The preparations for this game were ideal for the Thistle, not only did they have home advantage but they could be secure in the knowledge that they had flayed their previous weeks opponents 11-1. If they were grounds for optimism so too was the fact that the Morris had lost at home against the Royal Standard, even if 8-4 is a convincing thrashing it still meant that they came into this match knowing that they had to raise their standards. Then of course there were the antics of the Shamrock on Sunday night, who through cheek, good fortune and maybe a little too much pixie juice pulled off a sensational 7-ball thrashing over the mouth of the morris in what was an evening of pre-match build-ups. The question then was who were the favourites and which team would come in having the most on their minds?
The passion that this game arose in the hearts of its players is a long-standing one based on pub pride. But other than the sheer competitive spirit of these two neighbouring teams there has always been a much deeper rift between them than merely passion for their local watering hole. Last nights game featured only two players who had crossed sides and it was fitting that they should find themselves playing against each other late in the match. But over the years these two sides have swapped and traded players at an extraordinary rate, all the more incredible for the competitive contempt that both teams hold each other in. But before the game began, just to illustrate how much this game means in terms of pride, one of the Thistle’s former players (still on the books though) Paul “Silly” Coates, whose shirt was retired when he left for the green fields of Essex, phoned the team to wish them well. Miles away and comfortably retired with a 67% average what did it matter to him how the team played? Well that’s just the spirit of this team, and the passion and pride that is instilled in the good and the great from the Thistle and Shamrock.
First out of the blocks was Thor Jackson, a seasoned competitor who has over the seasons made a niche for himself as the opening player. Leading off a game is hardly an easy job, and its not one that attracts many volunteers, win or lose the player who kicks off sets the pace and even the mood of the game. Sat next to his old man, the affable and instantly likeable Ken, the player we all know as “Enigma” or to some die-hards still as the “Whinger”, Thor was bouncing on the spot and getting jittery, in some players this can be a sign of nerves, or even nervous energy, for Thor this is just normal impatience. He wanted to get started, he wanted to win, and he wanted to get the game off on the right foot. This was champing at the bit like a thoroughbred race horse and when he left the traps he played a consuming and classy game. His opponent no slouch with a cue in his hand was left to watch and learn as Thor drew first blood for the Thistle and Shamrock. There was a feeling perhaps that this first win was just a starter before the main course. By this point everyone had heard about the Shamrock and his pixie juice antics the night before, to the Shamrocks surprise and dissappointment though the mouth of the morris had declined to challenge him in the first half. But for all the excitement and the build up this game played against Simon “I’m always stoned” was a damp affair. Whether he had not had enough pixie juice, or whether he had just peaked a day too soon we may never know, after a brisk opening the Shamrock found himself having to hide behind his colours. When this tactic succeeded in bringing two shots he just lost the plot and forgot how to pot a ball. He wont be ashamed of the defeat though, maybe he had done his work the night before sowing the seeds of doubt in the morris men, and no doubt he’ll back for more the next match day. Besides which there can be few arguments against a player who pots the final black by going up and down the table to cut into a tight angled pocket. After all that’s what the Shamrock did last week, maybe it was his turn to lose in the same way this week.
Peter Bates. Piano. Blind Boy. The Power. Peter Pan. This guy collects nicknames like lesser mortals collect stamps. But boy what a player, this old hand has played on and off for the Thistle team since it began and sometimes it shows. You can say what you like about him but he is the personification of the team and its spirit. Wild in victory, yet pained and sore in defeat. A lot of jokes are told about how he goes pale when he plays. How the blood drains from every extremity in his body to his hands, or who knows where. Nobody likes to lose, nobody plays to lose, but this guy feels defeat, every bone aches, every drop of blood is wrung out from his body. To see him play is torture, to see him win is ecstasy. This guy is good, but tonight in his first game he came out second best to the Morris’s answer to the Shamrock Dublin Liam. Is it me or does every team need a token Irishman these days? But say what you like about the game Peter was unfortunate, perhaps there was one bad shot played three or four visits before that nobody had seen, or realised the eventual consequences of. Maybe his opponent had a small stroke of luck moving a ball here or there that nobody would have given a second thought to. Either way Peter lost and the morris had come back to lead by two games to one. For the Thistle and Peter agony, for the Morris a roar of approval. The blood drained from his veins like a b-rate horror movie to leave him a clammy pale wreck. But a much wiser man than me once said ‘sometimes you hit the bar and sometimes the bar hits you’. For Peter it was no consolation but you knew that he would bounce back and that the game was still on.
Jay Beazley, sneaky, the man who pulls shots out of thin air and rides his luck like a surfer boarding the rip tide. You know when he plays that it will never be a boring game. Good or bad his games are never indifferent, they are never missable. Try telling that to the team members who only a week earlier had barely roused from their stools and their conversations expecting to see Jay play, only for him to return victorious already. He seems to play with such little effort, he sometimes doesn’t even seem to care. Players such as these are few and far between. Two-one down, he approached the table with swagger and flair, he knew he was going to win, we could only hope, even though we’ve seen it time and time again. His opponent geordie John has never been graced with the accolade ‘good-player’ but for so many of us a mediocre or poor opponent can have a corrosive effect on our own games. A player who thrashes wildly around the table and makes mistake after mistake can still win, only because there is one thing more dangerous than a player who knows what he is doing, and that is a player who doesn’t. It seemed close, you could count the balls left on the table, you could even gasp in not-mock horror at the way in which Jay casually gave away two shots. If he knew what he was doing, we were struggling to comprehend. We needn’t have bothered, the former Morris man got to the table and he wasn’t going to lose at any cost. The win was sweet the score was fine. Two all and all to play for.
The next game promised to entertain and all eyes were focused on the proceedings. Danny “destroyer” Ryan had in his sights the mouth of the Morris, Eppy the captain. All night Eppy had been on the receiving end of jokes about his poor, poor performance the previous night against a tanked up Shamrock. 7-balls, in one visit! As the Morris team first came in and Eppy came in sight the jukebox fired up, “Yesterday…all my troubles seemed so far away” Paul McCartney sang as if even the senior surviving Beatle was having a pop at his expense. When the team line out for the first half had been finalised there was some shock, and many a raised eyebrow when it was seen that Eppy had opted out of a rematch against the Shamrock. Was he scared, did he feel another 7-baller coming on, or as he claimed was he just waiting for a second half showdown that was never to come. Either way the captain of the Morris had a point to prove, and whoever his opponent was he needed and craved the win, maybe that would silence the home crowd. The night before it was said of the Shamrock that he floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee. Eppy was stung, his pride was hurt, and Danny was the unfortunate recipient of his retaliation. Five games gone and the score was 1 more to the Morris 3-2 with one to go till half time. Closing the first half was Andy Bailey, another journeyman player who had done previous with the brevet, but nobody seemed to care, he was a welcome addition, a player who eased into the team. You would think he’d been there since the start, such was the comfort that he gave his fellow team-mates. Maybe that’s the reward for getting off to a winning start, he had set himself a standard and we had all come to expect that nil satis, nisi optimum nothing but the best will do. If last week he had been staggeringly drunk this week he was clear-headed and equally determined. The score was 3-2 to the Morris and the final game of the first half could determine the outcome of the match. Win and the match was tied with everything to play for over the incoming six, lose and the Thistle would be two down with a desperate retrieval job needed. But like the postman he is, during the non-drinking hours, he cycled on up to the table and posted a special delivery. A first class and timely win, marked with the Stamp of defiance that we have come to expect from the Thistle and its players. Half time 3-3.
You want tension, you want horror, and you want drama? Go ahead be boring stay at home and watch your goggleboxes. Sap your brain with mindless trash till the small hours and join the every growing legion of oxygen wasters. Or join us, come on out and watch a pool match on a Monday night. When the Thistle play there is always drama, when the Thistle play the Morris you get a three act epic. Thor Jackson resumed his place at the table and at the top of the pile, it was a new half and a new beginning. Still gamely making his way through the nourishing vittels provided by the hostess with the mostest, he knew what was expected. He’d raised the standard once already tonight, the table called, victory and perhaps destiny called to. For once he didn’t look comfortable, was it ingidestion, or had the game changed its complexion, neither side had won the first half, neither side had taken command and demanded the respect of the other. Thor picked his way through, played strange shots, even went for an opponents ball, accidentally or deliberately? Who knows mores to the point who knows why he did it. But it didn’t seem to bother him or faze his style, there is nothing worse than playing and knowing that nobody agrees with your strategy or with the shot you are taking. But its easy isn’t it, sat on the sideline straining at the leash, willing every ball in, sucking in the air to help it that extra inch, or blowing out your cheeks hoping to stop the opponents ball. You can be a good player or a bad player but on the sidelines everyone is an armchair player. You could have played that shot better, that was insane, does he even know what he is doing? Thor rose above it, like he had done once before in the match already he drew the initiative back in the Thistles hands. 4-3.
Captain Marvel he has been known as, but not for any comical reasons. He inspires, he leads by example. Sometimes a good captain has to follow a hunch, sometimes a good captain knows when to drop players and when to drop himself. Too rarely has Dave played this season, but he wanted to play this one. The rules were established 7 men in the team the first to lose drops the second half. That’s the way it is Shamrock was the victim of the cut, but maybe it was the right thing to do. First of all he played bad, had lost the plot, but now the opponent was Eppy the mouth of the morris. Of course it was the right thing to do. But first of all let him think the Shamrock was playing. Strutting up and down the table, playing practise shots like a shadow boxer Shamrock prepared himself while Eppy pooled his thoughts into revenge. It was a nice idea, confuse him, wind him up and maybe steal a game from him using mind games. Shamrock wasn’t to play Yankee was, it was captain against captain and all the while Eppy was waiting for someone else. The plan seemed to work at first, Dave got off to a flyer, it seemed incredible but there it was for all to see, a possible 7-baller. Sure there was work to be done. The tension noticeably rose in this game. To beat Eppy would have stolen the initiative, maybe even have broke the back of the morris resistance. Eppy knew this, how couldn’t he, there stood alone at the table watching as the whole match disappears before his eyes and the eyes of the Thistle all baying for his scalp. But in a good story things don’t always work out the way you think they should and Eppy clawed back the win. It was all level again 4-4 authority was needed or the game was going to drift to another decider. Could nerves or fingernails survive that long?
Peter Bates probably the worst guitarist I have ever heard, and that is saying something, strode to the table. Not this time, he wasn’t going to lose again, a game like this, a match like this needed fighters, a man willing to lay his life down so to speak. A brave man, watch him as the blood drains from his face, he must be aware of 20 pairs of eyes watching him. Looking as he goes pale, wondering will he faint, will it be too much for him. It wasn’t and we shouldn’t have worried players like these are pretty rare also, players with guts, with raw energy and a deep reservoir of courage. Like his nickname Piano played the game according to his tune and the Thistle were back on top again. So this is what it was all for, the build up the excitement the tension the bragging the boasting the predictions. Jay against Scouse Paul. Two turncoats against each other. Of course we don’t always see it that way, you listen to the Thistle players and Jay was merely coming home, then you listen to the same players and Paul was merely doing what everyone had wanted him to do for a long while. The scouser is a canny player, he can pot and he can snooker, boy can he snooker. Some people think he’s an oxygen waster as well, for him why waste two shots potting balls when you can invest them two shots and force another mistake. Jay was going to enjoy this, after all his opponent was crippled courtesy of a freak tree falling accident. So far probably twenty people have claimed responsibility for shaking that tree. But movement impairment aside the Scouser played a good game and took an early lead. Ok heres the cut to it, he had potted seven balls and was left on the black. Jay had to do something and he needed to do it quick. But did he? Nope he just ambled his away around and had himself some fun at the expense of the Morris team and players, not to mention also at first the jangling nerves of the Thistle players. With two shots he cleared the table in his own way, making sure three times to pass his opponent a shake his ass in his face. The ultimate humiliation. Victory was near, Jay won and the Thistle goes crazy, but not as crazy as Jay. You don’t see throbbing veins that large on a person’s head very often. Usually you’d call for a doctor, not this time though, Jay was enjoying it, and this was a real natural high. 6-4 up, game on, the first time a two game lead had been established. The Morris were at their lowest ebb, the hand was round the throat threatening to throttle the life out of them. For his opponent, hobbling along, it was one small step for man, one giant leap for scouse Paul, pity he fell on his ass.
So here we are match point two games to play. Danny got a reprieve and a second game, but its nothing less than he deserved his first loss was against a rampant Eppy giving his all for his cause trying desperately to save face. Danny lost again, but it was probably just to add to the drama, these things don’t write themselves you know. Andy Bailey, upon his slight frame rested the weight of expectation, nobody could survive or stand a tiebreaker surely, there was too much at stake, winner takes all. Liam the other stung opponent from the previous night was on form, he had a job to do, he had been humiliated before he wasn’t going to this time. If he went down he went down fighting. And sure enough he did, both of those things, he fought gallantly but in the end he went down, Andy won the match the Thistle had triumphed. It was raw, it was passion and pride, not your usual Monday night affair, this was special. Even in defeat the Morris defiant reasserted their aim to join the Thistle the next season in the next division up. Worthy opponents, but we always knew they were going to lose, didn’t we? I think so, like the great Muhammed Ali once said of himself “I am the best there’s ever been” … I think the Thistle and Shamrock know deep down that this is true of them also. ©AndrewTaylor