale His in the early days of the league.
At this AGM, David Tulip (Haydon Bridge) resigned as treasurer after ten years in office. He was replaced by Jonathan Nicholas (QEHS Monarchs).
In his league controller’s report to the AGM, Mike wrote:
“There was no sign of a revival in the number of teams, or for that matter in the number of players […] The threat to the league was illustrated nowhere better than at Haydon Bridge, who would have been unable to field a side had it not been for an exceptional arrangement whereby one player was permitted to represent two clubs, and another transferred to Haydon Bridge for the sole purpose of helping to keep the team in existence. Nonetheless these stratagems worked, and it is to be hoped that the club’s nucleus will serve soon as a growth point.”
The players in question were Mike himself, who played top board for Haydon Bridge throughout the season, and Ian Emmerson who, as well as playing for QEHS Monarchs, turned out once for Haydon Bridge. But while these stratagems worked, they were clearly not desirable and there was undoubtedly a question-mark over the continuing viability of the Haydon Bridge club. However, there were evidently moves afoot to expand the league, for the minutes inform us that “concerning the approach to Austin Friar’s School, the ball was in their court but Rex [Horrocks, the chairman] would ask Alan [Hiatt] again.” As we shall see, these overtures were to prove successful and would save the Association from potential melt-down.
Mike’s other comment about the 1997-98 season concerned junior involvement:
“Tynedale managed to bring in juniors on occasion and have plans to increase this trend. The junior Ellwoods also turned out for Alston. However, more clubs need to encourage juniors if the league is to survive – and if the Association is to fulfil the aims of its constitution.”
The minutes of the AGM tell us that Mike’s report was duly received and “thanks were extended to Mike for his efforts and everyone agrees that he bears the lion’s share of the responsibility for keeping the league running smoothly.” But they also record that “Mike indicated that he needed to feel a bit more enthusiasm from other members and some response was required from them.”
Another item in the minutes illustrates the point. “It was disappointing that nothing had got into the newspapers about the activities of the league in the last year.” This void reflected the fact that Mike was no longer acting as “Press Officer” and there was uncertainty surrounding whose responsibility it was. Here was further evidence that the Association was struggling, and it comes as no surprise to read that “Future of league to be discussed at an Executive meeting on 7th Dec.”
For the new season, the league was joined by a sixth team, the Friars, based on Austin Friars School in Carlisle. Alas, their arrival was counter-balanced by the departure of the once all-conquering Hallbankgate Ogres, so that the league continued to be a five-team affair. The Friars raced to an impressive league title in their first year, finishing on 13 points, well clear of QEHS Monarchs on 8, Alston and Tynedale Hers on 7, and Haydon Bridge (for whom Mike Nicholson again turned out on top board all season) on 5. Leader-board prizes went to Mike on 1, Bill McConnachie (Alston) on 2, Ralph Fawcett (QEHS Monarchs) on 3 and Ian Emmerson (QEHS Monarchs) on 4.
So another league season was completed, but not without problems along the way. Minutes of the executive committee meeting held at Haydon Bridge on March 15th 1999 inform us that “results of two matches had not been communicated to the controller and three more had still to be reorganised and then played. This was a real problem for the controller who had a good grumble about the difficulties of running the organisaton under these conditions. Rex [Horrocks] agreed to get the problems sorted out as they were mainly with his team.” If Alston were having difficulties, including defaulting a board in two of their last three matches, so were other teams. Haydon Bridge relied heavily on Mike to make up their team, and QEHS Monarchs also needed to be helped out, this time by Tom McKay of Haydon Bridge who played for both teams, eventually turning out for the Monarchs on no fewer than four occasions.
We learn from Mike’s newsletter no. 26, dated May 10th 1999, that “the December meeting of the Executive Committee concentrated on ideas for modifying and improving competition within the STCA. The plan which attracted most support envisaged a two-part activity through the season: a league as now, but restricted to a single round and to be completed in one half of the season (probably the first half) and a series of jamborees, one at each club venue (space and time permitting) in the other half. The latter would again be team events, though without the need to form fixed teams or to adhere to transferability rules. The idea behind this proposal was to add variety and increase contact between players in the Association.”
Here was the first seed of the current Haydon Bridge Jamboree, but the notion that such events might occupy half the season was testimony to the severity of the problems facing the league. However, there was hope in a different direction, for the same newsletter informs us that “Alan Hiatt has expressed the hope that a second team might be created basd on the Friars/Carlisle/Hallbankgate axis, and this could influence our thinking.”
The executive committee meeting of March 15th 1999 considered various suggestions “to jolly up the Association:
a) Three-man teams were considered but rejected […]
b) Individual knockout. No enthusiasm for this […]
c) All teams meet together for a ‘jamboree’. Much more enthusiasm for this […]
d) Handicap system. Discussed and not receiving great enthusiasm from those present […]”
This was the first time a handicap system had been mentioned, and its time would soon come. Meanwhile, the next AGM was coming up and in his twenty-sixth newsletter, Mike entered the following personal plea:
“I would be mightily relieved to have people come forward to take on jobs in the Association. The executive body at present does not have the people in it to make a proper job of planning and organising the events we are or could be introducing, and we continue to teeter on the brink …”
Evidently this plea struck a chord, for when the AGM was held at Haydon Bridge on September 20th 1999, no fewer than thirteen members were present. It was at this meeting that Mike “gave notice of his wish to relinquish his position of League Controller next year. This gives the members the opportunity to find a replacement during the coming year.”
Here was the Association’s biggest challenge so far. Would someone emerge to take over from Mike? And his was not the only post that needed filling. From the treasurer’s report, we learn that “the previous treasurer [Jonathan Nicholas] resigned mid-season. The Chairman [Rex Horrocks] produced an emergency balance sheet which proved to be acceptable and healthy.” It showed that the subscription rate for teams in the league had now risen to £12. Bill Hardwick, of the Friars, was duly appointed as the new treasurer.
The secretary, Ian Emmerson, resigned at the AGM and was replaced by Arthur Fulton, of Haydon Bridge. As for the post of Press Officer, “it was pointed out that [once again] no League activities had been reported to the newspapers.” With no one volunteering to take on the job, Mike Nicholson said he would “attempt to find time to provide some suitable material for the [Hexham] Courant.”
Under A.O.B. we read that “a great deal of discussion took place regarding a handicap system.” It transpires from other papers in the Association’s files that Ian Mackay, who at this time played for Friars, had approached Bill Lumley, of Cleckheaton, for information about how the handicap system operated by the Huddersfield and District Chess Association worked. Bill had sent him a full set of notes setting out both the handicap system and the rules governing their application. It was duly decided at the AGM that the twin issues of a handicap system and a series of jamborees would be “investigated and should be resolved at the Executive Committee meeting” scheduled for November 8th 1999. And indeed at that meeting Mike (inevitably!) undertook to give all league players a handicap between zero and ten based on known grading statistics. The new system would be launched in January 2000.
In essence it followed the Huddersfield system, with handicap points ranging from ten at the bottom, for players graded below 30, to zero at the top, for players graded 155 and above. Players would gain six points for a win and three for a draw. No team could win a match on the basis of handicap points alone, so a team’s match score must include at least three points from a drawn game.
This time there were six teams in the league, the Austins from Carlisle having joined the fray. During the first half of the season, to the end of November, all teams played each other once, without a handicap system in place. The result, after five games each, was that Tynedale Hers, Friars and Austins all had 8 points, with Tynedale topping the table by the narrowest of margins, namely half a game point. After Austins came Alston on 3 points, Haydon Bridge on 2 and QEHS Monarchs on 1. Alston were clearly struggling to raise a team, defaulting two boards against Friars and the entire match against Tynedale Hers.
Events in the league were overshadowed by the death, in January 2000, of Arthur Fulton, of whom Mike wrote in his twenty-eighth newsletter, dated January 18th 2000:
“Arthur has been involved with the STCA since its foundation, and has been one of its most popular and regular contributors. We shall miss him both for his swashbuckling chess and for his warmth and friendliness and sense of humour. He took over as Association secretary only this year [i.e. this season] and was getting to grips with the much-feared task of results grading. Our thoughts are with his family and with his friends at Haydon Bridge Chess Club.”
A meeting of the executive committee on January 24th 2000 scrutinised the handicap league rules drafted by Mike and made several important changes:
1. After the introduction of the handicap system, the league would be “determined on match points (win = 2, draw = 1) to simplify the calculation and make the system more transparent.”
2. The league championship would be “determined by direct addition of match points gained in the non-handicap and handicap [phases of the] league, with tie-splitting based on game points scored in the non-handicap [phase].”
3. “A rule was introduced to prevent a match being won on handicap points alone.”
4. “A system was devised to cope with situations where captains wish to include ungraded players.”
5. “All individual handicaps were considered […] and a small number of changes were made.”
With these points established, the league proceeded, using the handicap system for the second half of the season. Interestingly, just one board was defaulted, by Alston, in the entire second half of the season, and the outcome was intriguing. With the exception of Haydon Bridge, who managed zero points, all the teams finished on six match points, so that it was game points which determined the following pecking order: 1. Tynedale Hers. 2. Austins. 3. Friars. 4. QEHS Monarchs and Alston. Combining the two halves of the season (non-handicap and handicap) produced the following final league table: First: Tynedale Hers 14 match points and 28.1/2 game points. Second equal: Austins and Friars 14 match points and 25.1/2 game points. Fourth: Alston 9 match points. Fifth: QEHS Monarchs 7 match points. Sixth: Haydon Bridge 2 match points.
The leader-board combining the two halves of the season produced the following winners: board 1 David Weldon (Tynedale Hers); board 2 Ian Lambie (Tynedale Hers); board 3 Alan Hiatt (Friars); and board 4 Bill Hardwick (Friars).
Mike Nicholson’s newsletter no. 32, dated April 15th 2000, which conveyed the above information, also offered “Some further thoughts on next season. The final round results produced what is presumably a not surprising outcome if the handicap system works, i.e. five of the six teams finished first equal on match points. If the whole of next season is played under the handicap system, as was suggested by the recent executive meeting, then the effect will be to give more weight to game results in determining the season’s champion team. Effectively this is what happened this year […]
Matters this year have been complicated by the inaccuracies of the grading lists and also by the unsatisfactory evidence about playing strength of some ungraded players. There have also been odd instances, but not insignificant ones, of the evening’s proceedings being confused by handicap uncertainties when matters could have been sorted out in advance, and captains not having copies of the grading/handicap chart to hand. Such issues are important but not insuperable, and need to be reviewed before the start of 2000-01.”
As ever, Mike’s grasp of every detail of the new system and his concern that it should work efficiently are in evidence here, as in the minutes of the executive committee meeting which had been held on April 3rd. There he had presented an analysis of how the handicap system had affected the outcome of matches. Of the twelve matches played by that point in time, “eight had been won by the team with the stronger overall grading, i.e. despite the deficit in handicap points. One match where handicap points had been equal had resulted in a 3.1/2 to 1/2 score. The remaining three matches had resulted in wins for the team with the advantage of the handicap.”
He went on to consider “how the points system might be modified if it were thought worthwhile to try to balance the winning chances to an even greater extent. To alter the handicapping system would be messy, and it would be difficult to predict the effect of any change. However, he noted that reducing the points for a won game from 6 to 4, and for a drawn game from 3 to 2, would have made the outcome of the eight above games closer, while only affecting the result of one of them (turning a win into a draw).”
During the ensuing discussion, “there was general agreement that handicapping had revitalised the league and was to be welcomed.” It was also agreed “that the aim should be to work towards balancing the wining chances while still leaving the advantage in favour of the stronger teams (to give the advantage to weaker teams would diminish the league’s credibility).” “It was also felt that increasing the incentive for weaker players [who attracted a large number of handicap points and could thus feel they were making a contribution to the team effort even if they lost] was good for the prospects of expanding the league, there having been too many examples of new players – and even teams – being thrust into match play too quickly with little prospect of victory, and hence dropping out.”
The upshot of the discussion was an agreement to recommend to the AGM in September 2000
“A) that the whole of next season’s programme should be played under the handicap system.
B) that game points next season should be reduced from 6 to 4 for a win and from 3 to 2 for a draw.”
This latter recommendation would, as we shall see, have an unforeseen and undesirable consequence.
It is clear that the arrival of Friars and Austins on the scene, together with the new handicap system, had revived the fortunes of the Association. And so it was fitting that Syd Cassidy’s offer to organise a league jamboree at the Belted Will, Hallbankgate on June 8th 2000 received general support, despite the fact that it had been decided previously to hold fire on that idea in order to concentrate on introducing the handicap league. The jamboree would be a double round event for six teams of four, with 45 minutes per player per game.
Furthermore, “Alan Hiatt had previously suggested that the league should mark Arthur Fulton’s wholehearted contribution over the years, and Syd suggested obtaining a plaque for the winning team at the jamboree – the Arthur Fulton Memorial Trophy.”
The only negative note to be sounded at the executive committee meeting concerned “the lack of publicity in the Hexham and Cumbria papers”, which the committee “felt to be a serious omission.” And of course the next AGM would have to come up with a new secretary and, more importantly, a new league controller.
Meanwhile, the inaugural South Tyne Jamboree took place on June 8th as planned, and a team from Austins became first ever winners of the Arthur Fulton Memorial Trophy, which had been presented to the Association by Arthur’s widow, Kathleen.
The AGM was held at Haydon Bridge on September 11th, 2000. Mike, who was unable to attend, had produced his final league controller’s report, in which he recorded the fact that the handicap system had received general support and added that “We are indebted to Ian Mackay for introducing the handicap system to us.” There was one problem: “For a handicap system of this type to continue to be acceptable to teams and players, everyone must feel confident in the grading system, and the much-chronicled but not widely admitted failings of the BCF [British Chess Federation] on this front threaten to queer our pitch.” However, results had been re-submitted and re-graded, as a result of which “an interim, provisional calculation of grades has been completed […] It is not perfect, but it should enable the STCA league to start without a feeling that some teams are unduly favoured or disadvantaged by the grading system’s shortcomings.”
Mike concluded his report with this paragraph:
“I have enjoyed running the league on behalf of the STCA, but am now more than ready to take a back seat and simply play chess. I want to thank all my friends and colleages for their support. The league makes a substantial contribution to chess in the north Pennine area, and I look forward to seeing future developments. I wish my successor well.”
It is a matter of regret that no minutes of the AGM survive to record the Association’s indebtedness to Mike for his massive contribution over the twelve years of its existence. From the very first informal meeting back in June 1988, Mike had been at the forefront, not merely floating ideas but making sure that they turned into reality by dint of unstinting effort. Not only had he run the league for twelve years but he had also produced thirty-two newsletters, as well as innumerable reports for the Hexham Courant. During the same period, he had dealt with all the vexed issues related to grading, producing his own unofficial grading list and liaising with the Northumbrian and Cumbrian graders and with the BCF. He had been instrumental in setting up the inaugural rapid-play tournament, as well as acting as controller of the event. He had devised a system which made it possible to create a leader-board and award individual prizes and had later come up with an alternative system which he felt was fairer. When the introduction of a handicap system was proposed, it was Mike who drew up not only the draft rules which would govern the running of the handicap league, but also the individual handicaps for every player. Quite simply, the creation and the continued existence and evolution of the Association were unthinkable without Mike. Whoever took over from him had a very hard act to follow.
It was Syd Cassidy, who played for Austins, who took up the reins. He ensured good coverage of the new league season, producing no fewer than five newsletters between November 2000 and June 2001. He also posted results and league tables on the Cumbria Chess website.
Alston struggled throughout the season to put out a full team, defaulting a board on three occasions and “borrowing” Jim Dixon of Haydon Bridge on a fourth. In addition, they defaulted their match away to QEHS Monarchs , and apparently “no result was sent in for the return match and neither team was able to remember the details, so it has gone in as a 0-0 draw!”
The league champions were Friars, with an impressive 18 points from a possible 20. Tynedale Hers and Austins both had 11 points, then came QEHS Monarchs on 10, Alston on 7 and Haydon Bridge on 3. On the leader-board, Ian Lambie (Tynedale Hers), Max Brown, Alan Hiatt and Bill Hardwick (all Friars) were the winners.
The second South Tyne Jamboree was organised by John McKee at Hexham on May 21st 2001, when eight teams competed for the Arthur Fulton Memorial trophy. Already the practice was established that teams would be formed on the night, with players borrowed from other participating clubs where necessary, to ensure that everyone got to play and that, as far as possible, all teams had four players. The keynote was informality, with no great competitiveness surrounding the outcome. The result on this occasion was a win for a Tynedale Hers side, just a whisker ahead of a Tynedale His side.
By the time of the next AGM, held at Haydon Bridge on September 11th 2001 and attended by just five members, there was something of an organisational crisis. Rex Horrocks, who had been chairman of the Association since October 1989, was standing down and was thanked, in his absence, for his contribution over the years. In addition, the post of secretary had remained unfilled since Arthur Fulton’s death in January 2000.
In the event, both posts remained unfilled. Syd continued as league controller and also served as acting secretary, producing the minutes of the AGM. Bill Hardwick continued as treasurer, and Tony Baker, of Friars, was grader, a post which may well have been created at the previous AGM. Bill reported that annual income, made up of £12 affiliation fees from six teams, was now outstripped by expenditure, given that ECF grading fees had to be paid. He suggested that next season it might be necessary either to stop the board prizes (£10 to each of four players) or raise the affiliation fee.
As far as the league was concerned, Tony Baker had produced a handicap list based on the latest ECF list and this was adopted with some modifications. In addition, a refinement of the handicap system was approved, whereby “the maximum handicap difference on any individual board should be three points. If the difference is greater than three, then points will be added to the handicap of the player with the lower handicap, to reduce the difference to three.” This was designed to resolve the problem of a player who won his game, yet counted negatively for his team where the handicap difference was greater than the four points for the win. “Likewise it was felt that a player who won his game […] should contribute something to the team result, which cannot happen where the handicap difference is exactly four.” This problem had only arisen as a consequence of reducing the points score for a win from 6 to 4 points.
Once the new season started, the defaults began to come in thick and fast. Alston were struggling to put out a full team, but so too were QEHS Monarchs, who had to “borrow” David Tulip of Haydon Bridge on one occasion, even to manage a three-board match. By the end of the season, Alston had defaulted one entire match as well as six individual boards. QEHS Monarchs had defaulted on four boards, as well as playing a three-board match against Friars, who had also played a three-board match against Haydon Bridge. Were the days of the four-board team numbered? And for how much longer would the league have six teams?
With all fixtures completed, Friars retained their league title with 17 points from 20, just one point ahead of Tynedale Hers. As Syd observed, “it was a very close call. Tynedale actually beat Friars in their last match, but could not recover from losing to QEHS earlier in the season.” Third some way behind were Austins on 9 points, with Haydon Bridge – yes, Haydon Bridge! – and QEHS Monarchs on 8, and Alston on 2. The relative success of the Haydon Bridge side was in large measure due to the fact that Ian Mackay, who had played for Austins during the two previous seasons, had switched to Haydon Bridge purely and simply to keep that team afloat, just as Mike Nicholson had done earlier. Ian did it in style, taking the prize for board one with a score of six out of nine. Other prizes went to Mark Taylor (Tynedale Hers) on 2, Daniel O’Dowd (Friars) on 3 and David Wrigley (Tynedale Hers) on 4. This outcome was notable for the fact that the last three named were all young players who had come through the ranks as juniors.
The final event of the season was the South Tyne Jamboree, again organised by John McKee at Hexham. Seven teams took part, one of them rejoicing in the name of Fridale, reflecting the fact that they were a composite team drawing on players from both Friars and Tynedale. The result was a three-way split, with Friars, Haydon Bridge and Fridale all notching up 5.1/2 points. Curiously, the names appearing on the trophy for 2002 are Austins, Haydon Bridge and Tynedale. Was this an attempt to separate out the Austins and Tynedale components of the Fridale team and, even if so, what happened to Friars?
Syd’s eleventh newsletter, no.43 dated September 2002, included an account of the AGM held at Haydon Bridge on September 9th, with eight members present. The post of chairman, now upgraded to president, was filled by Tom McKay of Haydon Bridge, and a new post of public relations officer was created, with John McKee of QEHS Monarchs the man for the job. There was still no secretary, which meant in effect that Syd continued to combine that role with his position as league controller.
Treasurer Bill Hardwick reported that the Association was running an annual deficit of £40 to £50. “Stopping board prizes was discussed and rejected; stopping payment for grading to the BCF was also rejected; it was finally decided to run a raffle at the jamboree and to raise the team entry fee from £12 to £15 for the coming season.”
The Association’s grader, Tony Baker, “produced the new grading list and this was accepted as reasonably accurate and was accepted without modification. Tony is to try and ensure that all new players in the league will get an estimated grade as soon as he has sufficient games to go on.”
“In a general discussion on the format of the league the consensus was that it appeared to be running well and there was little need to change things.”
The newsletter also contained a full fixture list for the forthcoming season and a full grading/handicap list comprising 43 names. With six teams competing and a system that had now bedded down, it was full steam ahead! By the end of the season, just four individual boards had been defaulted, three by Alston and one by Friars. Austins took the title for the first time with 16 points, ahead of Tynedale Hers and Friars on 12, Haydon Bridge on 10, Alston on 8 and QEHS Monarchs on 2. Leader-board prizes went to Dennis Bates (Austins) on 1, John Foster (Austins) on 2, David Wrigley (Tynedale Hers) on 3 and Matthew Taylor (Tynedale Hers) on 4.
The South Tyne Jamboree, held this time at Haydon Bridge on June 9th, wound up the season. It began with a minute’s silence in memory of Ian Lambie of Tynedale and Peter Buchanan of Alston, both of whom had been long-term stalwarts of their respective clubs. Seven teams competed and a team from league champions Austins ran out clear winners from a Friars team.
The AGM was held at Haydon Bridge on September 9th, with six members present. All officers were re-elected, with the post of secretary now suspended indefinitely, it seems.
In a move which brought the South Tyne league into line with changed practice elsewhere, “the time limit for matches was altered to 1.1/2 hours for each player for all moves. The old rule of 30 moves in 1.1/4 hours is scrapped and the clocks will not be put back 15 minutes at any stage.”
Interesting games could be sent to Tim Wrigley for publication on the Tynedale Chess Club website, and/or to Syd for publication in the newsletter, and/or to John McKee who might use them in newspaper reports. This information, along with the season’s fixture list and details of grades and handicaps for 43 players, appeared in newsletter no. 49, dated September 2003. It was, or so it seemed, business as usual.
However, the next newsletter, dated November 2003, carried the news that “Dick Ellwood has made the decision that Alston will not be fulfilling their fixtures this season, at least not until after Christmas. They will try and put together a team to play the “return” matches in the second half of the season but until then Dick and Bill [McConnachie] are likely to be occasional players for Haydon Bridge.”
So it was down to a league of five teams (or five and a half!) once more. But there was no lack of excitement, as Syd observed: “The handicap system is certainly kicking in with a vengeance this season as far as Tynedale’s matches are concerned: two wins at the board for Tynedale ending up as 1-point wins for Monarchs and Haydon Bridge, nail-biting stuff!” Subsequently, defending champions Austins drew over the board with Tynedale Hers but lost on handicap. The new system was certainly making the outcome of each match much more unpredictable and therefore much more fun for all concerned.
Newsletter no. 51, dated December 2003, conveyed the startling information that Haydon Bridge of all teams topped the table, having won three of their four opening games, as a result of which they were two points clear of their nearest rivals! It couldn’t last, could it? Alas, no. Tynedale Hers emerged as the new champions, but they were chased all the way by Haydon Bridge.
Unfortunately newsletter no. 54, which would have given the final league table, is missing. But in May 2004, with just one fixture left – a match between Haydon Bridge and QEHS Monarchs – it was already clear that, even if they won that match, Haydon Bridge could not equal Tynedale Hers’ game points total. So it ended up with Tynedale Hers in first place, Haydon Bridge second, Austins third, and Friars and QEHS Monarchs fourth and fifth, the order depending on the result of that final match. Details of the end-of-season leader-board are lacking for the same reason.
Alston, alas, were unable to play any matches at all, and their departure from the league was to prove definitive – a sorry end to a sixteen-year presence in the league of the inaugural champions.
Scheduled for May 25th at Haydon Bridge, the Jamboree was again won by an Austins side.
No record of the AGM survives, since details of it would presumably have been in the missing newsletter. By no. 55, dated November 2004, the league was well under way, with the same five teams playing. Tynedale had now dropped the “Hers” from their title, since it had long since become anachronistic, a Tynedale His side having ceased to exist many years before. And QEHS Monarchs were now known simply as Monarchs, the final link with QEHS having disappeared several years earlier when they switched their venue from the High School to Tynedale Sports Club in Hexham and in effect became another Tynedale side rather than a separate club.
So with Alston no longer active, there were in essence just three centres of chess in the area: Austin Friars in Carlisle, Tynedale in Hexham, and Haydon Bridge, who had survived against all the odds and were now flourishing in the brave new world of a handicap league. And perhaps significantly, the grading list included in newsletter no. 55 comprised just 30 names, a drop of over 25% since the list produced just two years earlier. Was chess in the South Tyne catchment area in terminal decline?
The league at any rate remained exciting, for the first half of the season at least. As Syd wrote in newsletter no. 56, dated April 2005, “at the half-way stage of the league we had the unusual position of all five teams being level on points with two wins and two defeats each. In the second half of the season Friars won all four of their matches and so cannot be caught, though there is still time for a good fight for runners-up.”
At this point there were still three matches to be played, and even by June, when the next newsletter came out, there was, as Syd observed, “still no result from the Tynedale v Haydon Bridge match, so the ‘final’ league table is final insofar as it’s probably all we’re going to get.” It showed Friars as league champions with 12 points from 8 games. Haydon Bridge, with 8 points, and Tynedale 7, both had one game to play. Then came Monarchs on 7 points and Austins on 4. The leader-board prizes went to Mike Nicholson (Tynedale) on 1, Mark Taylor (Tynedale) on 2, Christine Moorcroft (Haydon Bridge) on 3 and Terence Nabbs (Friars) on 4. Christine’s success deserves to be highlighted, for this was the first time in the history of the league that a female had featured amongst the prize-winners.
The Jamboree took place on June 7th at Haydon Bridge. Six teams were involved and a team rejoicing in the name of the Ogres were clear winners.
The AGM was held on September 20th at Haydon Bridge, but it was to be the last. As Syd observes, “With […] just three clubs [Austin Friars, Haydon Bridge and Tynedale] and with the league running pretty smoothly, it was felt that any issues arising could be dealt with by direct contact between those clubs, especially as e-mail had arrived. As I recall, the business was over in twenty minutes. The interest in going to meetings was never very high! Nor in volunteering for jobs.
The other main decision was to dispense with regular paper newsletters as long as all results, league tables, announcements and news items were available to all on the website.”
These decisions are perfectly understandable, for Syd’s willingness to volunteer meant that, as well as running the South Tyne league, he was Cumbria league controller, junior organiser and secretary, as well as being responsible for running both the Friars and the Carlisle clubs. As a result, the documentation where the STCA is concerned becomes extremely sparse at this point, much of the material on the website having disappeared. To the best of my knowledge no newsletter appeared between June 2005 and May 2006. We know that Bill Hardwick continued as treasurer and the Association’s financial position was sound.
The league continued to operate with the same five teams. Friars retained their title, becoming only the second side, after Hallbankgate Ogres, to achieve this feat. They had 13 points, with Tynedale on 9, Haydon Bridge on 8, Austins on 6 and Monarchs on 4. Syd comments: “What started as a very close and competitive league competition ended up as a runaway win for Bill Hardwick’s Friars team. Congratulations to him on astute team selection and man management as his team always seemed to end up on the right side of a series of close results.”
The leader-board prize winners were Terence Nabbs (Friars) on 1 – an astonishing performance from a young man who only the previous year had taken the board four prize! – Syd Cassidy (Austins) on 2, Phil Taylor (Tynedale) on 3 and Bill Hardwick (Friars) on 4.
The Jamboree was held at Haydon Bridge on June 13th when a Friars side was triumphant, to make it a clean sweep for them.
Syd remained in charge of the league and Bill in charge of the finances. The league had now shrunk to just four teams, Tynedale having withdrawn their Monarchs side in order to field a second team in the Northumbrian league.
The next newsletter, again dated May 2006 but clearly belonging to November of that year, shows Austins taking an early lead. Then there is nothing till June 2008, though the Tynedale Chess Club’s e-bulletins allow us to fill the gap partially at least. In December 2006 Tynedale beat Austins 3-1 over the board and in total and moved to the top of the table. They then drew over the board and on handicap with Haydon Bridge in January 2007; beat Friars 3-1 over the board and in total in February; and again beat Austins, this time 2.1/2-1.1/2 over the board and in total, to take the league title with a total of nine match points. Their two glitches, a draw and a loss, were both against Haydon Bridge, who finished second overall on 7 points. Third were Friars on 4, then Austins, also on 4. Leader-board prizes went to Ian Mackay (Haydon Bridge) on 1, Malcolm Reid (Tynedale) on 2, Christine Moorcroft (Haydon Bridge) on 3 and David Tulip (Haydon Bridge) on 4. Clearly it was very nearly Haydon Bridge’s big year.
An innovation was the resurrection of the South Tyne rapidplay event, held at Haydon Bridge on May 20th, and restricted to members of the STCA. Sixteen players took part and the winner was Ian Mackay with a perfect 5/5.
The Jamboree, held at Haydon Bridge on June 12th, was won by an Austins side.
Syd and Bill were still running things, and the league had gone back up to five teams, with Tynedale’s Monarchs side resuming their place. A newsletter dated June 2008 gave a round-up of the season. Friars took the title with 12 points, just one point ahead of Tynedale. Then came Haydon Bridge on 7 points, Austins on 6 and Monarchs on 4. Syd commented: “Well done to Friars on winning the league and to Tynedale who pushed them all the way. It seems to be a duopoly for these two teams with the rest trying to break in”. Leader-board prizes went to Ian Mackay (Haydon Bridge) on 1, Bruce Wallace (Friars) on 2, Phil Taylor (Tynedale) on 3 and Bill Hardwick (Friars) on 4.
The second edition of the South Tyne rapidplay event was held at Haydon Bridge on May 18th. Once again it resulted in a clear win for Ian Mackay, this time with 4.1/2 out of 5. Syd commented: “The turnout for this tournament was poor [there were just eight competitors] but nevertheless it was every bit as competitive as last year and Ian thoroughly deserved his win. Another one to look out for is 10 year old Camas, not afraid to mix it with the adults.” Camas Millar finished equal fourth with 2 points, well clear of his dad, Drew!
There is no record of the Jamboree, held on June 17th at Haydon Bridge, but it was won by a team from Tynedale.
A year elapsed between newsletters, with one dated June 2009 providing all the results for the 2008-09 season. It transpires that, for the first time ever, Monarchs were clear winners of the league with 15 points out of 16, followed at a distance by Haydon Bridge on 10, Friars on 9, Austins on 5 and Tynedale on 1. So the two teams which had traditionally been at the bottom of the table came out on top, while Tynedale, one of Syd’s ‘duopoly’, collapsed, scraping just one draw. Whatever happened to the form book!
Leader-board prizes went to Colin Davison (Monarchs) on 1, Mike Nicholson (Tynedale) on 2, David Wrigley (Monarchs) on 3 and Bill Hardwick (Friars) on 4.
The Jamboree was held at Haydon Bridge on June 17th. “Six members of Tynedale attended and a good time was had by all. Four of them made up a Tynedale team which finished last, while the other two joined a composite team which did a little better […] David Wrigley was the most successful, with two wins out of two. A Friars team won the event and Tim Wrigley won the raffle!” (Tynedale Chess Club e-bulletin no. 26).
Following the revision by the ECF of their grading system, the Association’s handicap system was revised accordingly by adding 20 grading points throughout, so that the handicapping bands now ran from 175 upwards at the top to 50 downwards at the bottom. This revised system was used for the first time during the 2009-10 season, all the results for which were given in a newsletter dated June 2010. Monarchs retained their title with 13 points out of 16, though they were chased hard by a resurgent Tynedale side on 11 points. Next came Austins on 9, Haydon Bridge on 5 and Friars on 2. Leader-board prizes went to David Wrigley (Monarchs) on 1, Derek Blair (Monarchs) on 2, Tim Wrigley (Monarchs) on 3 and Bill Hardwick (Friars) on 4. For Bill it was the fourth such prize in five years!
News of the Jamboree comes from Tynedale Chess Club e-bulletin no. 34: “Held at Haydon Bridge on May 18th this was, as always, a very enjoyable evening, well supported by Tynedale, who had nine members present. These were spread across three different teams. The team captained by Mike Nicholson made a storming start with 3.5 out of 4 in the first round, but proceeded to disappear off the radar in round 2. Two composite teams, one of them led by David Wrigley, came through to share first spot.” The two teams in question were an Austins side and a composite team calling themselves Trio, because they had just three players, all from different clubs.
Again there is just one newsletter, dated June 2011, which gives all the league results for the season. Monarchs triumphed for the third year in a row, “something never done in this league before,” as Syd pointed out. They finished on 13 points out of 16, with Austins on 11, Friars and Dyvels (the new name for the Tynedale side, reflecting the fact that Tynedale chess club’s venue was now the Dyvels pub in Corbridge) on 6, and Haydon Bridge on 4. Not a single game was defaulted, though the Monarchs /Dyvels match was played over three boards only, whereas the Friars/Austins match was a six-board affair! Leader-board prizes went to David Wrigley (Monarchs) on 1, Kevin Southernwood (Austins) on 2, Tim Wrigley (Monarchs) on 3 and, yes of course, Bill Hardwick (Friars) on 4.
As for the Haydon Bridge Jamboree, the Tynedale Chess Club e-bulletin no. 41 provides the following information: “There was an excellent turnout for this event, held on May 17th, including no less than ten members of Tynedale chess club! [There were 28 players in all, forming 7 teams.] It proved to be a happy night for the Monarchs, who were not only confirmed as league champions but also won the evening’s two-round competition with a quartet comprising the two Wrigleys, Cap’n Derek [Blair], and Steve Larkin. So another trophy for the Monarchs and a broad grin on the Cap’n’s face! Hearty thanks were offered to Syd Cassidy, who has for years run the league and who is now bowing out, to retire to Ireland. He will be a big miss, and it is to be hoped that measures are in hand to find a successor, so that this most enjoyable of leagues can continue to provide the friendly competition which is its hallmark.”
Syd had been league controller since taking over from Mike Nicholson in September 2000. Under his stewardship there had been no major new initiatives, for the organisation he had inherited from Mike worked perfectly well. There was a bit of tweaking to be done to the handicap system, but that was about it. After Alston’s departure from the scene during the 2003-04 season, the league had consolidated into a five-team affair, with hardly any matches – and sometimes hardly any boards – being defaulted. As for the Jamboree, that had become a firmly established and popular fixture.
The biggest change was on the organisational side of things. Where previously there had been a chairman, a secretary, a treasurer and a league controller, with fairly regular meetings of an executive committee and a regular AGM, much of this structure gradually disappeared under Syd’s stewardship, largely due, it has to be said, to a lack of volunteers. Thus, after the death of Arthur Fulton, it proved impossible to fill the post of secretary. The post of chairman was at first unfilled, then briefly revived, before lapsing definitively. A new post of grader operated for a while, at a time when the handicapping system was bedding down, but then it too lapsed. And another new post, that of public relations officer, proved relatively shortlived.
So in essence the Association was run for eleven years by Syd, with Bill Hardwick ever-present as treasurer. AGMs ceased to be held after 2005. As for meetings of an executive committee, no such body seems to have existed after Mike Nicholson stood down as league controller, presumably because there were insufficient officers in post to make it a viable entity.
As Syd and Bill had demonstrated, it was possible to run the Association with this minimalist organisational structure, but only provided nothing changed very much. The scope for new initiatives or for coping with serious changes like the demise of one or more of the league teams was on the face of it very limited – there is only so much that two extremely busy individuals can do. And this potential check on the future vitality, or maybe even the viability, of the Association was thrown into even sharper relief by Syd’s departure. With no volunteers forthcoming to take over Syd’s role, Bill found himself running the entire show single-handed.
In February 2012 Bill produced a newsletter showing the state of play in the league. A subsequent newsletter dated February 2012 but in reality produced at the end of March recorded the final outcome of the league, with a full set of results. Despite losing their first three matches, the Monarchs took the title for an unprecedented fourth year in a row, but it was a very close-run thing. They finished on 10 points, with the Dyvels on 9, Friars and Haydon Bridge on 8, and Austins on 5. Board prizes went to David Wrigley (Monarchs) on 1, Derek Blair (Monarchs) on 2, young Camas Millar (Austins) on 3 and young Jason Maxwell (Friars) on 4, finally breaking Bill Hardwick’s near monopoly on that prize!
The Jamboree was held at Haydon Bridge on May 22nd. Six teams were involved and a Monarchs side won by just half a point from Friars and the Dyvels.
Bill kept up a steady stream of newsletters chronicling what proved to be the most competitive league season ever. By late March, and with just two matches left to play, four of the five teams still had a chance of taking the title. In the event, it was the last game to finish of the very last match to be played, between Monarchs and Austins, which decided the outcome. Monarchs needed to beat Austins 3-1 in order to win the league for a fifth successive year. Anything less than 3-1 and the title would go to Friars, who had already played their last match. With just one board to be decided, Monarchs led 2-1. On the remaining board (board 2), the two opposing captains, Derek Blair and Bill Hardwick, faced each other. Bill went a pawn up but then dropped a knight. When his two rooks were forked he conceded and Monarchs took the title. It would have been impossible to engineer a more exciting end to the season.
So Monarchs topped the table with 11 points, with Friars on 10, Austins on 8, Dyvels on 7 and Haydon Bridge on 4. Leader-board prizes went to David Wrigley (Monarchs) on 1, Daniel O’Dowd (Friars) on 2, the fast-improving Jason Maxwell (Friars) on 3 and Drew Millar (Austins) on 4.
The Jamboree was held at Haydon Bridge on May 21st. It was particularly fitting that all three league controllers, Mike, Syd and Bill, should be there to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Association’s existence. Mike had travelled up from his home in Shropshire, while Syd had come all the way from Ireland. So he and Mike were able to present Monarchs’ captain Derek Blair with the new league trophy, appropriately named the Syd Cassidy and Mike Nicholson Trophy. The new cup replaced the original trophy, donated by Mike and Jill Nicholson back in 1989 and which no longer had space on it to add further team names. As for the Jamboree itself, seven teams competed and the winners were a composite side styled Carlisle Castles, who finished two points clear of a Monarchs side.
So at the time of writing (summer 2013), the Association’s two events, the league and the Jamboree, are well supported and above all enjoyable. The five teams involved in the league seem to have achieved a reasonable stability in terms of their membership base. There are some fine young players coming through with the two Carlisle teams. And the league itself has never known a more competitive season. All of this is a cause for celebration and, no doubt, a source of great satisfaction to Mike Nicholson, the Association’s prime mover. How long the Association can continue to be run by one individual and how it can respond to future challenges are questions which remain unanswered. Let us hope that the next twenty-five years will provide further evidence of its inherent robustness.
(with grateful thanks to Syd Cassidy, Bill Hardwick and Mike Nicholson for their assistance)
And now for some random facts and figures:
Most successful team
1. Tynedale Hers: seven titles over 17 years, including 2006-07 when “Hers” was dropped from the name.
2. Friars: six titles over 10 years.
3. Monarchs: five consecutive titles.
4. Hallbankgate Ogres: five titles over 8 years.
5= Alston and Austins: one title each.
Most successful individual
I have used the annual leader-boards for this, allocating 3 points to the player who topped each board, 2 for second, and 1 for third. As leader-boards were only introduced from the 1991-92 season onwards, I have created my own leader-board tables for the first three seasons. In so doing, I have adopted the system to which the league switched after the 1996-97 season, i.e. I have listed players by order of their total score rather than by their percentage record. This was the system the league adopted because it was felt to be fairer. However, no leader-board details survive for the 2003-04 season, so this attempt to identify the most successful individuals is at best approximate.
1. Ian Lambie (Tynedale Hers and His) 22 points
2. Ian Mackay (Haydon Bridge) 16 points
3. David Weldon (Tynedale Hers) 14 points
4. Mike Nicholson (Tynedale His) 13 points
5= George Glover (Friars) }
Herbie Greener (Haydon Bridge) } 9 points
David Wrigley (Monarchs) }
1. Mike Nicholson (Tynedale His) 19 points
2. Tim Wrigley (Tynedale Hers and Monarchs) 13 points
3. Mark Taylor (Tynedale) 12 points
4. Syd Cassidy (Austins) 11 points
5. Alan Hiatt (Hallbankgate Goblins and Austins) 9 points
6= Derek Blair (Monarchs) }
Ian Lambie (Tynedale Hers and His) } 8 points
T. Wilkins (Hallbankgate Ogres) }
1= Phil Brown (Hallbankgate Ogres) } 14 points
Tim Wrigley (Tynedale Hers and Monarchs) }
3. Ralph Fawcett (QEHS Monarchs and Haydon Bridge) 13 points
4. Phil Taylor (Tynedale) 9 points
5. Christine Moorcroft (Haydon Bridge) 8 points
6= Alan Hiatt (Hallbankgate Goblins and Friars) } 7 points
David Wrigley (Monarchs) }
1. Bill Hardwick (Friars and Austins) 25 points
2. Ian Emmerson (QEHS Monarchs) 11 points
3. Drew Millar (Austins) 10 points
4= Stuart Hardcastle (Hallbankgate Ogres) }9 points
Matthew Taylor (Tynedale) }
6. E. Kelly (QEHS Monarchs) 6 points
Most enduring players
1 David Tulip (Haydon Bridge) has played in all 25 league seasons.
2. Ralph Fawcett (QEHS Monarchs and Haydon Bridge) has played in 24 seasons, missing only 2008-09.
3= Ian Emmerson (QEHS Monarchs) and Mike Nicholson (Tynedale His) played in 21 or 22 seasons (uncertainty surrounds 2006-07).
5. Alan Hiatt (Hallbankgate Goblins and Friars) has played in 20 seasons.
6. Tim Wrigley (Tynedale Hers and Monarchs) has played in 18 or 19 seasons (2006-07 uncertain).
Karl Skowronski (Haydon Bridge), aged 94 during the 2012-13 season.
Camas Millar (Austins), aged 10 when playing against Haydon Bridge on May 15, 2008.