Multiple flight cancellations, endless Covid bureaucracy, risk of quarantine, player withdrawals, rescheduling of flights to a different and more distant airport, uncertainty as to whether the event would take place at all. These were among the challenges the UK team faced heading into the delayed event which took place from 30th August to 1st September in the German town of Trier, famed as the birthplace of Karl Marx.
It has been said that “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” and so it proved with the UK team that arrived in Trier immediately after the UK Open:
- Gaz Owen
- Raj Jansari
- Jon Barnes
- Chris Bray
- Oliver Squire
- Lawrence Powell
For this event the format was changed. In place of qualifying groups with matches comprising four players (out of a maximum squad of eight) for each team, we had triple elimination with matches comprising five players (maximum squad of seven) for each team.
I have commented before that in some respects backgammon resembles our fortunes in football, disregarding sky high wages. Just like when we have done well in major football competitions, the team got off to a sluggish start grinding out close wins against Armenia and Cyprus then losing to Romania and Turkey. We therefore played all remaining matches on a knife edge knowing that another loss would mean we would spend the rest of the time as mere tourists. Our battle hardened team delivered successive victories against USA, Sweden, France and Denmark to reach a three way final with France and Romania.
The first match resulted in a hard fought victory against France tied at 2-2 with Raj having to overcome a 2-7 deficit which he duly did to win 9-8. (See for yourself on stream 2!) Gaz delivered a superb PR of 1.63 for this match. (Also streamed live!)
We therefore found ourselves in the position where a win against Romania would make us the champions. The match looked to be going our way in early exchanges, but nothing is predictable with backgammon and the Romanian team rallied to win 3-2. They then went on to beat France to emerge as champions while we had to settle for a highly creditable second place.
The Romanian team were unquestionably worthy winners and demonstrated a strong team spirit throughout the event. We have been fortunate to have players from the diaspora settle in the UK and add their formidable presence to our national events. Their leading players have recorded low PRs in our and their BMAB tournaments so we should not be surprised if they perform well in future team events.
I’d like to thank Gaz, Raj, Jon, Chris, Oliver, Lawrence for their support, for overcoming all the obstacles to play in the event and pulling together as a team and UKBGF board members for their backing as well as Tobias Hellwag and his team for organising the event in the most trying of circumstances. Gaz and Raj each scored 7/10 against the best in the world. It is not necessarily the team with the lowest average PR that wins these events, although it helps. We can improve our chances by sticking together and encouraging teammates to reach greater heights. A special note of thanks is due to the Armenian Federation whose captain, Artur Muradyan, presented our team with a bottle of Ararat brandy that I am determined to share. A lovely gesture that underlines friendships that evolve at such events.
Our UK team demonstrated once more they are capable of competing at the highest level, however we must build on this success and not allow complacency. Initiatives to develop up and coming players and assistance to clubs and TDs must be pursued and reinforced. My term as captain ends on 31st December. I urge everyone to give my successor Chris Rogers the backing he needs to deliver success in the next WBGF events scheduled to take place in Venice in April 2022 and Skopje in May 2023. If anyone reading this feels I have unfairly overlooked them for selection, don’t be bashful, just get in touch with me or my successor via email@example.com although, to avoid disappointment, please remember the standard required is very high and getting even higher!
When taking on the role of captain, I hoped to arrange live friendlies with other nations so that a wider cross section of talented players could showcase their skills and challenge the incumbents for a place in future WBGF events. Sadly, the prospect is receding as the Covid crisis drags on. I would encourage anyone who fancies the challenge to apply for the captaincy when it next becomes vacant. For me, it’s been one hell of a ride!