Foster steps up to the plate at Cambridge; finalist Horrocks closes gap at top of FOCAL table to just 24 points.


L to R: Runner-up Bradley Horrocks; host Mike Brown; winner Rob Foster with the Cambridge Colleges plate; 3rd place, Cambridge student Tom Carey.

Mike Brown hosted his second FOCAL Countdown tournament in Cambridge during early June. None of last year’s podium – Callum Todd, James Robinson or Jen Steadman – returned to defend their titles, but there was certainly no shortage of talent or ambition.

Movers and shakers at Cambridge
Rob Foster claimed victory and moved four places up the FOCAL league table to 14th on 220 points. For reaching the final, Bradley reduced the gap between him and leader Callum Todd from 62 to 24 points, pulling further ahead of fellow Lancastrian Jack Worsley. The biggest movers were honorary Cantabrian Tom Carey, whose bronze medal finish has lifted him six places to 7th, whilst Jonathan de Souza’s 5th place finish has now also shifted him up into the top ten.

FOCAL-ATS-20190608 (after Cambridge)

Here’s the latest FOCALISER league table in full, as things stand after Cambridge.

Mid-year recap, in brief
Seven events down, six to go this year before we reach the 2019 Finals – Saturday 23rd November at Molineux Stadium, home of Wolverhampton Wanderers – and whilst Callum Todd currently leads the field on 358 FOCAL points, I don’t think we can say for sure just yet that anybody has secured their place in that top flight.

Last year, Graeme Cole held on dearly to 8th place for most of the autumn and got through to Birmingham with 369 points, closely followed by first reserve Tom Cappleman on 366. Tom’s run of strong wins late in the afternoon on Finals Day earned him the right to contest the Grand Final, which he only lost narrowly to Jonathan Wynn.

Our next events are in West Yorkshire (Sat 13/7), Milton Keynes (Sat 10/8), Dublin (Sat 7/9) and a new gig in Liverpool (Sat 21/9). We hope you’ll continue to support your FOCAL circuit and welcome your feedback by email and on Twitter.

– JC 22/6/19

Cambridge recap
Meanwhile, among the contenders at Cambridge was new entrant Rachel Perkins, an undergraduate reading Geography at nearby Murray Edwards College, who celebrated the end of her exams by attending her first FOCAL event. We’re delighted to report that three years of hard graft has since culminated in a 2:1 — congratulations Rachel!

Here’s her recap of the day, including a write-up of the Grand Final.

After much revision for my finals, 8th June 2019 was a date to look forward to. Countdown. I had seen the show many times before. A staple at home, even since I was at primary school. And yet, I hadn’t come across this intrepid FOCAL network until late 2018, totally per chance, whilst in the midst of researching my dissertation.

And so, I found myself conscripted into my first FOCAL event.

I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Actually, envisioning a group of Countdowners intimidated me somewhat; I’d seen some of them on TV before and knew how amazing they all were. How on Earth was I going to fit in with all this?

We were at the St. Phillip’s Church Centre on the chic Mill Road, and Mike introduced himself at the start of the day before opening proceedings. Everyone would play six games of Countdown in the old nine-round format, giving me the opportunity to meet all the people who’d been popping up as suggested friends on my Facebook for months!

My strategy – four consonants and five vowels almost every time. Sure, it’d make my game difficult, but surely it would make things interesting for everyone else too. After many rounds of getting no higher than 5s and 6s, I was finally getting this tournament malarkey, and then a ‘risky 8’, DRAINERS, turned out to be valid.

I ended the day with 132 points from all my matches. In short, I was well chuffed. Very enjoyable and plenty to reflect on.

The day culminated in a nail-biting 15-round final between Bradley Horrocks with five wins to his name from the day, and an unbeaten Rob Foster. After the coin toss, Bradley would be player 1.

Mike Brown presenting the Grand Final, flanked by Graeme Cole on graphics and DC wordsmith Sam Prouse.

Round 1 drew OAILTCELL and both picked out the same 8-letter word TEOCALLI, followed by DEPONES for 7 from DFPCEEONS.

Safe to say, I had no idea as what these words meant so were definitely worth remembering for future events.

The first numbers round, six small chosen by Bradley, had everyone stumped  – 2 4 7 8 1 1 to make 797. The closest possible is 768!

The deadlock in tied scores broke in the next letters round – SDRSIEAEY – as Rob’s READIES for 7 would not be outdone by Bradley’s 8, seasider, sadly disallowed. Score BH 15-22 RF.

Sixes were the best both competitors could do in R5, EEASRQWJL, with Bradley opting for RESEAL and Rob vouching for WEASEL.

The second numbers round, one large picked by Rob, saw Bradley take the lead, managing to find 659 from 100 8 5 5 2 9 – his method essentially (109×6)+5.

The lead then switched again in R7 (OEERNMDAZ) with Rob spotting the impressive ARMOZEEN for 8 over Bradley’s 7 ROADMEN. Score BH 31-36.


R8 saw Rob increase his lead to 31-43, finding IMPEACH for 7 from HCPMAAEIA.

R9, another six small pick from Bradley, produced 3 10 6 9 6 7 for 292. Both declared 291 but was to be Bradley’s best shot at getting back into the match: “ten times nine, plus seven, times three”. A simple “six over six” would have put him back within striking distance. Score BH 38-50 RF.

Both finalists offered WESTIES from TSWSIUEHE in R10, missing SWEETISH, but maxed R11 with different sixes from EOIDXBRIU. Score BH 51-63 RF.

Into R12, GKTTUIEAI, and Rob picked out the 8-letter word AUGITITE to trump Bradley’s AUGITE. Perhaps cruelly, the winning word contains the other word in its Oxford definition…



Round 13, the last letters, EEIIVRBLO, produced variant spellings of the same word in RELIEVO and RILIEVO. One other offering was OVERLIE. Score BH 58-78 RF.

Into the last numbers and Rob, 20 points ahead, opted for one large. Uneventfully, 75 3 10 4 3 8 for 453 simply added ten points to both their scores.

The final’s particularly tricky conundrum, CAMBSUSOU, was unscrambled by Rob to reveal SUBMUCOSA in around eight seconds. Final score after an impressive clash of two Countdown titans – Bradley Horrocks 68-98 Rob Foster. Rob went home with the illustrious Cambridge Colleges plate!


Almost as impressive was the social at the Cambridge Blue, where some cold drinks in the garden out back were very welcome, and the pies were pretty amazing too.

The Cambridge Blue pub is located a short walk from the venue in Gwydir Street, CB1 2LG.

I really enjoyed my first FOCAL event. After years of watching the show, to be able to meet people who’d actually been on it, play against them, learn some new words and learn a bit more about the game had exceeded my expectations. But, the best part of this event was how friendly everyone was. Despite the amazing Countdown intellect of my fellow competitors (and my more dismal performance), I was made to feel at ease in such a welcoming environment.

Many thanks to Mike Brown for hosting such a brilliant event, to his partner Helen for the amazing cakes and to Jeff for introducing me to FOCAL in the first place.

As one competitor mentioned to me during the day, Countdowning is addictive. I think I can safely say this won’t be the last such event that I will attend!


– RP 19/6/19

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Josephine Sinclair says:

    Lovely write up Rachel.
    Cannot agree more that Countdown is addictive. I’d rather be addicted to this though over drugs and smoking!


    1. Thank you Josephine! 🙂


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