It was the imminent demise of the Oxfordshire county team which prompted Kieran Smallbone to consider new outlets for the enthusiastic chess players of the county.
Kieran himself and one or two other local players had played occasionally in previous seasons for various teams in the ever-expanding 4 Nations Chess League or 4NCL as it is universally known. Kieran spoke to other players about the possibility of entering a team in the league loosely based in Oxfordshire and found that there was considerable interest in the possibility. In particular, Dave Bruce of Cowley Chess Club led a drive to recruit local players, predominantly from his own club and the strong Oxford City club who wanted the chance to play 4NCL chess. Kieran meanwhile pieced together a ragbag bunch of current and former University players. A few other players known to Kieran were thrown into the mix and Oxford 4NCL was born. Kieran brought Pete Harrison on board to head up the administrative side of the operation and the relatively affluent University club loaned us the £200 or thereabouts which was required to enter two teams.
The key members of the initial Oxford 4NCL squad were University players Kieran Smallbone, Kemal Ozeren, Ian Webster and Chris Duggan, former University players Ben Savage, Matt Ludbrook and Pete Harrison, Cowley players Dave Bruce, Gerard O’Reilly and Ray Starkie, Oxford City players Sean Terry and Will Burt and miscellaneous associates James Coleman, Aidan Rawlinson and Chris McIntosh. Later in the first season our happy band was joined by Merim Bilalic, Alex Milovanovic and Kevin Henbest, while Witney man Dave Hackett and emergency reserve Matt Read also put in appearances during our debut season.
From the start we enjoyed tremendous success on the board as the first team cut a swathe through its early opponents and the second team consistently performed well above itself, notably in beating Brown Jack who were arguably the strongest team in the league. The first team did later face a couple of setbacks including a narrow and unfortunate defeat against old rivals Cambridge. But by the narrowest of margins they did enough to secure second place in the division 4 table and promotion to division 3. Oxford 2 meanwhile finished in mid-table which was scant reward for some of the fine performances they had put in during the season.
For season 2, the need for extra and stronger players to cater for our new division 3 status meant a summer recruitment drive. Some of the area’s strongest players were now keen to get involved, so Oxford City duo Matt Rose and Nigel Moyse and new University president Dave Shaw joined the squad. We were also delighted to add strong female players Melanie Buckley and Vygante Milasiute and to find that season 1 squad members Graham Morris and Jon Smith would now be able to take an active part. The back-up power of Brunel University pair Philippe Chassy and Guillermo Campitelli was also secured.
At the time of writing the two Oxford teams have made a great start to season 2, with Oxford 1 winning its first two fixtures and Oxford 2 achieving a draw and a win against the Cheddleton team who had thumped them 5.5-0.5 last year. The vital second weekend approaches with both teams facing two of their toughest games of the season and promotion prospects on the line.
So what of the future. Already we have found that this season we have the very pleasing problem of having more enthusiastic players in the squad than we can realistically provide enough games for. So for season 2005-2006, the plan is to enter a new third team in division 4 to cater for these players. Hopefully Kieran Smallbone will take his first team to division 2 where, with perhaps one or two extra players, they will surely be strong enough to hold their own. Dave Bruce will lead a second team in division 4 or perhaps even division 3 if Oxford 2 can produce some mighty performances this year. And Pete Harrison will skipper the new third team which will provide opportunities for some of the current second team to play very strong opponents and gain FIDE ratings on the top boards and for weaker players to experience the unique atmosphere of 4NCL on the lower boards.