MEMBERS of Balerno and Currie Rifle Club have gone from zeroes to heroes after a remarkable season of target shooting put the club on the brink of a league championship title.
The club, who have been competing in the Lothian Smallbore Shooting Association’s (LSSA) shoulder-to-shoulder league, finished their regular season tied with defending champions Selkirk at the top of the table and will now contest a one-off match in October against them to determine an eventual winner.
The competition format is long-established in the Lothians and teams including Heriot’s, Prestonpans, Watsonians, Redcraig and Pathhead contest evening matches at indoor ranges with teams of four, home and away. It is considered an ideal test for target shooters in adapting quickly to new ranges and unfamiliar surroundings.
The play-off should have been staged before now but due to an organisational mix-up it will take place in October.
The shoulder-to-shoulder team captain, Frank, a member for 14 years at the club, took on a pivotal role in delivering this year’s success with his shooting prowess, and is disappointed that the chance to enjoy his summer break as a league champion has not materialised. But he will look to give his best account when the time comes around later this year.
“It’s been mishandled and there are procedures that it should have gone through that haven’t happened.” Frank said. “I don’t know if we will win as there are people like myself who bowl over the summer so I won’t be really up to speed when the time comes around. There are others who shoot through the summer so they might fare better.”
Failing to record a single victory in the past two seasons had left the club’s spirits on a downwards spiral. It may have then emerged as a huge shock to the system to find the club in a rejuvenated position this year, having won eight of their 12 league matches with some impressive away wins against some fiercely-talented opposition and a real opportunity to challenge for championship honours.
“It’s been a great season, so the turnaround has been pleasing,” Frank explained. “It’s not a sport that you come along and try maybe three or four times. Usually you’ll know after your first shot if it’s for you or not. I think our success this year has been down to the arrival of some new members at the club. The coaching staff have brought them on which has helped, but a lot of the younger ones coming through has made the difference and provides more options.
Among the regular coaching staff at the club is Sinclair Bruce, who represented Scotland at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, is now a professional coach and is in London for the Olympics, where he will keep a close eye on Edinburgh’s Jen McIntosh, 21, who begins her campaign for Olympic glory on Saturday in the women’s 10m air rifle event.
The shoulder-to-shoulder format has been very useful in taking new competitors beyond the stage of postal competitions shot on their own range and giving them hard-nosed experience under match pressure.
“We even managed to assemble a B squad last season. This was more about giving them the experience, but they did well and should make places in the first team harder to come by,” explained Frank.
“If we can keep the team together, then I think we can, if not win, be challenging at the top end again. You tend to have highs and lows in this sport, but I would hope we’d be up in the top two or three at least.”
Frank is indeed one of the more senior shooting enthusiasts of the squad, but at the age of 69, he is also one of the more experienced and is still a high scorer.
His modest approach is an asset to admire, and he is keen to highlight the success and contribution of all concerned within the club. However, his individual triumphs only emphasise his skill out on the range.
He said: “I started shooting when I was 25 and was with a couple of other clubs before I joined Balerno and Currie. But it took about five years before I actually won anything.
“I won a couple of championships that sadly don’t run any more. Four or five years ago, I came second in the Borders Championship twice before winning it twice in a row, and I also won the LSSA Championship. But it’s been downhill ever since then!”
Frank believes the sport has been unfairly tagged due to its nature and use of rifles, but says people should reserve their judgements until they have seen the action at first hand.
He added: “For a while, you got a feeling that you were the bad boys of sport for shooting. All we do is try to knock holes in a bit of paper, but people don’t seem to understand this unless you can get them along.”
The numbers of men and women who have swollen the club’s ranks in recent years – from Scotland internationals past and present to members from as far afield as Malta and Hungary, to youngsters who attend the regular training sessions to get them on the right track – prove that Balerno & Currie are doing something right.
Their range is one of the biggest in the area and is often used to stage the finals of nationwide competitions as well as coaching courses and programmes for the sport’s officials.
In a discipline in which Scotland has excelled in in recent years – most of the nation’s medals in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi came from target shooting – it is to be hoped Balerno and Currie’s success will inspire more to believe it’s never too late to come good.