TATTIE going tonto provided the enduring images at Kelvingrove yesterday as the Commonwealth bowling went, well, berserk.
With Scotland facing defeat in the men’s pair going into the last end of their semi-final against England, heavyweight figure of the game in more ways than one, Alex ‘Tattie’ Marshall produced, what he said afterwards, was “without doubt” the best end of his career. And this isn’t just any career, but one that has allowed Marshall to claim more world titles than any other player in bowls’ history. His pairs partner Paul Foster, meanwhile, isn’t far behind.
Seasoned observers of the sport claim that the two bowls Tattie tucked against the jack to condemn opponents Andy Knapper and Sam Tolchard to defeat in agonising circumstances were the best produced in so exalted a stage and at such a pressurised juncture. The celebrations they set him off upon were not just world class, too, but a new sight for many long-time bowls followers.
Marshall, all octopus arms, took off down the rink with a rapidity – in light of his generous girth – as inconceivable as the accuracy of the shots he had just produced. To roars that refused to subside, he then ramped up the revelry with a spectacular “get it right roon’ ye”, his clenched fist zooming all the way up to head height. Put it this way, the variation of this gesture that then Hibs manager Pat Fenlon directed towards the Hearts fans during the 5-1 Scottish Cup final in 2012, and which earned him a four-game ban, was positively tame by comparison.
The frolics didn’t end there. As he thrust one finger in the air in triumph, and team-mate Foster grabbed his arm to hold it there, one digit became, eh, two... and not in a Churchill stylee. Perhaps that was in reference to the two incomparable shots he had delivered. Or perhaps it had something to do with apparent heckles from a section of the stands housing England supporters.
Marshall became a cyber sensation last night, his celebration, ‘The Tattie’, now being ranked alongside Mo Farah’s Mobot. To those attempting to promote bowls as a little more edgy than its stuffy image, there was a private admission that what happened at lunchtime yesterday in Glasgow 2014 was manna from heaven.
Marshall wasn’t for letting on what exactly had caused him to indulge in such an emotional, and impolite, out-pouring, beyond the obvious national rivalries. “When you are playing against the Auld Enemy you’ve got to celebrate, there’s only one thing you are going to do and that’s celebrate.,” he said.
Possibly, there was also an element of relief in the ribald nature of his winning acknowledgements. On their own patch, he and Foster started out as overwhelming favourites to claim the pairs, with Malaysia’s Hizlee Rais and Fairul Abd Muin now standing between them and a first gold for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games in bowls since Melbourne in 2006. Not that Marshall would entertain that.
“Malaysia are one of the most improved bowling nations in the world and we are under no illusions it’s going to be another hard game, but I’m quietly confident if we both play the way we know we can, we will win,” he said. “You get a wee bit more home pressure from the home crowd but once we get on the green we’ll be relaxed and hopefully we’ll get the gold medal. The majority of tournaments we play in, nine times out of 10, we are favourites and it doesn’t bother us. If we play how we can, we will be hard to beat at any competition.”
How Tattie can turn it on in the crucial moments is what sets him apart. Yet even he seems to have surprised himself with his final two shots in the last end. “I was able to draw two balls within four inches of the jack, and I had almost a front toucher and a back toucher. To win it in a semi-final when I went up with a game against me is very pleasing.,” he said. “You always feel pressure when it comes to the last stage of the game, but you just have to back yourself. Obviously I’ve done it with my second bowl, drew the shot with my second bowl, and I said to Paul, ‘it doesn’t matter where the skip goes against us, if he fails I’m quite confident he will do the same again.’ I went up, picked my bowl up, cleaned it and said to myself, ‘repeat what you did with your second bowl,’ and I did it.”
His brother-in-arms, Foster, certainly believed in the ability of his colleague to do the near-impossible. “There was a lot of pressure on him and he just failed with his first one,” said Foster. “But he nosed it with his second one and Sam [Tolchard] just failed. I said to Alex, ‘if there’s any man in the world who can draw this then you can’ and he said, ‘I’ll draw this’. That’s the best two bowls I’ve ever seen in my life, absolutely fantastic.”