It all came down to penalties in the final of the noisiest, shoutiest, screamiest sport of all... skittleball.
The restored, freshly sanded wooden floor of the town hall’s main assembly room could have been designed for this lively, inclusive activity, which sees teams of six – three boys, three girls – attempting to upend their opponents’ skittle.
An intriguing hybrid of basketball, netball and ten-pin bowling, devised by former H&F primary schools games supremo Deryck Fill, who adapted it from a half-remembered playground sport from the 1950s, skittleball’s appeal is universal.
“It’s now very much part of the culture of Hammersmith and Fulham,” said Calum Fairley, Deryck’s successor as school games organiser, and the match referee.
With 30 teams from schools’ Year 3, the town hall echoed to cheers, jeers and yelps of joy as the six-minute games came thick and fast.
Among the stand-out scorelines of early rounds, many of which ended in draws, Brackenbury A beat Sir John Lillie 5-0, then defeated St Thomas of Canterbury 8-0, while St Stephen’s A overturned Sir John Lillie 7-2 in the highest scoring game.
By the time the first of two successive days in the town hall had reached the semi-final stage, Brackenbury B was playing Wendell Park, while Addison was taking on St Stephen’s A.
At times Calum’s whistle was drowned out by the wall of high-pitched squealing from the enthusiastic supporters as St Stephen’s edged through to claim one of the places in the final, with Brackenbury B taking the second slot.
It was a classic reds v blues encounter in a sport of disarming simplicity; the only equipment, once a ‘court’ is marked out with masking tape, is a ball and two wire skittles.
Brackenbury, in red, were the masters of interception and doughty defence, while St Stephen’s had the edge in counterattack and passing.
A non-contact sport in which mobility is less important than throwing accuracy (you can’t dribble with the ball – you have to pass, and you can only run when you don’t have the ball), it was helter-skelter from the moment Brackenbury won the initial bounce-off.
St Stephen’s drew first blood when a rapid attack culminated in Brackenbury’s skittle being sent flying, despite the best efforts of the small-but-alert skittle guard.
With nearly a third of the match gone, St Stephen’s had a chance to double their lead... but just missed with a penalty, awarded for encroaching in the opponents’ skittle circle.
Brackenbury fought back; their attacks launched by giant upfield quarterback lobs. With nearly three minutes on the clock, they levelled.
St Stephen’s seemed to have clinched the final with a minute remaining, but ref Calum had spotted an infringement, and it was disallowed.
It all came down to a penalty shoot-out, where St Stephen’s triumphed by four goals to one.
“We’ve been really practising taking penalties,” admitted St Stephen’s teacher Alastair Park. “I’m very happy with their performance today; they’ve worked really hard for this.”
Medals were presented to winners and runners-up, with the eventual Year 3 victor from the second day of competition going head-to-head in a champions duel in a few days’ time.
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