East Anglian Pinball Show – The Swavesey Rundown

When I first arrived at the Black Horse in Swavesey I saw a quiet village pub in a quiet town, in quiet Cambridgeshire. For me, it was lovely. This is around the area where I grew up, so it certainly felt like home. It didn’t however feel like the site of a hidden gem of pinball, and a show that is now in it’s 13th year. That is, of course, until you walk in. This is my rundown of the event, with all the details of the day and the competition that stand out.

On entering the pub it feels like any good pub should. There is the TV is in the corner for sports and the obligatory fruit machine. You can see it starts getting better with a dart board, a bar billiards table. I also spy a pool table down the corridor.

The landlord is an Ipswich Town fan, and whilst we can’t all be perfect, it’s great to see him nailing his colours to the mast. Especially as difficult as that must be for them, being in league one next year :p. Joking aside, what this tells you is this is a proper pub, and I like it. As fantastic as all this is though, I’m not here for the pub to be a pub. Then that all to familiar sound of pinball machines going through the motions hits me. I am drawn to the pubs tap room. For now, the beer will wait.

Day One At The East Anglian Pinball Show – Swavesey

Whilst some start arriving on the Friday night (something I will try and make next year), my day one at Swavesey started on Saturday morning. The traffic coming down was light as most were making the journey to the coast, whilst I was coming in-land from Norwich. Major roadworks around Cambridge caused a delay that was unavoidable. Still, I made it into the venue and was greeted by a vast array of machines.

Moments after making it into the venue. I managed to track down Mark Squires, the organiser of The East Anglian Pinball Show. You can tell the event, which is described by Mark as The Friendliest Pinball Show in the UK Diary, mimics Mark’s demeanour. Mark is friendly, knowledgeable and passionate about pinball. I get the real sense that whilst putting on an event like this must take up hours and hours of his time. It’s all about bringing the community together.

The Cambridge Pinball Show - Swavesey 1

The Gooseberry Cider

A quick mention to this cider, which was on as a special at the pub. £4 for a pint at 4% and it was absolutely gorgeous. To labour a point, this is the type of pub the show is held at, a proper pub. The cider is a strong choice, a hand picked “special”. Gooseberry’s are abundant in the area – or from my recollection it must be. My Nan made my family gooseberry jam and it is something I have fond memories of growing up. This cider really took me back. At 4% and how easily it was to drink, it was something to be wary of. In the wrong hands, this could be dangerous.

Pinball, Beer and Banter

In a nutshell, that is exactly what day one at The East Anglian Pinball Show in Swavesey is all about. What’s great is when you get any amount of people like this, with this much passion together – there is always going to be great banter. The pub provides great beer and the patrons of the event (and notably Mark and Matt who contributed more than one game each) bring the pinball. What’s great though is how all three ebb and flow at your convenience. If you would like to sit and have a beer and a chat, there is seating available in the sun or out of it if you prefer. Want to play a few games with others, the crowd is friendly and all you need to do is simply ask “Would you like to play a game?” Want to play on your own… well that’s fine too.

The Cambridge Pinball Show - Swavesey 1

Day Two – The UK Pinball Cup

My day two started well, I managed to find a good AirBNB at an extremely reasonable rate, which I won’t be sharing. If I can make it in there next year again, I will be. After arriving at the show, I learnt a valuable lesson. Never ask an event organiser “Is there anything I can do?” I soon found myself levelling machines and whilst early, was warm enough to notice when crawling around levelling the games. Did this intimate knowledge of how the machines were levelled give me an edge? No. It gave me the sweats.

My morning was spent playing games with Greg Mott, who is an exceptional player in the U.K. and an absolute gentlemen. One of my major weaknesses in competitions is rule knowledge and this is another string to Greg’s bow. In all walks of life you will get the ultra competitive players, who could worry about showing a newbie the ropes, but Greg isn’t in that camp. The amount I learn off of playing game after game in the morning with him, is incredible. It certainly held me in good stead for what was to come. My advice, is to always play with others. No matter what skill level, people will help you play better with something you’ve not thought of before.

The Draw and Pinball Champ

Counter-intuitively, whilst I don’t take competitions too seriously, I never want to go out at the first hurdle. I don’t know whether it is the environment, or just the fact it is competition, but I always get nervous when starting to play in a tournament. As in anything in life, I had set myself a goal and that was to make it out of my group. Anything above that was a bonus.

Martin Ayub began proceedings and the group I was to play in was decided. I would be on Pinball Champ ’82, Bride of Pinbot and lastly The Dark Knight. I wasn’t too bad on Pinball Champ ’82, so was happy with that, the Bride of Pinbot I had just purchased and would be coming home with me that evening, so that was nice and lastly, Greg had coached me quite well on The Dark Knight. In fact – around 20 minutes earlier, he had put his best ever score on the game. Racking up the Grand Champion and hitting around 5 joker multiballs. After watching that, I knew roughly how to play the game.

Pinball champ came and went, I was out for a duck – 0 points for finishing last. We can all blame the pinball gods, but as I said a few times over the weekend, good players make their own luck to a large degree. Unfortunately, the left rollover lane was my demise on three occasions, darting left to drain instead of right to safety. In a game of small margins, these ones were working slightly against me.

Words and the Heckler

Whilst outside after my loss on Pinball Champ – and I am sure he will forgive me for using his handle, Poibug gave me a look after reciting my Pinball Champ story as well as some solid words.

What’s the matter with you – it’s a game of pinball and it’s meant to be fun, what are you talking about being nervous? Go and !@!@”* enjoy it.

Poibug – Swavesey 2019

A point well made so that was my new task. Go and enjoy myself. I managed to take the win on bride of pinbot, with my need being to come first on the Dark Knight. Or if I placed second for others to order in a way that navigated me through. Whilst only the third game, I was more comfortable now and doing exactly that, enjoying myself. I started farily solidly on The Dark Knight, but really wasted my two multiballs with low scoring of around 25M on ball one. I was in the lead, but not far enough. On ball two came a heckle from the crowd, Poibug once again with a screech of No pressure James!” as I cradled the ball. Again making pinball what it should be – fun and banter. Somehow, with results going my way – 2nd meant I made it to the knockout.

The Raffle

I had heard the raffle was legendary. I can now confirm this is the case. The table was overflowing with prizes to be won, all supplied by the pinball community and something for everyone. The money was going to charity and everyone bought the tickets accordingly. It is quite a site to see so many bodies huddled round a table of prizes, especially with the pace at which the tickets are drawn. It is a great laugh and I was delighted that the pingulp I had my eyes on ended up coming home with me. The Swavesey raffle, is as hectic as an appollo 13 multiball, but lasts 10 minutes. Great fun.

Knockout Round 1 – Martin Ayub – Safecracker

After drawing Martin, I was sure that this would spell the end of my run in the competition. Martin has a wealth of experience and is a solid player. Again, this was a game that I had played to some degree with Greg, but wasn’t one I was particularly knowledgeable on. After not a lot of time, I had drained out and Martin was up. Martin made the game look easy and before I knew it I was drained again with Martin knocking the ball around with ease and up to the centre board. Martin made it to around $250,000 with me stepping up. I didn’t have much time. Nor did I have many points, around $60,000 if memory serves.

Somehow, the game turned and I made it to the board, being awarded more time and points (or money) – making it to just over the required $250,000. Where pinball is a game of luck, mine had turned and the game with it. I had made it to the quarter final.

Quarter Finals – Greg Mott – Pinball Champ ’82

This was the game we had joked would happen all morning. Greg and I actually meeting in the competition. In my mind, I was out and so… I plunged first, draining out at around 1.3M. Greg stepped up and put on a score of 2.1M and in my mind, I was going out so it was time to have fun. In pinball you get a sense of when you are playing well and you hit that zone. I was lucky to find a little of that on pinball champ. I was lucky to get onto the upper playfield a couple of times and get those top targets down a few times.

In total, I drained out at just shy of 10M – a score I was sure Greg would match, but it wasn’t to be. I had made it to the semi final.

Semi Final – Nick Marshall – Bride of Pinbot

I had heard Nick was a seriously good player and my luck must have been in tatters by this point. We shook hands and I plunged first. I think it is fair to say that after two balls, neither Nick or I were happy with our scores. I had put up 1.6M and Nick, somewhere in the region of 900k. If I was going to the final I knew I had to put some kind of a score on the game now.

My third ball was better. Much better.

The left ramp was playing fair after feeling smaller than a ball width in ball one and two.I was hitting the small wheel shot when required now too. Somehow, I managed to make it through to a collect of an 8M jackpot, then after a couple of setbacks, continued into metamorphosis. My score sat somewhere around 14M. I missed the Billionaires Club twice the day before, never securing the centre shot, to my frustration. I had joked earlier in the day with Greg where I told him I would do it in the competition though, that’s why I hadn’t done it yet. For the first time ever I hit that shot, which proved to be enough to secure the final as I drained out to around 1.025B.

Final – Bob Marlow – JJP Pirates of the Caribbean

I was delighted to be in the final, but both Bob and I were not so keen on the game choice. Luck had favoured neither of us here. Going into the game it was all smiles. Both of us just happy to have made the final and I know he, as I, didn’t really mind who won. Bob and I had shared a few beers the night before and a few games too. So just for both of us to have made it this far was good enough. I knew neither of us knew the game in any great depth. Bob was nailing the left spinner on the game. Which between the two of us was making the bigger of the points.

I had one “good ball” and by that I mean, managed to score a few thousand points, somehow. I really need to learn this game. Bob drained out and that was that, my ball two had secured it with not a lot going on for either of us at all.

The Winners

Nick Marshall – Third Place
Bob Marlow – Second
James Adams - 1st Place
James Adams (Me!) – First

All in all…

Well, all in all what more can be said. Mark has hit the nail on the head in making such a fun, friendly show. The venue is perfect for it. The pub is great, access to hotels is nice and easy. As with most things, its about the company you keep. The group of Swavesey were brilliant. As for the competition? I have had a few people state that this is the F.A. Cup of the UK Pinball scene. I couldn’t agree more. Coming away with the Nigel Hill Memorial Trophy (something a few have said to me he would have enjoyed, given my newbie status in tournaments) was an absolute honour. I can easily compare it to Acrington Stanley going all the way.

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