The History of the Ladies County Championships (1973 to current)

 

The Ladies National Bar Billiards County Championships is believed to have started in around 1973. Each county selects their best 7 players to represent them each year at the County Championships. Details pre 1991 are a little incomplete, but Sussex dominated the early years and were winners in 1973, 1975, and 4 successive years from 1977-80. Kent and Hampshire were the only 2 counties to interrupt their success by winning in 1974 and 1976 respectively. The 1980’s saw a variety of winners, Kent added 4 more titles to their 1974 success with wins in 1981, 1983, 1986 & 1989. Sussex won their 7th and 8th titles in 1984 & 1988. Oxon had their first successes with 3 wins in 1982, 1985 & 1987. However, it was Berkshire who started the 1990’s with their first win.

 

From 1991 the records are more detailed. In this year Kent saw off reigning champs Berkshire by 3 points. Jan Taylor led the way for Kent with 3 wins from 3 (8,620 average), backed up by 2 unbeaten team-mates Jill O’Brien and Helen Foster. 7 counties took part in the 1991 competition held in Harwell. The counties were split into 2 divisions, Kent, Berkshire, Surrey & Oxon were in Division 1, Sussex, Hampshire & Buckinghamshire were in Division 2. Promotion and relegation would take place at the end of each competition for the following year, the champions of Division 2 being promoted and the bottom team in Divisions 1 being relegated.  Sussex comfortably won division 2 and would replace Oxon in 1992. Four Sussex players won 2 out of 2 matches - Sandra Race, Bella Brackenridge, Sue Loughran & Kim Beeching. 

 

Berkshire won an extremely close championship in 1992. Berkshire and Sussex were tied on 12 points and 2 match wins each. Aggregate scores counted and Berkshire won by 590 points, 66,040 – 65,450. This was also despite Sussex beating Berkshire 5-2. Kent were also close, outscoring both Berkshire and Sussex by over 13k but they had only taken 11 points, and had to settle for third. This consigned Surrey to bottom place and relegation and their place would be taken by Oxon next year. Sheila O’ Brien (Sussex) and Penny Burch (Berks) were the only two unbeaten players in division 1 who won 3 out of 3.

 

Kent won their 7th title in 1993, and again Sussex were runners up. Again this was despite Sussex beating the champions 4-3. Oxon were a little unlucky to be relegated, finishing level on points with Surrey but losing out on aggregate scores. Viv Wright and Jan Taylor were unbeaten for Kent, and Jean Over and Sue Sumner were also unbeaten for Sussex. Surrey bounced straight back up from division 2 easily winning the division by 8 points. Six of their players went unbeaten as they won 19 of 21 legs, Sue Banting the pick of them with a 7k+ average. Northants were a welcome presence although they finished bottom with only 3 points.

 

There was a big change to the format for the 1994 championship as only 6 teams were present, as we lost Hampshire and Northants. Each of the six teams played each other once, but there was still to be two separate divisions. Sussex won their first title for 6 years. They went unbeaten and reigning champs Kent had to settle for runners up. Despite magnificent efforts from Sue Banting (5 wins from 5, average 9,392) Surrey were to be relegated, 1 point behind Berkshire. Oxon won division 2, Pauline Withey starring with 5 wins from 5 (average 8,786), a very impressive record considering she played 4 division 1 players. Sheila O’Brien (Sussex) and Kim Beeching were unbeaten for champions Sussex.

 

Despite Hampshire’s rentry in 1995, the same playing format was kept with each team playing each other once. Berkshire and Oxon finished level on points with 4 match wins each. Berkshire narrowly won on aggregate by just over 5k and took their 3rd title. However, extraordinarily, Surrey won division 2- and had they not been relegated last year would have been champions for the first time by a massive 8 points. Surrey scored an impressive 217,160 between them (5,170 per player) and beat all 6 teams they played.  Pauline Withey again impressed with 6 wins from 6, a feat also managed by Oxon team mate Jenny Abbott and Surrey’s Dani Voelke.

 

Surrey took advantage of promotion and finally won their first title, 5 points clear of Berkshire, in 1996. Gail Woods won all 5 of her games with an impressive 7,624 average. Sussex won Division 2 and would have finished runners up in division 1, only 1 point behind Surrey had they not been relegated the previous year. Their improved performance could be put down to Sue Mariner (previously Sue Banting) who had moved to Sussex from Surrey, and she won 6 out of 6 (averaging 9k), and she had back up from Bella Stoner who was also unbeaten with 6 wins.

 

With Sussex and Surrey now in the same division, a close championship was expected in 1997, and it went right to the wire. It actually became a 3 way fight as Berkshire also threatened to win their 4th championship. Into the final series of matches Sussex had won all 5 games but were on 23 points, Berkshire were on 24 points and Surrey on 26 points. Berkshire beat Surrey in the final series 4-3, and Sussex took the 6 legs against Oxon required to make them champions for the 10th time. Kim Beching and Jan Bithell were unbeaten for the champions with 5 wins from 5. Gail Woods was unbeaten again for Surrey, and Jan Taylor won all 5 of her games to help Kent to the Division 2 title.

 

B sides were introduced in 1998, and we reverted back to 2 separate divisions. Kent sent two sides, and a year after promotion the A side took the division 1 title for the first time since 1993. Surrey finished level on points with Kent A but lost out because they had lost 4-3 to Kent A. Reigning champs Sussex were to be relegated, losing all 3 of their matches. Gail Woods was unbeaten for the third year running and had an amazing average of 12,057! Jill O’Brien and Di Welburn were unbeaten for the champions. Oxon won Division 2, Pauline Withey was superb with a 10k average and 3 wins from 3.

 

We lost Bucks in 1999, and the round robin format was again used for the championship. Surrey easily won their 2nd title even though they lost 4-3 to Berkshire, who were unbeaten and finished runners up. Josie Hogan was unbeaten for the champions and was joined by Kent’s Jan Taylor. Gail Woods finally dropped a leg for the first time in four years, losing to Jane Carless (Berks) after a magnificent run of 20 straight victories. Sussex gained back promotion by winning division 2 and would replace Oxon despite finishing five points behind them on the day.

 

We were back to two separate divisions again in 2000 as Sussex and Oxon entered B sides for the first time caused by a big change from 7 players a side to 5 a side. Surrey won their second successive title, they had no players unbeaten but Gail Woods and Josie Hogan starred again winning 5 matches out of 6. Jan Taylor (Kent) and Jean Over (Sussex) also won 5 from 6, helping their teams to 2nd and 3rd respectively, leaving Berkshire to be relegated for the first time in many years. Oxon A won division 2 again and were followed home by their own B side. Pauline Withey, Jane Wood & Sue Atkins were unbeaten for the A side, and Sandra Tebby for the B side.

 

Sussex started a period of domination in 2001, which has lasted until the present day. They won the 2001 championship easily, by 7 points, ahead of newly promoted Oxon A. Michelle Baden was unbeaten for the champions with 6 wins out of 6. Berkshire made sure their stay in division 2 was short lived and gained promotion at the expense of Kent A. Bucks made a welcome return after a 2 year absence and were runners up to Berkshire. Berkshire stalwarts Jackie Watson, Jill Josey and Jane Carless were unbeaten for Berkshire. Marion Sewell (Hants), Clair Shaw (Bucks) also did well stay unbeaten in division 2.

 

It was Sussex again in 2002, this time by 6 points. Oxon A were again proving to be their biggest threat and were runners up for the 2nd successive year, and they did manage to outscore Sussex. Bella Stoner and Kim Beeching were unbeaten for the champions winning all 6 of their games, Pauline Withey also again managed this feat for Oxon A. Berkshire and Kent A would again swap places Kent won division 2 to replace Berkshire in division 1 for 2003.

 

Sussex’s victory in 2003 was perhaps even more comprehensive as they won by 7 points, but with Surrey’s surprise absence, Sussex only had Kent and Oxon to play. Bella Stoner and Kim Beeching, repeated last years feat and were both unbeaten for the champions winning all 4 of their games. Surrey would be immediately relegated and would unsurprisingly replaced by Berkshire, who, beat 3 B-sides on the way to winning division 2. Myra Hawkins played great for Berkshire winning 6 out of 6.

 

Sussex lost out to Oxon in 2004, which ended their 17 year wait to add to their 3 titles. It was not without controversy, as Sussex gave away 2 legs to Berkshire due to late arrival, and a later 3-2 loss to Oxon sealed their fate, losing out on matches won after winning 3 legs each. Jane Wood was unbeaten for the champions, and Kim Beeching gained some consolation completing 3 unbeaten successive years at the championships. Surrey returned with two teams, their A side easily winning promotion, to swap places with Berkshire who could not avoid bottom place despite having 2 points awarded to them earlier. Sheila King and Sue Oakley completed unbeaten records for the division 2 champions.

  

Sussex gained revenge for 2004, but it was a very close battle with Oxon for the 2005 championship. The teams were level before they played each other in the final match and it seemed that Oxon were destined for the title as Jane Wood and Jenny Abbott were both on winning breaks in the final series to take the two legs required for victory. Jane kept her break, but Jenny amazingly pegged hers to allow Sue Mariner to take the crucial leg and the title by 1 point. Michelle Baden had an unbeaten day with a 7k+ average. Di Welburn was also unbeaten for Kent but it could not prevent relegation. For the first time a B-side won division 2 and therefore promotion to the top flight, and it was Sussex B who showed their strength in depth doubling up on titles. Caroline Retfalvi, on debut, won all 4 of her games to help her side to victory.

 

Sussex’s 15th title came in 2006 and it was also their 5th in 6 years. They actually lost one match to their B side, but it was their only loss and they won the title from perennial runners up Oxon, by 2 points- who faltered after a promising start. Jean Over and Sue Mariner managed perfect records for Sussex A. Sussex B amazingly stayed up relegating a strong Surrey A into division 2 to join their own B side. Kent won division 2 from Berkshire, winning all 6 of their matches on the day. Kent regulars Jackie Pecham and Ann Keen won all 6 of their games. Only 7 teams from 5 counties participated in the 2006 championship – Sussex, Surrey providing two teams, Kent, Oxon, Berkshire providing one.

 

Oxon A interrupted the Sussex domination to win their 5th Ladies title in 2007, although it was down to aggregate scores with both teams finishing level on 10 points with Kent finishing in third place and Sussex B being relegated.  Bella Stoner, Gina Sherratt (both Sussex A) and Sue Atkins (Oxon A) won all three of their matches in Division 1.  Surrey A convincingly won Division 2 from Oxon B, with Surrey B finishing above Bucks who returned to the competition.  Alison Norman, Josie Pitt, Jan Taylor and Sheila King (all Surrey A) won all 3 of their Division 2 games, as did Enid Wain of Oxon B.

 

Sussex A regained the title in 2008, with Surrey A finishing runners-up 2 points behind them.  Oxon A surprisingly found themselves in a relegation battle but survived thanks to a 3-2 win against rivals Kent.  Hayley Tunstall (Sussex A) and Ann Keen (Kent) both won all 3 of their games.  Bucks dropped out of the competition again this year but Berks and Hampshire both entered teams and Division 2 proved to be one of the closest in the history of the competition with just 2 points covering all 5 teams and every team both winning and losing 2 matches.  Oxon B emerged as champions on aggregate from Surrey B, with Sussex B in third and Hampshire just pipping Berks for 4th place on aggregate.  Chrissie Newson of Hants was the only player to win all 4 of her matches in Division 2 and her average of 6,353 was the best in either Division.

 

Another win for Sussex A in 2009 as they finished one point clear of Oxon A with Surrey A finishing a further 4 points behind but comfortably ahead of Oxon B who were relegated.  Hayley Tunstall (Sussex A) topped the rankings for the second year running remaining unbeaten and averaging 6,053, with Gina Sherratt (Sussex A), Jane Wood and Jenny Florey (both Oxon A) also winning all three of their matches.  Sussex B completed a good day for the county by winning Division 2, finishing 2 points clear of Berks with Surrey B finishing ahead of Hants despite Chrissie Newson again winning all of her matches for them.  Jackie Watson (Berks), Sheena Wood, Jan Bithell (both Sussex B) and Sho Nicholls (Surrey B) also won all three of their matches on the day.

 

A change of format in 2010 with teams playing each other twice in both divisions, however Sussex A continued their domination as they finished 3 points clear of Oxon A, with Surrey A finishing just 1 point ahead of Sussex B who were relegated.  Sheila King (Surrey A) was the only unbeaten lady in Division 1 while Pauline Withey (Oxon A) won 5 out of 6.  Myra Hawkins and Jackie Watson both won all 4 of their matches as Berkshire won the Division 2 title finishing 2 points clear of Surrey B with Oxon B finishing bottom of the table after Hampshire dropped out. 

 

The 2011 Division 1 competition went down to the last game in the final series with three teams all level on 15 points.  With Debbie Barton of Oxon A ahead in her match, the title would be decided on the outcome of the game between Alison Norman (Surrey A) and Bella Stoner of Sussex A.  Bella prevailed to give Sussex A their fourth consecutive and 19th overall Ladies County title, on aggregate from Oxon A with Surrey A just 1 point behind and Berks being relegated.  Jan Bithell (Sussex A) was the only player to win all 6 of her games, with Myra Hawkins (Berks) and Debbie Barton winning 5 out of 6.  Surrey B won all 6 of their games to win Division 2, with Sussex B finishing as runner-up just half a point ahead of Oxon B who the had beaten 3-2 in the final series with two games won with a last ball 200 hole.  Bucks made a welcome return to the competition after a 3 year absence and finished 3 points further back.  Ros Appleby (Sussex B) won all 6 of her games while Sally Mortimer, Sho Nicholls (both Surrey B) and Sonia McIntyre (Oxon B) won 5 out of 6.

 

With late withdrawals from Berks A and Bucks, only 3 counties were represented at the 2012 competition which was played on a Round-Robin basis with Oxon B and Sussex B competing for the Division 2 championship.  Defending champions Sussex A got off to a flying start beating Sussex B 5-0 and Oxon A and Surrey A also started with 5-0 wins against their respective B Teams.  Sussex A then beat Oxon B 4-1 and Oxon A defeated Surrey A by the same score to move clear at the top, but Surrey B then beat Oxon A 3-2 and Surrey A also won 3-2 against Sussex A to close the gap.  All three A Teams then won 3-2 in the fourth series of games but Sussex A beat rivals Oxon A 4-1 in the final series to clinch their 5th Consecutive title and Surrey A beat Oxon B to claim the runners-up spot leaving Surrey B in bottom place of Division 1.  Oxon B won Division 2 by one point ahead of Sussex B.  Sue Atkins (Oxon A) won all five of her matches to top the averages with Jean Brackenridge (Sussex A) winning 4 out of 5 and taking the High Break Award for Division 1 and Colleen Park (Sussex B) taking the Division 2 High Break.  Pauline Withey (Oxon A), Enid Wain (Oxon B), Denise Wills and Alison Norman (Surrey A), Bella Stoner and Lorraine Hall (both Sussex A) also won 4 of their 5 matches.

 

Many thanks to Nigel Senior for allowing me to reproduce much of this from his report on the AEBBA Website and also to Dave Alder (AEBBA Secretary) and Chris Saville (AEBBA Webmaster) for providing and maintaining the AEBBA Records over the years.

 

Dave Ingram (October 2012)