Meet James Irwin – One of Scotland’s Glasgow 2014 Umpire


DSC_0034The connection remains from the moment you share a passion and a vision about Lawn Bowls.

I have had the pleasure of meeting James Irwin MBE after being introduced to him by Ron McArthur, a Silver ParaSports Lawn Bowls Medallist in the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at the UK Visually Impaired and Blind Championship at Kelvingrove in June this year. James was at Kelvingrove as an Umpire for the competition. A very important role to undertake to ensure the matches are carried out fairly and has the  responsible for presiding over the game from a neutral point of view and making on the spot decisions that enforce the Laws of Lawn  Bowls. It was only a few weeks before Glasgow 2014 would begin to get underway and I knew straight away, James Irwin MBE would become one of many stories I would endeavour to encapsulate on my ParaSports venture.

The Commonwealth Games was billed as the ‘friendliest Games’ in Glasgow and when I caught up with James at Dumbarton Bowling Club where he is a member,  he echoed the remarks further saying ‘it was down to the people of Glasgow who made it friendly’.

On an extraordinary sunny day in September, 2014, I was delighted to pay James a visit to his Dumbarton Bowling Club, near St Mary’s Way. It was an opportunity to find out more about James’s passion for Bowls and a dedicated gentlemen who has given so much the community, bowling community and the people he had coached in the area.

James has been playing bowls for thirty years taking up the sport in 1984 and twenty four years respectively for coaching bowls. He was also the founding member of the committee for the people of Dumbarton to have their own Indoors Bowls Centre. He recalls that his wife started playing bowls before him and lots of his friends began to take up the sport too. However, it was the words of wisdom of a neighbour, Kenneth Millian who encouraged James to take up bowls and hasn’t looked back since.

James has had a very successful story on and off the Bowling Green, he has been a member of Dumbarton Bowling Club for thirty years; he had been appointed as the Club’s President three times, 1991, 1996 and 2012. (In 1996, he served as President alongside his wife of Dumbarton Bowling Club.) The present President of the Club is Margaret Shield. It is currently unified. Margaret Shields has been previously the President of the Scottish Women Bowls Association. However, what makes Dumbarton Bowling Club universally different, Margaret Shields is the first Women President in 182 years of Dumbarton Club. James cited that is ‘quite an achievement’.

There was no doubts during my interview with James, I became engrossed with what he had to say when he recalled the moment the journey began, he wasn’t particularly brilliant at the games through practice and practice, he became a better bowler and soon began representing his club at competitions. It wasn’t long before he started winning titles. His list of titles speak for itself: Club Champion, Singles Champion, Fours Champion, Triples Champion and Twice in the Pairs Champion category. He used to coach the current Scottish Singles Champion Kevin Anderson.

An area that I was so looking forward to hearing from James was he his dedication, time and desire to coaching children, young adults in the community as I’ve yet to come into contact with another coach other than Ron McArthur who I have had great admiration for and display the same trustworthy, loyalty and understanding about disability.  James quickly whipped that this club had catered for people with disabilities and I happened to know a former member of the club who had a complex disability. I soon realised that there are clubs within the local communities, you just have go searching and hopefully you feel at eased with club.

As James mentioned earlier, he had been a coach for twenty four years and goes onto say that Bowls has become his passion now. He would sorely missed Bowls if he wasn’t playing. He conclude that in order for Bowls to survive in generations to come, the young boys and girls will be key to ensuring that Bowls grows and prosper.

When I first met James at Kelvingrove in June this year where he was an umpire. The role of an Umpire who can be seen in action at all lawn bowls events, from club and county events to national finals, international matches, Commonwealth Games and World Championships. Umpires are qualified through an intensive training and examination process, and the desire to commit time and dedication to the sport. James emphasised the word “considered” as you have to be “considered to be an Umpire at Lawn Bowls competition following an ITO (International Technical Official) exam which allows Umpires like James to hold an accreditation for up to five yearsdehlirs. James’s accreditation has nearly expired and has indicated to Tom Weir who oversee the Bowls Scotland’s Umpiring Committee that he would like to his renew his accreditation

It is clear from James’s passion, commitment, dedication and wealth of experiences have served him and not only confined to home soil, he has been incredibly fortunate to Umpire at the previous Commonwealth Games in Delhi four years ago. It was a magnificient experience, different culture and the people in India were so kind says James. James highlighted that Lawn Bowls is not a big sport in Delhi. The matches during the Commonwealth Games in Delhi were ‘streets away’. Scotland’s Lawn Bowls team suffered their worst performance and came home without a medal.

James has also followed Lawn Bowls closely, travelling to New Zealand to watch the World Lawn Bowls Championships. He said he was glad to travel and watch it as when you are umpiring at these Games, you don’t have the opportunity to explore the country as umpiring is a long day from being up at 6am and not finishing till 9pm.

Clyde-sider290714 (11)Our attention turned to Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Like Jim, I was incredibly fortunate to have played a part in the Games. For me personally, I was in a unique position compared to most Clyde-sider volunteers that I had been engaged with the Bowls community from countless of people I have met along the way. Jim elaborated further that Glasgow 2014 in particularly at Kelvingrove, while it was low key, it was very atmospheric and he believed the people who were involved made it the friendliest Games.

During my shifts at Kelvingrove, Jim and I caught up on numerous occasions and we really appreciated each other involvements. I was assigned to the Print Distribution Team within Results Technology who were responsible for distributing the results to clients meanwhile James was umpiring matches. Catching up with James was a pinnacle highlight of my ParaSports, (Clyde-sider) journey during the Games.

Jim has been instrumental to the success of Bowls in his community of Dumbarton. He has impacted on many different lives already. James was awarded an MBE for his services to Allied Distiller and part of a community team which raised over £500, 000 for various causes.

After having been on the road for two years covering the ParaSports for Glasgow 2014 and the Glasgow Evening Times, Jim and I have partnered up as he wanted to relishes the challenge of coaching me with complex impairments associated with my Cerebral Palsy. Within eight weeks, Jim has transformed me into a bowler with his steer determination.

The next Taylor Bowls’s blog update will focus on Jim’s attribute to ‘get’ me bowling and what inspired him to do so.

Jim couldn’t have made it clearer “Bowls is a Game for life as long as you want to play it. Lawn Bowls is the most simple Games, come to this club”.

IBD Championship 2015

Five months since the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, the Scottish Para-Lawn Bowls team continues to go from strength to strength.

I went to Falkirk Indoor BC to see the development and elite squads in training. It was also to find out more about those who have been selected for the IBD, (International Bowls for the Disabled) Championship 2015 which is being held in New Zealand from (16 – 27 February 2015).

The list is below, players are:
Billy Allan (Cowdenbeath); Gary Clelland (Linlithgow); Martin Hunter (Burntisland); Michael Simpson (Auchtermuchty); Garry Brown (Kirkmuirhill); John Hughes (Stewarton); Rosemary Lenton (Dumfries); Barbara MacMillan (Cowdenbeath); Irene Edgar (Saltcoats); Billy Edgar (Saltcoats); Maria Spencer (Dunfermline) and Harry Harris (Larbert)

Staff supporting the players:
Bob Dick – Head Coach, Ron McArthur – Assistant Head Coach/Director, Celia Smith – Assistant Coach, Eric MacMillan – Assistant Coach, David Thomas – Director, Grace Whitton – Director, Sarah Jane Ewing – Director.

They have appointed a Team Manager who will accompany the team. Liz Mendl has been confirmed as their manager. She has an impressive track records as previously appointed as the Head of Medical Services for Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and comes from a physio background. Her valuable expertise will be instrumental to them.

One of the coaches selected to accompany the Scottish Para-Bowls team to New Zealand is Ron McArthur who is a Director and Silver Medallist at this year’s Commonwealth Games. He was a Director for the Visually Impaired player, Robert Conway. Ron told me more about the IBD Championship in New Zealand.

The International Bowls for the Disabled, (IBD) originated from the family of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) which is one of the largest sporting organisations in the World and the main international body governing sport for athletes with a disability.

Para-Bowls was formerly on the programme of the Paralympic Games. However, Bowls was excluded from the Paralympic Games in 1996. Two reasons contributed to the outcome, they had insufficient nations participating in the sport and Bowls was not feature on the calendar of Summer Olympic Games. While Para-Bowls has been included in Sporting events, i.e. Manchester Commonwealth Games in 2002, bowlers with disabilities have been excluded from major competitions.

The Scottish Para-Bowls squad and the coaches couldn’t begin the selection process for the players to be completing in the IBD Championship 2015 until after the Commonwealth Games. This has left them with a tight turnaround.

The IBD Championship in New Zealand will be challenging and the Scottish team will have to match the standard of 2011 performance of when they were second place in the World. South Africa are currently considered the best in the World.
Those who have been selected, haven’t been to New Zealand before and all efforts will on coaches to ensure that the players are settled and prepared for the competitions. These competitions will be highly competitive as players will be completing in Singles and Pairs competitions.

We look forward to hearing how the Scottish Para-Lawn Bowls team progress in the IBD Championship 2015.

In 2015, I will start to explore the women inequality in bowls and in particular among women with disabilities; coaching people with disabilities in bowls and having a level playing field for those bowlers who have a disabilities and have to financial funds themselves to play for their countries. These are some of the issues I will explore and address in the New Year.
In meantime, I look forward to introducing James, (Jim) Irwin, my coach in my next instalment. Thanks to a coach who transformed me into bowler.

Taylor Bowls Partnership

I am delighted to be partnering up with Taylor Bowl, the manufacturers of bowls to energized the
mSONY DSComentum to propel Para-Lawn Bowls here in Scotland and around the World and look forward to equally sharing my Lawn Bowls journey with you all. I am delighted with this appointment and look forward to the vision ahead.

It was two years ago when I started to explore the five Para-Sports that would be integrated into the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. The five were Lawn Bowls, Swimming, Cycling and Power-Lifting.

One of my first Para-Sport that I was sent out to try on behalf of Glasgow Evening Times and Glasgow 2014 was Lawn Bowls. I remembered that day visibly when I met Ron McArthur who was a Director for one of the Visually Impaired player at the Commonwealth Games, Robert Conway; Anne Dunwoodie who is a Scottish Internationalist and works for Taylor Bowls and Garry Brown is a Scottish Para-Bowler.

During the last two years, I have remained in contacts with many of the people I have met along the way on this ParaSports journey and in particular, Anne Dunwoodie who kept me abreast and involved in some of the Bowls events that took place in the build-up to the Commonwealth Games.

However, following the success of Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer, I knew the momentum has to continue in some capacity. I began to explore what sport I would start to galvanized first and it was no surprise, Lawn Bowls was on the card.

Two years ago, when I tried Lawn Bowls I particularly found it difficult because the nature of my Cerebral Palsy affect my co-ordination, balance and manual dexterity so this was going to be a challenge to take on in any capacity. The second issue I was up against, finding a coach within my local area who would teach me how to play bowls. There are 500 coaches in Scotland but very few have experience of coaching people with disabilities.

While taking time out to recover from the Commonwealth Games, I kept in touch with James Irwin. I was incredibly fortunate to meet James who was an Umpire at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. James, (Jim) is also a Bowls Coach and he talked me into taking up Bowls. Jim was inspired by Robert Love who is an English Para-Bowler and wanted to relish the opportunity of coaching myself.

Reflecting back on that sunny day in September when I met with Jim to capture his bowls story, it was also about to open the next chapter of my Para-Sports journey. I gave Jim the opportunity to coach me how to play bowls. It was no mean feat when my physical disability is complex however eight weeks into the journey, Jim finally got me bowling within a remarkable timescale. It has been down to the utter determination and analysis Jim carried out with me. Therefore, I look forward to introducing Jim in many of my future blog’s entries.

More importantly, I realize that there is a sport for everyone in the community and regardless of your disability, sports has the power to adapt witSONY DSCh your needs. This was very evident when my partnership was initiated with Jim.

Within an incredible turnaround when I was introduced to Bowls two years ago in the build-up to Glasgow 2014, I couldn’t have foreseen I would go on to have partnership with Taylor Bowls. I relish the challenge that awaits me as I set out to cover Para-Bowls alongside helming my bowling journey with the presence of Taylor Bowls.

Thank you for reading and look forward to sharing the journey with you.