It was not without some justification that a journalist from The Observer in 1963 described curling’s largest outdoor bonspiel as 'sport’s greatest non-event'. When I wrote about Grand Matches in my Curling: An Illustrated History, published in 1981, I was able to say that since the first and second in 1847 and 1848 there had been only 33 outdoor Grand Matches.
Sad to say, the Grand Total as at January 10, 2010, remains the same.
There are good reasons why such a large event can’t happen with great frequency.
First, the climate of Scotland is not really designed to give us enough ice very often. It is interesting to record – against all the recent statements that SEVEN or EIGHT inches of ice are needed – a piece from The Glasgow Herald of January 17, 1855:
“THE ROYAL CALEDONIAN CURLING CLUB MATCH. – The secretary of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club had reported last night that he would have been able to make arrangements for the national match on Tuesday next, but the reports from Carsebreck rendered that impossible. Ice four inches thick is deemed necessary to sustain the weight of so large a concourse of persons as usually attend the match, and this thickness has not yet been attained…”
This year, however, it was not a lack of thickness of ice, - whether FOUR or SEVEN inches are requisite - it was a lack of polis and emergency personnel to deal with a major incursion of traffic on minor roads already under strain from snow and ice, and all the anticipated emergencies, that caused the abandonment of attempts to put on a grand match at the Lake of Menteith.
Against the 'health and safety' arguments it may be worth saying – and saying loudly – that my researches over many years have disclosed NO FATALITIES AT ALL during the 163 years of Grand Matches.
The second reason for infrequency is that there is a major difference between a proposed match of the present day and all the pre-War events, namely, that now all the participants and spectators would expect to arrive in their own motor vehicles, whereas hitherto the main mode of transport was the railway train. Carsebreck had a railway siding, which, though far from ideal, allowed large numbers of curlers to disembark with their stones from numbers of special trains. An influx of curlers and spectators arriving by road would have been impossible at Carsebreck, just as it has been judged to be impossible to cope with at the Lake of Menteith.
Carsebreck siding 1929. The RCCC pond is to the right. The access was not ideal!
Many a match in the past had to be cancelled after all the arrangements including the marking out of the rinks had been accomplished.
Even when they did take place it was sometimes with difficulty.
The Match of January 29, 1929, was such a one. The report in the Annual says: “The Grand Match at Carsebreck was pulled off…with difficulty and under adverse conditions. Indeed, had the thaw been of a little longer standing or a little more rapid, play would have been impossible. As it was, the Match was played in circumstances of considerable discomfort…” January 29 was the fourth date fixed in that month.
Below are two more surviving photographs of the 1929 Match which give some idea of the uncomfortable conditions.
The busy scene at the pond-side. The reflections give a clue to the conditions underfoot on the ice.
This must be after the Match. Curlers ready to depart.
David B Smith