The History of the Open County Championships (1975 to current)

 

The National Bar Billiards County Championships is believed to have started in around 1975. 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 were winners in 1975 & 1976. The late 1970ís and 80ís were dominated by 2 counties Buckinghamshire and Berkshire. Bucks won in 1978 & 79 and had 3 on the trot from 1986 to 1988. Berks also won their first title in 1984 and retained it in 1985, and repeated the feat in 1989 & 1990. Other winners during this early period were Kent in 1979 & 1982, Sussex adding to the first 2 wins in 1981, and Oxfordshire who won in 1983. Northants and Hampshire both managed runners-up during this period in 1976 & 1980 respectively.

 

From 1991 the records are more detailed. In this year Berkshire did their own hat-trick adding to their titles in 1989 & 1990. 13 counties took part in the 1991 competition held in Harwell. The counties were split into 3 divisions, Berkshire, Kent, Oxon, Bucks & Surrey were in Division 1, Sussex, Northants, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire & Wiltshire were in Division 2, Leicestershire, South Yorkshire & Somerset were in Division 3. Promotion and relegation would take place at the end of each competition for the following year, the champions of each division being promoted and the bottom team in Divisions 1 & 2 being relegated. Berkshire won by a point from Kent. Sussex won division 2 by 11 points and would replace Surrey in 1992. Leicestershire handsomely won Division 3. Peter Farrelly hit a 22,100 break, for Northants, which has not been bettered since. 

 

Kent took their second title in 1992, this time Berkshire would be runners up. Chas Jones and Kevin Clark starred for Kent both winning 4 legs out of 4. Sussex were relegated a year after winning Division 2 and would be replaced by Hampshire who pipped Surrey by 3 points Ė Barry Radford and Tony Woolvin both unbeaten for them. Somerset won Division 3.

 

Berkshire convincingly won their record 6th title in 1993 by a massive 6 points from Oxon, even though Kevin Tunstall & Keith Sheard were both 4 wins from 4 with 12k+ averages. Tony Walsh was unbeaten for Berkshire. Hampshire did well to survive and relegate reigning champions Kent. Surrey beat Sussex to the Division 2 title, Simon Tinto and Greg Hughan both unbeaten for Surrey. Division 3 was won by Leicestershire.

 

Bucks won a very tight 1994 championship with the top 4 teams separated by just 4 points. Bucks only won 2 of 4 matches but a big 6-1 win over Berkshire was crucial as Berkshire only lost by 1 leg overall. Kevin Tunstall averaged 12k+ for the second successive year with an unbeaten record. John Burrows was unbeaten for the winning Bucks team. This put Bucks level again with Berkshire on 6 wins. Hampshire were relegated after 2 years in the top flight, and were unsurprisingly replaced by Kent who beat Sussex by 3 points to win Division 2. Sadly there was no Division 3 this year which was awarded to Cambridgeshire after Leicestershire, South Yorkshire and Somerset pulled out and unfortunately have not been able to return since.

 

 Sadly in 1995 Wiltshire also dropped out leaving just 9 active counties and again 2 divisions. Berkshire were rampant and moved to their 7th title with a 7 point margin over Bucks. Tony Walsh and Paul Sainsbury were unbeaten for the winning team. Berkshire had an impressive 8,565 player average for a total score of  239,830 from 28 legs. In Division 2 Sussex were again runners up for the third successive year since relegation in 1992. Hampshire won it and would replace Surrey after a 2 year stint in Division 1.

 

Berkshire won again in 1996 with Paul Sainsbury unbeaten for the second successive year along with Mark Sawyer. A strong Oxon team were second, 2 points shy of their second title and despite beating Berkshire 4-3. Kevin Clark had an amazing 13,788 average (3 wins out of 4) helping Kent to third place. Sussex finally won promotion from division 2 replacing newly promoted Hampshire.

 

Oxon ended their 14 year wait for the title in 1997, and have been dominant ever since. Kevin Tunstall and Dennis Atkins helped them on their way with perfect records. Berkshire were runners up followed by newly promoted Sussex in third. Northants won promotion from Division 2 helped by unbeaten records for Steve Biggs, Peter Farrelly and Chris Lawman and would replace Kent for 1998.

 

Oxon made it two titles in succession in 1998, but it was the closest championship in years with the top 4 separated by just 3 points. Berkshire were actually level with Oxon but won 1 less match, and were runners up. Northantís foray in Division 1 was short lived finishing bottom. Division 2 was even closer than Division 1 with 1 point separating the top 3. Kent pipped Hampshire and Surrey, Geoff Jukes from Surrey was the only unbeaten player on the day with 3 wins out of 3.

 

Newly promoted Kent shocked Oxon by winning the 1999 title especially as they were missing some of their stars. They beat Oxon 5-2 on the way to the title, which was crucial as they finished on level points. Sussex survived just, relegating a very strong Berkshire team who now found themselves in Division 2. Northants began a yo-yo effect between divisions as they won Division 2 again.

 

Oxon came back strong in 2000 winning their third title in 4 years. Sussex were close, finally living up to their potential, and a 4-3 win rather than the 3-4 loss to Oxon would have made them champions. Northants struggled in Division 1 and scored just 5 points. Dennis Atkins was unbeaten for the champions and 2 Sussex  players, Barry Holt and lady player Sue Mariner also boasted unbeaten records. Berkshire couldnít get out of the basement losing twice to Surrey, Cambridge were missing this year leaving only 8 counties present.

 

Oxon were decisive winners in 2001, 7 points clear of Bucks. Oxon scored 257,430, an incredible 9,193 a player. Sussex who came so close last year, had a disaster, losing 7-0 twice, to Bucks and Oxon, and their 4 year stint in Division 1 was over. Berkshire made it this time out of Division 2, and thankfully Cambridge were back and were able to beat rivals Northants, consigning them to bottom place.

 

An even more impressive 8 points was the margin in 2002, Surrey were the unexpected runner up, with their best ever finish. Bucks would be relegated after being in the top division for many years. Kevin Tunstall was again unbeaten along with Ray Sturgess. Hampshire and Sussex were level on points in Division 2 but the 4-3 win by Hampshire over Sussex proved decisive. Barry Radford and Paul Wing were unbeaten for the Division 2 champs.

 

It was 4 in a row (a new record for successive titles) and 6 in 7 years for Oxon in 2003. Berkshire ran them closer than in previous years but paid heavily for a 6-1 loss to their main rivals. Keith Sheard was the only unbeaten div 1 player. A very strong Sussex team won Division 2, Nigel Senior, Jim Millward and Mark James all unbeaten for Sussex. They would replace Surrey who slipped quietly out of Division 2 just like Sussex, a year after being runners up.

 

Oxon winners again in 2004, equalling Berkshire record of 8 titles. The margin of 8 points equalled that feat of 2002. They had 3 unbeaten players Ė Kevin Tunstall, and exiles Peter Farrelly and Paul Wing. Sussex were runner up albeit at a distance. Bucks won Division 2 at their second attempt, they also had 4 unbeaten players Steve Ellis, Ray Hussey and Terry Isard. Also John Burrows gave his last game to Dawn Flattery having won 2 out of 2. They would replace Hampshire who again struggled in the top tier.

 

Oxonís run came to an abrupt end in 2005 when Sussex grabbed their first title for 24 years. Although Oxon beat Sussex for the 8th successive time, Sussex were incredible in their last 2 matches with 7-0 wins over both Hampshire and Kent. Mark James and Steve Mariner were the unbeaten players for Sussex. Amazingly since he captained Sussex in the 2001 disaster, Mark James did not lose another leg in the next 4 years winning all 14 legs he played. Having laid the 2001 ghost to rest, so to speak, Mark would retire from County bar billiards as a champion. A controversial rule change allowed B teams in the competition for the first time. Northants and Kent took up the invites swelling the field to 10. It would have been 11 but Bucks unbelievably dropped out of Division 1 at the last minute. Hampshire retook their place and although they again finished bottom they scored an impressive win over Berkshire but were a point behind Kent on the final tally. Northants A won Division 2, a great comeback after struggling for a couple of years without stalwarts Farrelly and Biggs and would take Hampshireís place in Division 1 in 2006.

 

Sussex were hopeful to repeat their 2005 success in 2006 but had to replace Mark James and Jim Millward. Gareth Lloyd and Dave France were strong replacements but after a promising start the team didnít hit the hights of the previous year and finished third. Oxon won again under captain Kevin Tunstall, who playing for Oxon for the last time before moving to Sussex for 2007. It would have been extra sweet for him as Oxon broke clear from Berkshire 8 titles with their record 9th triumph. They were convincing winners, beating Berkshire by 5 points. Jon Bamsey was unbeaten for Oxon, along with Under 25ís finalists Steven Sheard and Chris Reeves (Sussex) who would both be selected for England on the strength of their performances. Tony Walsh (Berks) and Chris Lawman (Northants) were also unbeaten. Despite Chrisí efforts Northants only just failed to stay up finishing 1 point behind Kent. Hampshire won Division 2 beating Cambridge who had their best ever performance finishing Division 2 runners up. Although Northants B dropped out, Berkshire, Oxon, Surrey and Sussex joined Kent in entering a B side. Kent took their place in Division 2 where they finished bottom, and the other 4 teams played the following weekend in Division 3. With the teams playing each other twice Oxon B added the Division 3 title to the Aís Division 1 win. Ray Sturgess won an impressive 6 out of 6. This was the first time Division 3 was held since 1993, and now there were 14 teams from 9 counties.

 

Despite losing Kevin Tunstall to rivals Sussex, Oxon A retained their crown and won their 10th County Open Championships in 2007 with Phil Collins and Mark Tuner both winning all of their games.  Sussex A, inspired by KT winning 3 out of 4 games for his new team, finished as runners-up 2 points behind them and Berks A finished in third place but were 6 points behind Sussex despite Paul Sainsbury winning all of his games.  Kent A were relegated, despite beating nearest rival Hampshire.  Oxon B, who had won Division 3 the previous year, surprised a lot of people by winning Division 2 fairly comfortably with a strong line up that included unbeaten performances by Tony Martin, Kevin Godfrey, Ray Sturgess and Tony Willis.  Surrey A team finished 4 points behind them in runners-up spot, Gary Powell also being unbeaten for them, while Northants finished third and Bucks were relegated.  Sussex B were convincing winners of Division 3, finishing 8.5 points ahead of Berks B with Surrey B and Kent B in close attendance behind them, Martin Smith, Bill Kerr and Dave Hampton all winning 5 out of 6 games for Sussex B.

 

A third consecutive title for Oxon A followed in 2008 in a virtually two horse race against Sussex A, a 4-3 victory over their closest rivals proved vital.  Phil Collins was again unbeaten for Oxon A, as was Tony Martin who had been promoted from their B Team and Dave France for Sussex A.  There was a 7 point gap after Sussex to Hants, who just managed to grab third place from Berks A with Oxon B being relegated.  Sussex B followed the example of Oxon B the previous season and won Division 2 on aggregate score from Northants, with a strong Kent A side just behind those two and Surrey A surprisingly relegated.  Dave Ingram (Sussex B) topped the Division 2 averages and was unbeaten on the day, as was Andy Chambers (Northants) and Martin Smith of Sussex B.  With Bucks having dropped out of the competition, Division 3 consisted of just two teams with Kent B beating Berks B convincingly to gain promotion with Martin Leach, Martin Russell and Gerry Goodwin winning all of their games.

 

Oxon A continued their good run in 2009, winning their fourth consecutive title, finishing 2 points ahead of Berks A with Sussex A slipping back to third place.  Keith and Steven Sheard both won all 4 of their matches as their team recorded their 11th overall County Championship.  Hampshire finished fourth, while Sussex B were relegated.  A strong Kent A team won Division 2, with Surrey A (reprieved from relegation from the year before) finishing as runners-up ahead of Oxon B, with Northants and Kent B behind them.  Curt Driver of Kent A and Dave Constable (Surrey A) were both unbeaten in Division 2, as was Keith MacDonald (Cambs) who won all 6 of his games in Division 3, although his county finished as runners-up to Bucks who had also re-entered the competition this year.  Berks B just beat Surrey B into third place on aggregate scores.

 

A good all round team performance by Berks A gave them their 9th overall title in 2010, but the first time that had won the championship since 1996.  Tony Walsh was unbeaten as the new champions won all their matches, including a close 4-3 win over pre-tournament favourites Oxon A who finished just 1 point behind in the runners-up position.  Sussex A, with Kevin Tunstall unbeaten, finished in third place with Hampshire next leaving Kent A returning back down to Division 2.  Oxon B, with Terry Cook, Geoff Powell and Kevin Godfrey all unbeaten, won all of their matches to win Division 2, finishing just 1 point ahead of Surrey A for whom Geoff Jukes and Gary Powell also had 100% records.  Sussex B finished a comfortable 3rd in the table, leaving Northants to just beat Bucks in the battle to avoid relegation.  Sadly, there were only 2 teams in the Division 3 competition, which Berks B won with 27 points to 22 by Kent B.

 

Due to the overall lack of numbers, it was decided at the 2010 AEBBA AGM not to play Division 3 in the future and the format was changed for 2011 so that there would be 6 counties (rather than 5) in Division 1 for that year, with all of the remaining counties playing in Division 2.

 

The new format for 2011 meant that 6 teams competed in Division 1 and Kent A, who would have been playing in Division 2 if it hadnít have been for the change, surprised one of the favourites by beating Sussex A 4-3 in the first match of the day.  Sussex A then won their next three games and going into the last series of matches there were four teams, their opponents Oxon A and Berks A and Kent A who were also playing each other.  A superb 6-1 win against Oxon A gave Sussex A their 5th overall title and Berks A swept into runners-up spot ahead of Oxon thanks to a 5-2 win over Kent A who finished fourth.  The last series of the day also determined who would stay up in Division 1 and Hampshire defeated Oxon B 4-3 in a very close match leaving Oxon B just one point adrift at the bottom.  Paul Sainsbury and Bernie McCluskey (both Berks A) won all 5 of their matches on the day, as did Sussex A captain Nigel Senior.

 

The Division 2 championship was played on Sunday 20th November 2011 and saw a strong Sussex B Team gain promotion back to the top level thanks to winning the title, despite losing their first match 4-3 to Berks B and the last round clash against nearest rivals Surrey A who finished runners-up just 1 point behind Sussex B.  Bucks finished in third place just a further point behind Surrey with Berks B finishing in a comfortable 4th place ahead of Northants and Kent B.  Rick Dewdney (Sussex B) topped the Division 2 averages with 5 wins out of 5, closely followed by Gary Powell (Surrey) and Andy Godden (Bucks) who both also had 100% records while Lorin Clough (Northants) won the high break award with 14,540, which ironically was his only win of the day!  Interestingly, the Sussex B Aggregate of 233,590 was higher than the 219,300 scored by Sussex A in winning Division 1 earlier in the year from the same number of game.

 

The Division 1 competition for 2012 was played on Sunday 23rd September and defending champions Sussex A got off to a flying start defeating their newly promoted B Team 6-1 and then inflicting successive 5-2 wins over Berkshire and Hampshire and gaining a hard fought 4-3 win over Kent.  Oxon A matched them all of the way with a 5-2 win over Berkshire, a close 4-3 win against Kent and then successive 6-1 wins over Sussex B and Hampshire to leave the points all square with just the final series to play between the two rivals.  After two series of matches, the scores were still level at 2-2 but a vital win for Phil Collins against the break proved the difference and Oxon A sealed their 13th Championship by just a single point ahead of Sussex A.  Kent made sure of third place with a 6-1 win over Sussex B meaning that they returned to Division 2 after finishing just 1 point behind Hampshire with Berkshire finishing in a comfortable 4th position.

 

Oxon B bounced straight back up after winning the Division 2 competition that was played at the Post Office Club in Reading on Sunday 18th November winning 4 of their 5 matches on the way and defeating closest rivals Surrey 7-0 in the last series which both teams had started on level points.  The defeat for Surrey meant that they slipped back to 4th place as both Bucks and Northants won their last matches to move into 2nd and 3rd place respectively with Berks B in 5th place and Kent B occupying bottom spot for the second year running.  Simon Coleman (Nortnants) was the only player to win all 5 of his games and Terry Isard (Bucks) hit the highest break of 12,800.

 

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 (November 2012)