NORTH CIRCULAR CHESS LEAGUE
Enfield Grammar School - an NCCL History
Enfield Grammar School’s final season in the North Circular Chess League was 1969-70, when I had the good fortune to become captain of the team, after working my way up from bottom board (8) four years before in 1966-67, the season we so nearly won the league. I had watched, year after year, all the greatly talented players leave the school, now to be finally forced to play myself on top board, and to rely on the skills of a younger wave of players to bale us out of trouble, which manfully, in the end, they did.
All in all, it was a season of struggle and hard work, but which, finally, produced a couple of moments to savour, and meant the side would not be remembered with disdain. Our departure was not, I believe, ratified till the start of the following year, when most of the previous year’s players had departed, and there was no one left to command the team, or even to organise it, as Mr Newton had done so selflessly in previous years.
My season began with a heartening draw in a simultaneous display by Bill Hartston at Enfield Chess Club. As Bill had just drawn with former world champion Mikhail Botwinnik, I was perhaps a little heady for the first few months of the season – certainly it took me five attempts before I managed to win the toss! The first match took place in mid-October against Finchley, and we lost narrowly 3½-4½, but had encouraging wins on Boards 2, 3 and 4 by Keith Simmons, Dave Simmons (no relation) and Graham Martin. It was a long time before it got as good as that again, though! A subsequent drubbing by a very strong Alcazar team (½-7½ – well done again Graham for preventing the whitewash!) was a little demoralising. Dave said after the game, "He just kept throwing pawns away all over the place!" – his first encounter with the Blackmar-Diemer Gambit.
One early lesson I learned from these first games as captain of a sensitive young team, was to avoid the tactical error of promoting players too quickly to a board level they had not played at before. Their fragile confidence would often evaporate in a poor performance.
Next came a Lawrance Cup match against Enfield, when I hoped to recruit former stalwart Laurence Green, back from an early break from Cambridge, for a place on one of the top boards. But ill luck prevailed, as a bereavement kept him away at the last minute, and instead I found myself on Board 1 against my captain of last season, Colin Moore, likewise back from Cambridge, evidently relishing the chance of playing against his old school. I managed my first half-point of the season in this one, but we were not helped when one of our players agreed a draw in a winning position, so that he could get home to watch England play football on TV! (The problem of football distractions on young players has been observed by one of my predecessors, John Clarke.) We went down as expected 3-5, with newcomer Dick Chilman the only winner.
Christmas came and went. I left the school (after a term in the third-year sixth for university entrance examinations), and had to do my recruitment largely by proxy while working in an office for Thorns, or Ferguson-Thorn, (ironically one of our opponents in the league), often phoning Keith to see whom he could muster this time. My first attempt at remote captaincy was pretty disastrous, as we managed only five players in a mid-January match against E.R.D.E., another domestic problem for Mr Newton meaning that Keith had to try and squeeze the entire team into a mini-van, which proved a hair-raising, not to mention very uncomfortable, journey! I lost the toss for the fourth time running, and we went down 1½-6½, this time the only winner being Dick Foster.
Our next game was at home, for once, to Wood Green, so at least recruitment did not prove a problem. Our library was a splendid venue for a chess match, in my view beating any of the clubs we visited: no distractions, a quiet, studious atmosphere, and games two-in-a-bay meaning undisturbed concentration was for once possible. We fared well against a strong team, and the 3-5 defeat included four good draws and a lone win for Graham Collingridge. But the team’s five straight defeats meant I knew I would not go down in history as the greatest EGS chess captain, and I was at my wit’s end to know how to get a result. We got close, but often it seemed bad luck dogged us. But this time I had, at last, won the toss, so perhaps things were beginning to turn.
Our league match against Enfield was next, it was mid-March, and the long dark nights were over for another year. The Easter break from Cambridge meant that Laurence and Colin were available, but their loyalties were opposed, and this time they met on Board 2, Colin again playing the traitor, and this time managing to win. This in fact divided the teams at the end of the day, and another defeat by 3½-4½ gave us an unenviable record of six straight losses. However, there were three wins, the first time we had achieved more than one since the first game of the season. And our last two games would be allegedly against two of the weaker teams..... Meanwhile, I was becoming increasingly involved with watching football myself, as Enfield Football Club battled to win a rare Amateur Cup-Isthmian League double, and I tried to go to every vital match as they tried to overtake Wycombe, as well as to beat Dagenham at Wembley. It was inspiring to see what a motivated team could do, as the double was achieved in great style.
And so at last, the turning point came, away to my own company, Thorns. In their gloomy half-lit canteen, with oceans of tables stretching off into the distance, we settled down to try and concentrate. A mild shock soon ensued, as Graham Collingridge quietly informed me he had won in six moves. Win after win followed with astonishing rapidity, and even I joined in, it being, I believe, EGS’s first win on Board 1 since December 1967, in John Clarke’s days at the helm. Almost fainting with the shock, we found ourselves 6-0 up! Well, we lost the last two, but 6-2 was a great win.
Our final quest was to avoid bottom place, and improve on last season’s performance, by winning our last game at North Chingford, a team who likewise needed a win to avoid the possibility of propping up the table. It would be a tense affair. Once again Keith’s van would be in action, this time squeezing six in! Somehow (I cannot remember how) we got a full team together, and on St George’s Day, faced our battle with pride, knowing the school’s reputation was at stake! And close it was. I won the toss, and chose White on odd boards. Only five minutes had gone when John Jacomb, on Board 8, our promising new recruit with an unorthodox style of play, announced he had won! But another game was lost almost as quickly. In my game against Mr Browning, he chose to play Petrov’s ticklish defence. I opposed it with some exactitude, forced an advantage, lured him into a trap, and at adjudication time felt confident despite his late rally. At end of play, we were 2-3 down, but had one easy win, so it was poised on Dave’s and my games. It was an emotional evening for me, my last ever event in direct connection with EGS. I felt sad as I wished my players farewell.
Now we had to wait for the verdict of the adjudicator, Harry Golombek. It turned out to be enough. I won, Dave drew, and we ran out winners by 4½-3½. It was to be EGS’s last ever game in the NCCL.
We ended up just behind North Chingford in the table, but well ahead of Thorns. The outstanding performance of the season was easily by Dick Chilman, with four wins, a draw and no defeats. Otherwise, sterling work and (almost, in most cases) 50% records were achieved by Keith Simmons, Dave Simmons, Graham Martin, Graham Collingridge and myself, while John Jacomb, a late inclusion in the team, helped us a lot with two wins in those last two games.