Ten years on from etching his name on the coveted Tait Trophy (1888) for a first time 44-year-old Mal Higgenbotham is celebrating the start of a third reign as the Edinburgh & Leith Champion of Champions.
The Tanfield champion adding to his successful conquests of 2005 and 2007 with a dramatic 21-17 victory over former club mate Graeme McIntosh in an entertaining 24-end final played at Mayfield.
Asked about his focus coming into the final Higgenbotham said “ Graeme and I know each others game inside out so there wasn’t the surprise element that existed in my previous rounds where my opponents were less familiar”.
“I would say my driving force is to try and become a multiple champion of the Tait in the mould of five times winners David McGill, Colin Mitchell, and Robert Marshall, no easy task though”.
Higgenbotham has achieved all three of his Tait triumphs under the Tanfield banner having joined the club from Haddington in 1997 since when he has made a significant mark with a magnificent seven club championship wins to his credit. McIntosh is no back number at the age of 58 having just won the Championship at Maitland to add to his two title successes at Tanfield where the gold leaf on the honours board highlights him as skip of the 2010 trio that captured the Scottish Triples Crown.
The final played on the green of E&L President Brian MacFarlane attracted a decent sized crowd and they were kept well entertained as the battle for supremacy went down close to the wire with the outcome hanging in the balance at 17-17 after 22 ding-dong ends. The outcome of end 21 had left Higgenbotham gutted following a hold of three shots that failed to make the card with McIntosh enjoying a piece of good fortune via a saving effort that was well enough directed but needed a rub to flick its way into the head for a single.
McIntosh played a positive 23rd end where a hold of two gave him the chance of a title winning 4 but was unlucky in nudging the jack the wrong way resulting in Higgenbotham producing a brilliant ‘chap and lie’ for a three shot reward. Higgenbotham was in the better frame of mind entering end 24 and it showed with him dominating the build up and triggering the victory salute with a comfortable single.
The early exchanges saw McIntosh make the stronger start to lead 7-2 after six ends then the spotlight switched to Higgenbotham whose fight back of 1, 1, 3 suggested that a thrilling encounter was about to develop. McIntosh stopped Higgenbotham in his tracks with a purple patch spell of 1, 2, 1, 3 that accelerated him firmly into the driving seat at 14-7 at which stage Higgenbotham later reflected “ I knew I had to dig deep and grind my way back into the game”.
The grind became a roll in the shape of Higgenbotham sharpening up his lead bowl and the benefits yielding counts of 2, 2, 1, 2 that moved him off the back foot and onto the front foot with a first time lead at 16-15. “I think the game-changing moment for me came with my double to 11-15 as I blackened the white with my last two bowls and it was on Graeme’s preferred short jack length and that perked me up”. “I feel good about taking the Tait Trophy back to Tanfield as the club is not the force it once was but is back on the rise with promotion to Division 1 of the Edinburgh Bowling League and high profile achievement enhances morale and inspires effort”.