REBEL curlers were last night threatening to stage an unofficial national bonspiel on a frozen loch in the Trossachs after the sport's governing body abandoned plans to hold the first Grand Match in more than 30 years because of health and safety concerns.
The Royal Caledonian Curling Club had been hoping to stage the "once-in-a-generation" match next week on the thick ice covering the Lake of Menteith, near Aberfoyle.
More than 2,000 curlers representing clubs from the north and south of Scotland had been due to take to the loch next week for the first Grand Match to be staged in Scotland since 1979, but it was called off yesterday after police raised concerns about the safety of curlers and spectators and the RCCC claimed it would be impossible to obtain the necessary event insurance.
Curlers, angry with the decision, said it was a "nanny state" ruling and warned that the unique contest could be consigned to history because of the "PC brigade".
Some told The Scotsman that many enthusiasts were already making plans to stage an unofficial match on the Lake of Menteith within the next few days in protest.
One Glasgow-based curler said: "There are an awful lot of angry curlers who want that match to go ahead with or without the RCCC. I am certain that some sort of Grand Match will go ahead.
"A lot of us are really gutted that red tape and health and safety should cause the cancellation. It's a joke they can't get round the insurance requirements by a simple legal disclaimer."
"The conditions on the loch are perfect, and if it doesn't go ahead now you wonder if there will ever be another Grand Match."
Another curler said: "There are more of us who want this to succeed than there are blazers at the RCCC. Blaming the nanny state at short notice is a cop-out."
Sir Archie Orr-Ewing, president of the Port of Menteith Curling Club, also voiced his disappointment.
He said: "I played in both the last match in 1979 and the previous one in 1963. We had about 6,000 people there in 1979, but I understand the police were expecting up to 10,000 had the match gone ahead.
"I suppose it is just too much these days in the litigious society we live in," he said. "It's a great shame."
Commenting on an unofficial Grand Match, Sir Archie added: "I think lots of them probably will come. And good luck to them, quite honestly."
Colin Grahamslaw, chief executive of the national governing body, defended the decision of the Grand Match Committee.
He said: "Since Monday, we have been working with the police and the emergency services and the local authorities to try and achieve this and make it work, but, in the timescale, it has just not proved possible.
"You are talking about trying to move 2,000 curlers and an unknown number of spectators on and off the site safely. There is only one road in and one road out, and the police and emergency services were really concerned that you could get one snarl-up and there would be gridlock."
Mr Grahamslaw stressed: "We weren't worried by the ice, because the ice would have been thick enough by next week, if it isn't thick enough already."
Mr Grahamslaw said it would have been "irresponsible" to ignore the advice of the emergency services and that the decision to call off the match was deeply disappointing.
On the threat of an unofficial bonspiel, he said: "The police advice is quite clear, and the Royal club will not be staging a Grand Match."
Central Scotland Police's Stirling area commander, Superintendent Davie Flynn, said: "We have had a number of serious concerns over public safety surrounding this proposed event. These have been expressed in the strongest possible terms."
RARE EVENT IN SPORTING CALENDAR
THE Grand Match is one of the most spectacular and rarest events in the Scottish sporting calendar.
It was first held in 1837 and has since taken place on 38 occasions. The last Grand Match was at the Lake of Menteith in 1979 and was won by the north of Scotland, by 3,937 shots to 3,144.
Any decision to stage a Grand Match is taken by the Grand Match Committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, the sport's national governing body, which is responsible for all aspects of the tournament.
Seven inches of ice are needed for a Grand Match, to support the combined 250-tonne weight of people and stones involved in the event.