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British Open Coverage 2002:

Be my Strength and Shield?

Anyone who has a passing interest in football (and we know most of you out there have) will be familiar with the argument that arises every time a team from the Nationwide League has gained promotion to the Premiership.

To succeed, the common wisdom goes, a team must spend on players, invest in talent and hope that others have as bad a season as Bradford City a couple of years ago. If they don’t, then come the end of May, they will find themselves dropping quicker through the trap door than a condemned man on the gallows. Just look at what’s happened to the likes of Bradford, Derby and Leicester City, or Sheffield Wednesday from a few years ago. This year the likes of Manchester City, Birmingham City and WBA will be hoping not to fall away and return to the oblivion of matches at Grimsby or Wimbledon.

For the bands, it’s not quite as bad (there is a 2 year safeguard period), but once you are at the Open, you don’t want to lose the privileged position and return to trying to win through once more from the Grand Shield – a contest that is perhaps the hardest of the lot to win.

We’ve therefore looked at the qualifiers from the Grand Shield from as far back as 1991 to see which ones have done a Newcastle United and made a bit of an impression and which ones have sunk quicker than a British Frigate off the coast of Australia. It makes for some interesting reading.

The 1991 winners were Whitburn, conducted by Peter Parkes who pipped Wallace Arnold Rothwell and Stocksbridge to the title, whilst all three gained a trip to the Free Trade Hall in Manchester.

Whitburn lasted just the one year after coming 20th on “Paganini Variations” and were relegated back to the Grand Shield (the 2 year safety period didn’t come in until a few years later), whilst the same fate befell Wallace Arnold who came 18th. Stocksbridge however kept their end up for a six-year period that lasted from 1991 until 1996 when they disappeared fro the face of the earth somewhat. That six-year period saw them come 7th, 11th, 7th, 8th, 15th and 10th.

1992 saw Dodworth take the title under the baton of Graham O’Connor (a man with a bit of a knack in getting bands to the Open – he has won the title twice and got two other to qualify since 1992 - a bit of a Harry Bassett ain’t he?) whilst Besses O’ th’ Barn were second and Wingates under John Hudson third. All three got the invite to the Open.

Dodworth lasted four years to 1995 after coming 8th on their debut and following up with 18th, 19th and 20th to get relegated. Besses meanwhile lasted until 1999, a 8 year period that saw a results sequence of 12th, 19th, 20th, 9th, 13th, 16th, 17th and 21st. They dropped out for two years before making a return in 2002 under Lynda Nicholson. Wingates lasted four years and after coming 17th, 6th, 17th and finally 21st in 1995, they dropped out only to win their place back the next year in 1996 under Nicholas Childs. Since that time they came 9th, didn’t compete at the 1997 event and then came 15th and 23rd in 1999 to drop out again. This year saw them drop further as they came last at the Grand Shield and so 2003 will see them compete at the Senior Cup.

1993 saw victory go to William Davis Construction who beat Point of Ayr by three points under the direction of Keith Wilkinson and the Rhodian Band. This was the last time three bands got the invite to the contest.

William Davis came 17th on their debut and followed this with 13th, 22nd and finally 21st (under the name of Markfield Band as they lost their sponsorship) and they were relegated. Within the year they had ceased to exist. Point of Ayr lasted just two years and after coming 20th and 21st they too were relegated never to return and although they continued to compete with success in other contests they too are now defunct as a contesting band. The third band, Rhodian also lasted just the two years and came 22nd and 18th before being relegated. They continue to compete though and we believe are still going strong.

1994 was the year of the Welsh with Cory taking the title under Graham O’Connor by two points from Tredegar. Both are still at the Open, with Cory taking the title in 2000 and Tredgear coming runners up in 1996. However, Cory struggled in their first year at the Open and came 22nd before following up with 12th, 19th, 7th, 13th, 6th, 1st and 3rd. Tredegar meanwhile came 16th, 12th, 2nd, 6th, 7th, 7th, 8th and 13th last year. They remain the only pair of original qualifiers from 1991 to 2001 to remain in the contest.

1995 was the year of YBS and David King to win through with Whitburn coming second under Philip McCann. YBS came 3rd on their debut, have won the title three times and have only come out of the top 6 once since, whilst Whitburn’s second spell has seen them be comfortable competitors, with a results sequence that reads 12th, 17th, 13th, 20th, 11th, 17th and 5th last year – one good year followed by one bad year.

1996 saw Wingates return to the Open under Nicholas Childs, but they lasted just four years as we said previously and now have a very hard task to return, whilst Polypipe Rossington who were second under Bryan Hurdley lasted just the one year after coming 18th in 1996. They didn’t compete at the delayed 1997 contest and never returned again. Their current whereabouts are not known.

1997 saw Rothwell (Leeds) and Douglas Blackledge take the top prize with NSK Ransome and Brian Grant claiming the other qualification spot. Rothwell came 14th , then 19th before joining forces with Yorkshire Imps to become known as DUT Yorkshire Imperial Rothwell, where they have come 15th in 1999, 19th in 2000 and 14th last year. Ransomes lasted just four years after a very impressive 4th place on their debut and following an 11th, 20th and 21st in 2000 they too dropped back to the Grand Shield.

1998 was the year of the Flowers Band from the West country (the last from that area to play at the Open) who were led by Bryan Hurdley to victory at the first Grand Shield were points were not awarded. They too lasted just the four years, coming 14th on their debut, followed by 19th, 18th and 21st last year to drop out. They just missed out on a return this year to the contest after coming third at the Grand Shield. BT who came second (under Graham O’Connor again!) lasted just the three years and after coming 9th on their debut, they fell to 16th and 23rd to drop out. They are currently fighting it out in the Grand Shield to seek their return.

1999 saw Carlton Main take the title with Rolls Royce Coventry take the other qualification spot. Carlton Main are still with us after coming 14th, 9th and 17th last year, but Rolls Royce came 22nd on their debut and 16th in 2000 to drop back out of the top flight. They came 10th at the Senior Cup this year.

The Millennium Champions were Todmorden Old under Dennis Hadfield, but the band that had come so far are now no more and after coming 15th on their debut and 11th in 2001, they imploded and didn’t make the following years contest and folded in unfortunate circumstances. Glossop Old however still remain and after two years in which they have come 14th and 20th, they hang in there, but will need a good result this year to maintain their status.

Finally, 2001 saw victory 10 years after Whitburn, go to another Scottish band, when Allan Ramsey steered Kirkintilloch to victory over Ever Ready and Ray Farr. Both did well enough on their debuts last year coming 16th and 12th respectively and will be hoping for further success this time around.

So that leaves this year’s hopefuls – Cwmaman Institute from Wales and Besses O’ th’ Barn who return to the Open for the first time since 1999. How will they fare?

Given that since 1991, only two bands have actually gone on to the win the contest – YBS on three occasions and Cory once, you may think things will be easy. However, it is important to note that both of these bands are heavily sponsored (although Cory only got theirs a few years after their promotion, and before that they did struggle somewhat) and apart from them, only Tredegar who came runners up in 1996 has a qualifying band come in the top three.

In the eleven years since 1991, qualifying bands have come in the top six on 14 occasions out of a total of 66 places on offer. Of these YBS has taken 6 of them, Cory 3, Tredegar 2 and Ransomes, Whitburn and Wingates 1 each. The rest have come nowhere.

The bad news is that many just don’t survive – Whitburn (first time around), Wallace Arnold, Stocksbridge, Dodworth, Besses (first time around), Wingates (twice), William Davis, Point of Ayr, Rhodian, Polypipe Rossington, Rothwell Leeds (although they amalgamated), Ransomes, Flowers, BT, Rolls Royce Coventry and Todmorden Old. The even worse news is that some don’t even exist anymore.

That’s a very, very sobering thought as the bands who celebrated at Blackpool gear themselves up for the 2002 Open.

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