THERE has already been a lot of talk about the benefits for the Scotland team of competing on home territory this summer, and we are sure to hear a lot more in the weeks to come.
The consensus is that, provided they can control their adrenalin and deal with the heightened expectation, our athletes will perform better in Glasgow than they would further afield.
In the case of some, such as Alex Marshall, of course, they can hardly perform better than they have already done in previous Games. The bowler, now 47, won pairs gold in Manchester 12 years ago, then again in Melbourne in 2006.
Also a five-times indoors singles champion, he has proved he can win anywhere, no matter the surroundings, whatever the pressure. Not that he is blase about Glasgow, however. Far from it. Since being selected for the team in late March, Marshall has allowed himself to look forward with ever-increasing anticipation to what he believes could be one of the best bowls tournaments ever.
“I’m probably more excited for this one than for any of them, to be honest,” he says. “I’ve been round the world, and competed in other Commonwealth Games, but you can’t beat playing in your own backyard.
“Selection was something I was looking forward to for a while. The selection process took quite a time, and I was glad to be selected.
“It’s hard to say what has been the best atmosphere at a tournament I’ve been at, because there have been so many, indoor and outdoor. But I’d probably say the Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, when we beat the old enemy in the final. It was a very hard game on a very tricky surface. The big crowd were fantastic for us, and we gave them something to celebrate on the day.
“I think it’s going to be far bigger this time. I believe all the tickets have been sold – wherever you play in Scotland you’re always going to get a massive crowd.
“It is going to create added pressure for us, because playing at home we’ll be expected to do very well. But I think that will help us as well, because we’ll know we’ve got to be at the top of our game.”
Marshall is used to handling that pressure, of course, but even such an accomplished competitor can have off days. There was the time, for example, when he was struggling in a big match, and the home crowd – or at least a very small but very vocal part of it – did nothing at all to help.
“In the final of the world bowls, at Ayr Northfield, against Steve Glasson from Australia, I was getting beat something like 15-9,” he recalls. “The surface was really, really hard, because there were heavy bits and fast bits, and when that’s the case it’s very difficult to try and adapt your weight.
“One bowl I threw something like five yards short, because I just failed to get on to the quick stuff. And somebody in the crowd shouted out to me: ‘Are you trying, you fat bastard?’
“I don’t know who it was. But I shouted across to him: ‘Do you want to come and have a shot?’ It was somebody that had maybe had too much to drink, but you can’t do anything about that. You’ve got to put it out of your mind and try to get yourself focused.
“Sometimes people don’t realise how difficult the conditions are. They want to see Scotland win everything and, purely because I wasn’t playing well at that particular time in the game, people started to criticise. That was the worst shout I ever heard.”
Thankfully, such less-than-helpful “support” is rare, and Marshall can remember many more occasions when the enthusiasm of a crowd has been an invaluable assistance.
“There are times when the crowd can play a massive part. If a game’s very close with a few ends to go, and say there’s five shots against you and you’ve got that last bowl – you’ve got to try and convert those five shots either down to one, or try and get the shot yourself.
“If you manage to get the shot, then the crowd lifts you. There’s a lot of noise and a lot of encouragement, and that can lift us at any point in the game. But, especially in the last five or six ends, or if there’s a turning point in the game, the crowd can play that massive part for us.
“I think Glasgow is going to be the best ever. The crowd is going to be behind us and it’s going to be full,” added Marshall.
In any case, even if he were to come up against a partially hostile crowd, it would not be anything new. Indeed, you get the feeling that, barring the odd off day such as that one against Glasson in Ayr, he is more than ready to deal with anything that gets bowled at him.
“When you’re playing against the English guys at the world championships at the Potters Leisure Resort [in Norfolk], 80 per cent of that crowd want the English guy to win – and rightly so because the venue’s in England,” he says. “But they do try to upset you.
“That sort of stuff goes on as well. I don’t mind, because sometimes that can work the other way and make me more determined to do better.”