Suffolk aim to win Middleton Cup, 20 years after reaching final
It’s 20 years this September since Suffolk last reached the final of the Middleton Cup, the English inter-county championship.
Losing to Cumbria in the final by 12 shots at Worthing, the team that came so close were managed by Percy Rowe, the current general secretary of Suffolk Bowls (BE).
Two decades on, Rowe, who stepped aside as manager in 1996, has returned to manage the county in what promises to be a tough examination for his young side.
Suffolk, who also reached the final in 1968, face Northamptonshire and Norfolk at their home green, Felixstowe & Suffolk Bowling Club, as well as tough away trips to Essex and Leicestershire.
Should they progress through the round-robin stage – the top eight teams, one from each group – go through, they will face a quarter- final tie and then hopefully the semi-finals and final at Leamington Spa in September.
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Rowe is currently deliberating over his final squad, he will select 30 names for trial games in the Eastern Counties League at home to Bedfordshire (May 9) and away at Cambridgeshire (May 2) and Hertfordshire (May 23), before trimming that number down to 24.
Six teams of four compete in each tie and Rowe has described his team as being one in transition as he looks to the future.
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However, he says being able to build for the years to come isn’t without it’s problems.
“For several players, now work has got to come first and they are not available, while there are more experienced players that could be helping who are not willing or prepared to put themselves out,” said Rowe, who also holds the posts of County Administrator, Competition Secretary, Handbook editor and County Luncheon organiser at Suffolk Bowls.
“Some people would give their right arm to play for the county, but people pick and choose what they play in now, and we don’t have that experience to help bring the youngsters on, which is what I am aiming to do.
“I’m looking to include several younger players, to give them experience, as we want to keep bowls in Suffolk.”
Suffolk’s route to the final, 20 years ago, saw the team overcome seven other counties just to reach the quarter-finals, where they defeated Northumberland by one shot on the final end, the umpire being needed to measure the final bowls.
In the semis, Suffolk beat Kent by 25 shots, before finding themselves 32 shots behind at one stage in the final against Cumbria, eventually clawing back 20 shots to lose by 12.
“We had a good squad,” added Rowe, who has played around 240 games for Suffolk.
“There were some players who you would maybe not have expected to have been in the county side, but I put them in rinks in which they were happy and content and knew each other and that helped us build up a good team spirit.
“It was a great weekend. We had two or three coach-loads of people go down from Ipswich to Worthing to support us and the atmosphere was fantastic. It was like being at a football match with all the rattles and hooters.”