From 1982 to 1987 I played chess for Shifnal in Shropshire league division 1. NALGO were of course one of our rivals in those days. I remember
one match played in December 1983. Colin Roberts and I had adjourned
games which we had to win as NALGO were leading the match 2.5 - 0.5.
We declined the inevitable draw offers which meant that we had to travel
to Shrewsbury a second time to finish the games. Our team had an analysis
evening at Shifnal looking at both games before, later in the week,
we headed for NALGO clutching the envelopes containing the sealed moves.
On arrival my opponent John Bashall grabbed his envelope, ripped it
open and said, "I thought so, I've written down the wrong rook
move. I resign!" Fortunately Colin also won his game after a few
moves so we headed all the way back to Shifnal with some reward for
our time and effort. That result helped deprive NALGO of their first
league title. They finished runner up to the Stirchley team led by
1982 and 1983 county champion John Blore.
NALGO top board James Clarke gained some compensation for the club by winning the county championship in 1984 before heading to university the following year. I'm told he was later graded 200+ while playing for Yorkshire.
In 1985 the club left NALGO to move to Old Shrewsbury Bowling Club. I well remember the inaugural "simul" in August 1985 at OSBC organised by Joy Mukherjee with Indian grandmasters Thipsay and Barua playing 20 boards each against players from all over Shropshire. Dibienda Barua scored 17 wins 3 draws and 0 defeats. I was well pleased with my best game prize for a draw which so nearly scored the full point. One month later it was my Shifnal team of Parry, Copley, Roberts, Tabner, and Elwell which won the summer cup, beating GKN in the final.
In 1986 OSBC as they were now called again finished league runner up, this time to a Telford team with John Footner on board 1. Again OSBC's own top board, Paul Mukherjee won the individual crown. My records show a draw with Brian Holland who was a founder member of the NALGO club. He was also grading officer for several years (I still have copies of grading lists in his copperplate handwriting) and for some years he wrote the chess column in the Shropshire Star.
In late 1987 my job took me to Newtown in mid-Wales. I was sorry to leave the Shifnal Chess Club but I took with me many happy memories. My departure must have inspired my former team-mates - they went on to win the summer cup that year and the league title in the following year!
Meanwhile in 1987 OSBC were paying the price for recruiting so many high quality junior players. Paul Mukherjee, Humphrey Dunn, and Ivor Bundilis all left to go to university. Another young player Nigel Ferrington now had his first appearance on the grading list after half a season in the B team. With an opening grade of 148 the club realised that they had unearthed another strong player.
To Newtown Chess Club
I discovered a small chess club in Newtown. Hosted by Mr Grant, a local businessman, the club offered social chess and even the chance to play electric organ (much to the annoyance of the other players). Over the next few years I played an occasional friendly game, appeared for Powys, and even played for Wales against Ireland in Cardiff. I did miss playing regular league chess however.
In 1988 I decided to travel to Shropshire to play the occasional game in the Shropshire League. All of the Shropshire clubs were a long way away but the nearest was either at Oswestry or Shrewsbury. I initially paid my Oswestry membership fees but it quickly became clear that they did not want me at their club. I bumped into Bill Clarke who invited me to join Telepost which had apparently moved as a chess club from OSBC in that year. I could only play in a handful of home games as so much travelling was involved but it did begin my long association with the club.
Into The Fridge
From 1988 onwards the Telepost Club general membership, and especially Clive Beaman, made the chess section feel welcome. The clubhouse itself at Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury however was somewhat dilapidated. Most chess matches were played in a back room with minimalist heating.( I felt quite at home following my Shifnal days upstairs at the Jerningham Arms.) Multiple layers of warm clothing were essential to survive the rigours of a winter season chess match. Several poor unsuspecting opponents were put to the sword as the numbing effects of frostbite took over the brain.
There was some improvement in the mid 1990's. Amongst the chess fraternity the Telepost Club was known as the fridge. This was mainly due to the bracing temperatures, but also because an old fridge had been abandoned in the chess room! The excellent publicity for Telepost in the Shropshire Star chess column (now written by Toby Neal) was avidly read by club members. However headlines about a tough match played in "the fridge" caused both amusement and action. Some new wall heaters miraculously appeared in the room. Even so it still took many months before references to matches played "at the fridge" were dropped.
A New Era Begins
1989 was a low point for Telepost chess club, which, only the previous year had had two teams in Division 1 (though the B team was relegated). Nigel Ferrington had gone to university and the supply of junior players had dried up. Senior players such as Joy Mukherjee and Gordon Thomas were not keen to play regular over the board chess. For the first away match of the 1989-90 season captain Bill Clarke took only two other players (Dave Bryan and John Bashall) to play at Telford. Reluctantly he withdrew the A team from the league, leaving just the B team in Division 2.
Dave Bryan had moved to the district from Liverpool in 1987. In 1990 the division 2 team was renamed Telepost A and Dave took over the captaincy from Bill Clarke. A new era had begun. Neil Allen was an improving young player and Nigel Ferrington became the first university post graduate to return to the chess club. The team won promotion to Division 1 in 1992 and the following year in 1992-93 finished as runners up to the strong Coddon team.
The Seven Year Quest
In the 1993 county individual championship three players initially tied for first place. The subsequent play off eliminated David Everington to leave our own Nigel Ferrington joint winner with Trevor Brotherton. Nigel thus followed in the footsteps of James Clarke (1984) and Paul Mukherjee (1986) to be the club's third county champion (a feat he was to repeat in 2001). Later that year Bill Clarke invited me, (I had just moved back to Shropshire from Mid-Wales), to re-join Telepost and replace himself in an A Team which already included Nigel Ferrington (top board), John Bashall, Dave Bryan (captain), and Neil Allen (transport manager - amazingly none of the top three players could drive!). This completed a line up which would be unchanged for seven years. But would it be strong enough to put silverware on the empty Telepost trophy shelf?
Since 1992 the county league had been dominated by the all conquering Coddon team. Telepost now joined Shrewsbury and Newport in pushing them hard, but runners up remained the best achievement for the next three years. At about this time Bill Clarke migrated to Kent and so never saw his club lift a trophy. He had done his work well however and laid the foundations for future success.
When the 1996-97 season finished Telepost A were well clear at the top of the league, and announced in the Shropshire Star as champions! This was somewhat premature however as Coddon had a long list of adjourned games which they had held back while waiting to see what was needed to retain their title. If they could win every single one of them they would equal Telepost on points and just pip them on games won. A tall order indeed, but two months after the end of the season they had done just that and kept their crown by the narrowest of margins! (This farcical situation resulted in the introduction for future seasons of an allegro finish on the night for all games).
Telepost A gained some revenge in the 1997 summer cup beating a full strength Coddon A in the semi-final before beating Telford A in the final to at last lift a major trophy!
Coddon's six year domination of Shropshire chess was now over. Several players left the club with two of them, Trevor Brotherton and Carl Portman, moving to our neighbours and arch rivals Shrewsbury. Thus in 1998 it was Shrewsbury who took the league title, although Telepost did retain the Cox Trophy (summer cup) for a second year.
The Great Flood
The winter of 1998 was a dramatic one for the club, and indeed much of the country. Torrential rains caused the River Severn to break its banks. The clubhouse and much of Shrewsbury were flooded. As the waters were rising John Casewell and Brian Holford valiantly waded into the clubhouse and rescued the chess equipment. We were fortunate to have the use of alternate premises at Town Walls as it would be many months before a dry and fully refurbished clubhouse could be used again at Abbey Foregate. The good ship Telepost rose from beneath the waves eventually and from 1999 onwards the club has had the benefit of first class facilities. The fridge is now but a distant memory.
The 1998-99 season saw Carl Portman and Richard Archer, another ex Coddon player, move to an already strong Newport team led by Nick Rutter. Although Telepost A drew both league matches with them, it was Newport who just pipped us to that elusive title by one point, before going on to complete the league and cup double. Were we doomed never to win the league? The only consolation was that in completing the double over Shrewsbury we began a long period of dominance over our local rivals. For several seasons they would out grade us on paper but be unable to win the head to head clashes (apart from one summer cup-tie when they crushed us 5 - 0!). Carl Portman, having won the championship with three different clubs, suggested he might join Telepost to take another title with the next champions. In fact he migrated to Germany but his words would prove prophetic.
Champions At Last
In the 1999 - 2000 season an unchanged Telepost A team at last won the league championship! This was an amazing feat because the team hadn't played as well as in previous years. While Nigel Ferrington (board 1) and myself (board 5) scored heavily the other three scored only 50% or less. Nevertheless the league trophy was now on display in our clubhouse for all to see. It had taken seven years for this team to reach the top so, to celebrate the occasion, I booked a trip for us all to see our fellow champions Manchester United play Fiorentina at Old Trafford (Beckham, Batistuta, Bashall, and Bryan - all superstars!)
Even a second flood in 2000 has failed to prevent the Telepost chess section going from strength to strength and attracting new members. Richard Bryant joined from Oswestry in 2000 to become a formidable board 2, followed later in 2002 by Steve Rawlins on board 3. This strengthened the A team which has successfully held onto the league title for the following three years, with a league and cup double in 2003. Nigel Ferrington became county individual champion for the second time in 2001, a fitting reward for his consistently high quality performances. The B team captained by Neil Allen was promoted to Division 1 in 2002 and is holding its own in the top flight. The C team captained by John Casewell were Division 3 champions in 2003 (but still await their trophy which can't be found?!). The club even ran a D team in 2002 when increased membership allowed. Perhaps we should invest in a new trophy cabinet.
But that's all history now. We must move forwards into another new season...
Keith Tabner - 6th June 2003