Every year since 2012 Turkish Airlines have organised a 10-pin bowling tournament bringing together travel agents from across the globe. It begins with national qualifiers where local agents from each country compete against each other, with the highest scoring team representing their nation at the Grand Final in Istanbul.
We managed a collective score of 928, easily winning the Manchester leg and with no-one in the Birmingham or London qualifiers beating this the ‘Kingpin Vipers’ were off to Istanbul!
The size of this event has grown year on year. The 2018 edition consisted of 500 teams competing in the qualifiers with 56 finalists making it to the Grand Final in Istanbul. Gathered there were teams from Albania to Argentina and Senegal to Switzerland. As we descended into Ataturk International the question we were asking ourselves was would we get a turkey in Turkey or would we ‘strike out’? Only time would tell.
The original team consisted of myself (Mark Flaherty), Paul ‘Hammer’ Healey and the legendary salesman Paul Hills. Unfortunately for the team Hillsy is such a good seller that he was on Top Score the weekend of the grand final so we had to find an alternative. Therefore in came Paul Walton the ‘Black Country Freight Train’, a man who bowls with one hand while holding a beer in the other (it helps him balance he insists!)
We flew on the Turkish Airlines morning flight direct from Manchester and were fortunate enough to get an upgrade to business class. On these short haul flights the business cabin is made of the large semi-reclining seats in a 2-2 configuration. Extremely comfortable and coupled with the excellent service this made for a perfect start to our adventure. Transferred to the Pullman Hotel, Turkish Airlines had arranged for us to have our own rooms, so there would be no worrying about Healey’s snoring or Walton’s late night finishes. All meals were provided so after a filling buffet dinner we got a taxi to see what Friday night in Istanbul had to offer. After finding our way to the Karakoy district and sampling some Raki and Efes in a few local bars we retreated for a reasonably early night, we were of course professional athletes for this weekend at least.
On the day of the final, and after a hearty breakfast, we were transferred to Atlantis Bowling complex for the main event. The lanes were decorated in the flags of the countries competing in our heat, we were flanked by the ice cool Norwegians and the still drunk Scots. Close-by we saw the Germans getting some early practice in (the only surprise being they hadn’t laid their beach towels out to reserve their lane.) The Nigerians were there too performing a ‘lane dance’, whilst the Brazilians were attempting keepy-uppies with a 6 pound bowling ball.
For ‘Team England’ early nerves well settled by Paul ‘Hammer’ Healey, a man more used to authorising cruise bookings today he was sanctioned to destroy bowling pins. As the frames went by we performed admirably but not at the level we had hoped. Maybe it was the nerves of the big occasion or one too many Efes the night before but we knew our score was not going to be enough to win.
After everyone had finished and freshened up at the hotel it was on to the gala dinner. Here the results were announced and it was the German’s meticulous preparation and skill that had won the day, while we finished in a respectable 21st (from 56 teams). The awards ceremony and dinner was held at the Hyatt Regency. On the same evening as the Euro-vision song contest was taking place we were in a similarly cosmopolitan atmosphere, fortunately for everyone there were no teams that got ‘nil-point’. After the meal and presentation of the trophies, it was time to enjoy the live music and for some to compete in a dance-off. The India team came out on top of that one for sure!
As the night drew to a close and on the bus back to the hotel we had chance to reflect on a fantastic weekend, that had been extremely well hosted and organised by Turkish Airlines. We will certainly be trying our best to get there again next year.
*More information about the Turkish Airlines bowling tournament can be found at http://turkishairlinesbowling.com/