As I sit here in my nuclear bunker, leaning back on my disinfected chair and fearing the worst outside, I like to think back to when the world was a different place. To a time when you could hug a stranger, thank a waitress with you willy and not just a courteous nod, and cough down your mate's throat whenever you liked. This story takes place back then, back in that lawless land, back when everything was simpler. It is a yarn of courage, bravery, hatred and friendship at the same time, but above all, ideocracy. So lend me your head, sit back and indulge yourself with the tale of what happened back on that fateful day in December 2019.
Chapter 1 - The pre amble
The man glanced down at his watch and then nervously up at the sky. Dark clouds were forming up above as a crow flew from the West. A bad omen for sure he thought to himself as he muttered something under his breath to avert any evil spirits. He looked down and checked the placement of the brass horn in his hand as he widened his stance as if to accept a charge. He was a tall muscular man, incredibly handsome for his age, and had expertly cut red beard that framed his head perfectly. He was the organiser of the event, the emperor of the Balleggs, our lord and saviour, Jamie Manson.
The surrounding long garden was empty bar Manson standing in the centre wearing his finest t-shirt and jean. His eyes flicked down to his watch once more, it showed 12.48, Balleggs time. He licked his lips, took a deep breath, and placed the horns rim piece to his mouth. With one long continuous exhale he sounded the horn for what seemed like hours. Then followed the silence, the wait to see who would answer the call.
One by one they started to appear, out the bushes and hedgerows, from the trees, and some from the ground. It was the men of the balleggs, the brave challengers who all came to state their claim to the ballegian throne. They came slowly at first, but as their confidence started to grow it quickly descended into a mad rabble charging down the garden towards the hallowed shed, stopping just short to catch their breaths. A good summoning Manson thought to himself as he glanced round the horde to take stock of who or what had answered the call. There were men from neighbouring towns and villages, some even from the shire of Berk. Some came from the distant city of the Don of Lon, even one or two had come from far lands over the seas that only a few had seen, others had no fixed address at all. But the turnout was good, it was going to be a feast for the senses for sure.
The remainder of the welcome and formalities was rattled through with swift athleticism to the final national anthem, where a man from the Lon called Digby Taylor was wheeled out dressed in a fitted sailor's dress to serenade the crowd. He was taller than most, with a full head of brown hair that was longer than his willy. He was dressed in a way to say "Yeah I've been on a skateboard, but now I love youtube" as he arched his back to give out the opening lines with full gusto. It was a heartfelt performance with maximum effort, something that was met with appreciative nods from some of the older competitors at the back of the crowd. Applause filled the air as the singing stopped, which was shortly followed by an eery silence as the men realised game time was over, the time of the battle was about to begin.
Chapter 2 - The opening Salvos
Digby Taylor, the man with the voice of an angel who earlier that day opened the Balleggs, was the first batter to step up to the plate. He was taller than his opponent, and more brunette, but that didn’t stop the nerves hitting him like a kilo of brick for he was taking on the blonde bomber, the maximitosis, Max Barber. They had been lovers years before in the far off city or Brighton, but today in South Oxfordshire they were enemies, and they would go at each other like randy hares.
When compared back to back on the stat charts, it was pretty level pegging on the pool, but Digby Taylor knew that he was propping up the bottom of the darts table and after winning the toss he went for pool to open the foray. He glanced at Barber once, who in return shifted his weight to his good leg and pulled a face to show his disgust at the situation unfolding in front of him as Taylor pushed him round the pool table and took the first game of the match. Max didn’t have to get out of 2nd gear to level the series on the darts after a standard double 13 finish, so it was all to play for on their final match upon the table de poole. Another clear up job here from Digby saw him advance into the quarter finals waving goodbye to Max Barber who was being speedily ushered off to the underworld, the first competitor to drop.
Up came the next two brave challengers. The first was Will Krause, a man from a land over the seas known as the Den of Swedes. He was average height, with a mat of red hair on his pale head and a bellowing voice that would give the most tolerating man a headache. The next to complete this Willy fight was Will Jones, another from Londres with a single star on his shirt to show he had won the tournament once before. He was a similar height to Krause but a slighter build, he had a frame that suggested an illustrious secondary school career playing hockey or something like that, that had now drastically relaxed, and an olive complexion that made most suspect he came from distant origins. Although they shared a name, the similarities ended there as this was a yin and yang match that would have only one winner, the one true Will.
Krause won the toss and elected for darts, an easy choice as Jones was topping the pool stats, and Krause was 2nd in the darts. Although many assumed Jones’ previous tournament win would have seen him through this match, Shakira put it right when she said the stats don’t lie, as Krause thumped home his double to take the first game. Jones, expecting this to go the way many did, turned to stare out the window with a single bead of sweat running down his head. He’d crashed out on the first round before and knew the sour taste so was quick to bite back with a ruthless win on the pool table. It came down to that final darts game, Jones knew he’d have to defy the odds to progress, and with that in his mind he muttered a short prayer to some middle eastern deity and took the oche. Whatever he said it worked, and he won the third match comfortably, advancing himself into the next round.
Alexander Bournat was the next to be sent in. He burst into the room with the force of a horse and paced around the table begging to be challenged by someone. He was another from the big city, and had the personality to match, but his roots lie further afield in his family owned town of Pang-Bournat. No one stepped forward, all just nervously expecting someone else to take the challenge, until someone did, one brave man stepped into the ring. His name was Robert Jones, from deep in the valleys of Wales. Robert was covered in tribal war tattoos betraying his battling past, he had scarred hands that looked like they’d been chewed by an animal and thick neck from at least 30 minutes spent in the gym. Jones screamed something inaudible at the ceiling and threw a piece of cutlery into the ground, which was assumed to be some declaration of war. It was on.
Bournat summoned the strength of a titan and won the toss, he’d rarely won on the pool table in the past so elected for darts which he believed should have been a comfortable win. To his surprise Robert took the first game, meaning Bournat was surely out as he’d previously displayed the queuing action of a dead goose in previous years. But this was the year of upsets, and Bournat won one of his first pool matches in a very long time. He celebrated in his usual fashion, by immediately going online and renting an Asian babe for the weekend. That was the gut punch that ended it for Jones, he’d expended all his energy in the opening round winning the darts and couldn’t keep it up as Bournat swiped him aside to place himself in the quarter final.
The final match of this round was a big one, it saw Captain Balleggs and previous 4 time winner Jamie Manson take on another 4 time winner Ashely Davies. The was surely going to be an almighty bang when these two collided as the crowd gathered, but many were quick to observe that Manson was limping and clearly unwell. Many suspected in hindsight that it could have been the first known case of coronavirus in the UK, but Manson didn’t want to show it, he wasn’t a complainer. Davies didn’t care either, he had a ruthless face that was framed by a very impressive blond beard and head of hair. He was the same height as Manson but not as magnificent, and Manson was gracious in his acceptance of the challenge whilst being severely unwell.
Davies won the toss, classic, and as the stat leader on the dartboard unsurprisingly opted for arrows first. Manson’s strength was weaning before they started and he put in a terrible performance. Davies took the first game but Manson had a chance to get back level on the pool table. Unfortunately, like Napoleon at Waterloo, the illness had completely gripped him at this point and the day for over for him. Had he been fully fighting it was sure to be a different result, but on the day Davies took the match with a clean sweep, advancing himself into the next round and sending Manson off to phone an ambulance.
Chapter 3 – The hind quarters
Winter in the Kingdom of United peoples is long. It is cold and gruelling, only the rich and hardened can survive. Frost envelops the earth and any venturing outside are soon covered in a thick layer of ice that renders them dead. The only thing that feels longer is the wait for those Balleggs competitors who didn’t compete in those first rounds. They sit and watch the bloodshed before them, trying to stay limber but conserving energy where they can, but now they were getting released onto those that had made it through the first rounds. It was their time to have a go.
Lyle Phillips was front of the queue, he’d been eagerly waiting in the wings to take a swipe at his opponent who’d already played, Digby Taylor. Lyle, a previous Balleggs winner knew the importance of conserving energy, so crawled into the arena on all fours. He had a similar Mediterranean complexion to the previous competitor Will Jones, but with longer knee length hair. He was almost immeasurably smaller than Taylor, but lacked that rabid wildness. If one of them was going to bite you, you’d have probably wanted it to be Phillips.
The odds were stacked against Taylor, not only had Phillips won the tournament before, he was also far above Taylor on all the stat tables. Taylor got off to the best start by winning the toss but immediately started building his own coffin by oddly selecting pool first. Phillips gave a small grin as he passed himself his cue, but someone had clearly used a potion that day as the tournament of upsets continued as Phillips balls were just not complying. Taylor surprised everyone including himself by winning the first pool game, but was gracious enough to give a terrible performance on the dart board to allow Phillips to level the match. It came to the last pool match. Phillips was still not sweating as he was confident the first game was a fluke, but the luck, or perhaps even skill, continued for Digby as he kept banging balls around and into pockets. Phillips was still in a state of shock when Taylor potted the black, and that was that for the little Mediterranean crawler as Taylor ran off to the horizon in delirious ecstasy, he was the first man to the semi-finals.
Fresh faced boy numero deux was Jack Bowden, he waltzed into the ring flailing his arms ready to take on the might of Will Jones, who had only just finished vanquishing Will Krause. Bowden was a seasoned egger and he knew his way around a hard cue, he’d been so close on many previous attempts he was gagging for another shot at the title. He’d even earnt the name “My little bronze medal” from his fellow competitors as no one has finished 2nd and 3rd more times than Jack, a nickname that that he’d come to love over the years and was rumoured to have it tattooed on his left bicep. Jack possessed one of those friendly faces that drew people in, but once he’d got them in close they would be soon to regret it as he was a grabber, a nasty one at that, and once he had you there was no letting go. It was sure to be an interesting match up against the uncatchable Jones who was as slippery as an eel in a car chase.
Jack won the toss and as Jones was at the top of the Pool rankings, Bowden knew he had to take him on over at the dartboard first. The dart rankings suggested this was to be a 50/50 game, but it was far from that, as Will wiped the floor with Bowden, slotting home his double whilst Jack was still chasing 200. A look of resignation took over Jack’s face as he took over the pool table, ready to crash out immediately and take his chances in the Elliot, but whether it was the mongrel in him that took over or just a relaxed given-up style, Jack was playing pool. Really playing pool. The shock passed to Jones as Bowden levelled the scores with a pool win, against all the odds. It was a momentum shift that Jones couldn’t overturn, Jack has reached sprinting pace at this point and Jones was rapidly trying to shift out of reverse. Bowden had come over a rare 0-1 deficit to take the second darts game, sending him into the semis for a 6th time, and ending Jones’ run at another Balleggs title.
Over on the other side of the tournament, Alex Bournat was just wiping the juices off his chest from polishing off Rob Jones in the first round and was shouting challenges at the masses for his next opponent. A man named Harley Cox-Hynd came forward, possibly accidently, but regardless he was the next person to be offered up to Bournat. He scoffed, as there was not much to Harley, who’d travelled from the Ton of Bright. He was taller than average, with a dark hair style that changed like the wind, but his build was slight enough to probably allow him to slide under your door or even into your clothes without you knowing. Cox-Hynd’s origins were unknown to most, but many believed him to have a similar back story to Gollum. This uncertainty did check Bournat’s charge for a second, but after a moments recalibration, he was straight back in for the wrestle.
Bournat won the toss and opted for his favourite darts, he entered the match with a high level of confidence as all knew Harley was propping up the bottom of most stat tables. He’d made a speciality out of coming last in previous years, but that was when Harley was at his most dangerous, and was probably his most valuable weapon in his armoury – making you think he’s shit and then actually hitting you with a flash of form. Bournat was stunned as Cox-Hynd won the first darts game with a solid double 3. Bournat hated pool, and just like the previous Jones vs Bowden match, was ready to bow out of the competion. Again though the season of fight backs continued as Bournat levelled the match one apiece. Momentum is inexorable in this tournament as Bournat finished Harley off whilst he was still struggling to get up form the previous pool loss with a battering on the dart board. It was one of those rare displays of serous dartmanship that had Bournat googling PDC entry requirements, a feat that also earnt him the Schmiechal trophy with the highest ever recorded Balleggs score of 160. So it was Goodbye Harley, and hello Bournat with a semi.
The final match of the quarters was where Ashely Davies lay in wait for a new challenger. He’d previously seen off the hero of the Balleggs, Jamie Manson, and he was now to face the younger Manson brother, Will, or William for short. The Manson brothers were an example of one of those rare instances where the original prototype actually turned out better than the final signed off version. Will was smaller than his massive brother, and had lighter, redder hair and complexion. But what he lacked in athletic ability, he more than made up for in mind magic for he had the brain of a goat, a very intelligent goat that could write computer code. After a bark at the moon, Davies announced that he didn’t care which Manson he beat, we were all just numbers to him, as they stared each other up and down ready to do battle.
Will Manson was a pool man through and through, his record on the darts table was something to be ashamed of so the toss meant everything to him. He had the call, and using his superior brain power, he called it correct, they were off to the pool table first. Davies didn’t mind though, he was a shoe in for the darts so he just knew he had to win one pool game, surely and easy match win for him. The pressure was slightly applied as Will won the first pool game and was so happy he nearly toiletted himself. The following darts game was almost conceded by Manson and was over before it started, it went into the final pool match level with the winner earning a guaranteed spot in the semi. Davies was really working now, he’d let the first game go and knew he had to concentrate to get through this challenge. It went ball for ball, and soon became the most watched game of the tournament. After a few tense minutes it became a black ball game and it was Manson to attack it first. He knew that if he were to make this shot, Davies would be out, and the Balleggs would be blown wide open for a new winner as older Manson, Will Jones, and Lyle Phillips were already eliminated. The white ball lay against the side cushion, with the black against the opposite, a double had to be played, it was makeable for sure but it was one of the biggest shots in Balleggs history. Manson called his coach, they discussed not much, and after a couple of minutes his cue was aligned ready to take the shot. He pushed the ball off the cushion, good contact he thought to himself, the first bit was done. It collided into the black and onto the cushion at the correct trajectory, this was it, the downfall of Davies as the black started to move towards the middle pocket. It appeared on line and everyone held there breath, but at the last second it took a dive to the right and caught the shoulder of the pocket, rattling it right in the jaws and stopping it stone dead. Davies let out a cackle of joy, he easily finished off the shot, winning him the second pool match and sending him on into the next round. It was heartbreak hotel for Manson, and everyone knew, but Davies didn’t care. He’d tasted blood and he wanted more.
Chapter 4 – Get your semis out booooys
This was the business end of the tournament, where the real players really got to play some pool and darts. People tend to become tense and suspicious this late in the day as friends become foes and old battle scars are opened up. Usually this was where the most interesting of matches can unfold, some of the contests in the semi gather more crowds than the final, but as we’d learnt already, this year was different.
Jack and Digby had their history, they’d met multiple times before with Bowden just having the upper hand, but that didn’t mean his little butt didn’t hurt every time he remembered those old meetings. Taylor at this point had consumed a beer every time he won a game, a drinking streak he thought would come to an end early, but as he was continuingly defying the odds and he was steadily getting wreck smashed in the membrane. Only time would tell if he could hold it together for long enough to make the final.
After flicking the coin well, Jack chose darts to start the match off. A choice that seemed to immediately pay dividends as Taylor was struggling to maintain his balance and composure, something that doesn’t historically bode well for playing darts. Jack won comfortably and moved over the pool table, where Digby’s fate became pretty much sealed with another solid performance from Bowden taking him 2-0 up. The fight had left Digby at this point, he’d resigned himself to Bowden and the final darts match was simply a formality. It was a good old fashioned whitewash from Bowden, a 3-0 victory that secured his place in his 2nd ever final. He pumped his fist in celebration, as Digby danced off into the night seemingly oblivious to the defeat he’d just suffered.
On the other side Alex Bournat was hoping to make more of a show of it against Ashely Davies. He’d seen off two competitors already and was screaming challenges at Davies to come and greet him in open field combat. Davies was biding his time, he knew he’d tire himself out soon and fatigue would set in. Davies had the experience, Bournat had the clout. If it came down to pool and darting skill, Davies would surely win, but we’d seen upsets already and Ashley was shaken in his previous match against Will Manson, so Bournat hadn’t given up hope yet.
After the first match Bournat had given up. Bournat had won the toss but had no option but to select darts which played straight into the wheel house of Davies. Ashley immediately batted him back with a 1-0 win. Bournat’s spirits dropped further as Davies won the pool game immediately after and the road back to redemption was just too long for Bournat. Davies had all but won at this point, but there was still a flicker of flame left in the tank for Bournat. He summoned all his strength for one last hurrah, he wasn’t going out without claiming something off Davies, and by the skin of his teeth he swatted back at Ashley with a surprising win on the Darts to make it 2-1. But this time it was truly it for Bournat, fatigue had gripped him and Davies easily rebuttaled with a quick win on Pool, putting Bournat out of his misery and lining bloody Davo up for another shot at the title.
Chapter 5 – My final? More like your final
Those that make it this far in the tournament have reached down into the depths of themselves and pulled out an unbelievable level of grit and determination. The sun had disappeared completely and the shed seemed infinitely smaller as the darkness quickly engulfed it. The final is where heroes are forged, and dreams are crushed. It’s a time of all or nothing, the two that make it cannot afford to leave anything out there, and on this fateful eve in December something unremarkable happened.
Jack Bowden, the man from the nearby Shire of Berk, was to fight the wanderer Ashley Davies. Both were seasoned in the art of the Eggs, both had been in the final before, but only Ashley had got across the line. They’d met three times previously in Balleggs history, with Davies coming out on top twice, so the many writing this off as an open and shut case where hoping to be proven wrong.
Davies had won the trophy 4 times before, a joint record, and Bowden was well aware of this. All who’d been around the Balleggs enough knew that to beat Davies, you needed to win the toss and beat him on the pool table, as his 82% win rate on the dart board was formidable.
Jack had got through the hard part, he’d won the toss, and all waited in suspense to hear what he’d select to open the final with. Davies was reaching for a queue when Jack shocked everyone by selecting Darts to open the rounds. The gasps that filled the room nearly voided it of oxygen, and a couple of the younger competitors even feinted. Davies smiled, picked up his lucky Darts, and went to work. This was Bowden’s first and last mistake of the tournament.
To say Jack embarrassed himself would not be fair, but Davies raked home the first win by a clear margin, making Bowden start to question his life choices. They moved over the pool table and Davies was licking his lips, but Bowden wasn’t in the final for nothing. In a streak of excellent Poolmanship Jack whipped back at Ashley with a nervy but steady win on the Pool table, halting the Davies march. But it was a run of form that latest only temporarily, as Davies started shifting back through the gears to take the next Darts match, followed by the pool to make it 3-1 Davies. Bowden was now fighting to keep his dreams alive, another loss as it’d be another silver medal for him.
If Jack had selected pool first it may have been a different story, but as the remaining idiots finished off their long and slow games in the Elliot and other lower echelons of the tournament, the final final made it’s way over to the Dart board. Jack breathed a sigh of exhaustion, to fight back from here was a big task, but sure as fuck he was going to try. A pair of +50 scores from both men on the opening salvos had them level pegging, but Davies pulled away with a couple of high scoring triple darts. The gulf started to increase further as Jack couldn’t match the scores and slowly but surely Davies was down to double 12 whilst Jack still had over 100 left in the tank. It didn’t take long for Ashley to find home, as his second attempt went straight into the double. Jack smiled, he’d come so close yet again, but he would have to wait another solstice before getting another go.
Davies had won the Balleggs for a record 5th time.
Chapter 6 – The aftermath and special despatches
Once everyone had finished congratulating Davies on his win, the closing ceremony started to get underway. Usually not as grand as the opening ceremony, many competitors were busy getting sick outside but started to gather round. Rather interestingly, this was the first Balleggs closing ceremony to take place inside due to the rain.
Speeches were made, most unsolicited, and friendships that were damaged over the course of the day were repaired. The room filled with relief that the whole thing was over. Special mentions were given to Will Krause for being the loudest coach, earning him the Coaches coach, Alexander Bournat for the highest ever Schmeichel awarded – 160, and Jamie Manson for being an all round great guy and trying really hard even though he was really ill, earning him the Players Player award. Rather suspiciously, Jack Bowden, the man who lost the final, turned out to be none other than the Coach of the man he lost the final to, a loss than won him £15. Would someone throw the Balleggs for £15? Probably not, but a story for next time perhaps.
But at the end of the day they were all here for one man, Ashley Davies, the 2019 Winter winner. To win the Balleggs once is an achievement many go through their lives without realising, but to win it five times is something the poets will write about in years to come.
Well done that man, and until next solstice, arrivederci!
Winner (1st): A. Davies
Close but no Cigar (2nd): J. Bowden
Mahatma Balleggs (3rd): D. Taylor
Eilliot Balleggs: L. Phillips
Cordelia II All England Champion 1837 Award: W. Krause
Players Player: J. Manson
Coach of the Year: J. Bowden
Coaches Coach: W. Krause
Schmiechal: A. Bournat
Black Spoon: A. Bournat
Knob of the year: R. Jones