During the week leading up to the weekend I was preparing the POA stand which I was to run for the first time at a convention, with help from Barbara and Jimmy Waters who had been jointly responsible for the smooth running of the sales stand for many years.
At the last three conventions, I helped Derek and Anne May with the running of the competition, but this year they were to be assisted by Brian and Lerida Arnold, Lance Malkin and Simon Heath.
I shared a van with Dave Kingston and his partner Jill, which I collected Friday Morning. I had booked a diesel fuelled Luton, but the rental company phoned me in the week to say it had developed a fault, and they only had a petrol driven one available, although this had a tail lift. They said I could have this more expensive van for the same price as the diesel. I knew a petrol van would be less economical, but the tail lift would be a huge help when it came to loading machines, so I accepted.
The main production run of Firepower had no drop targets on the playfield, only spot targets. It was originally designed to have six drop targets in the centre of the playfield which are shown on the flyer, but they were probably replaced by spots due to reliability problems with them, and their close proximity to the flippers on the few prototypes made.
My table was originally a regular model with all spot targets. It has been converted, and now has the drop targets complete with original stickers. This work was done by its previous owner, Ray Foster - clever chap, that Ray!
Taking Firepower was a last minute decision. It had been in the garage all winter minus the backglass and MPU board. Although a few LED display segments failed on it, I still decided to take the game as it was so unusual. Perhaps next winter I will keep the whole head indoors.
Earthshaker has a building with a grid of numbers on it which relate to targets on the playfield. After lighting all the flashing numbers on it and locking a ball, the building which is connected to a motor sinks down into the playfield where it stays during multiball. Only a few prototypes have this feature. It was probably dropped because of the additional cost of this early pinball 'toy'.
With the two machines loaded up along with the stand and all its goodies, and the video set to tape Noel's House Party, it was time to leave.
Dave said he was up until 4am that morning getting machines ready. I imagined a similar scene happening all over the country, with members preparing their games and sorting out last minute problems into the small hours.
We used an old Space Invaders playfield as a ramp to get machines down the step from his house into the garden where we steered them along the zig-zag path to where the vans were. It took quite a long time to load everything up - it's not really something you can rush - and finally, all twelve machines and the rest of our gear was loaded, and after a chicken dinner, we set off. Needless to say, our vehicles weren't exactly the fastest on the road.
After a stop for petrol, we finally got to the venue at around 10pm where a good number of games were already set up. As we started to unload, we were told by the staff at the venue that we had to leave the building by 10.30, so we didn't get a chance to assemble our games and stands. In fact, it was quite a rush just getting the equipment into the hall. Other vans arrived when we did, and we struggled to unload them too before the security staff locked the doors. [This impromptu termination to Friday evening's set-up had a knock on effect that the organisers were unable to recover from in the time available on Saturday morning. That's why a lot of you were kept waiting at the door when we should have been up and running. Don't blame us, we were told we would have access until midnight on Friday! -ed]
I then parked the van in one of the huge car parks surrounding the site, and got a lift from John Whyatt to the hotel where many of us stayed. The Quality Cobden was on a busy road about a mile away from the venue, and had a large pub, a TGI Fridays restaurant, and Liberty's nightclub next door. I wasn't in the mood for any of that, so stayed in the hotel lounge and got chatting to a few members I hadn't seen since the last show.
Cai Remrod, who was the main organiser of the whole event, was the only one there when we arrived. He said he was glad to see us as he had to shoot off and do a live radio interview at a local station, one of several T.V and radio plugs the event received.
Then we were ready and the doors were flung open. There was a steady stream of visitors during the day, but not so many as to cause a queue at machines, which is not surprising as there were over seventy, a good turnout for a POA convention, and also as many as we could have fitted in to the available space.
This was the first year we had a sponsor, namely Empire Interactive, a software company who were promoting their new Pro Pinball: Timeshock computer pinball game. Without their support, it is unlikely that we would have been able to stage the convention at a venue such as the NIA.
Several monitors were set up so visitors could play Pro Pinball: Timeshock, with Empire's staff on hand to demonstrate and explain the game.
and their Attack From Mars
The morning went very quickly, and before I went for lunch in the cafe nearby, I had a quick look at my games which were both working OK.
I then bumped into the 1993 convention competition winner, Matthew White. At the last convention we swapped his Combat machine for my Vector, which he had brought to this show. He hadn't eaten lunch either so he joined me.
I didn't enter the competition with a real determination to win, but just for a bit of fun, and to show my face over there. I was also itching to play on any machine - I hadn't been on one all day.
I normally need a warm up game or two before I get a decent score, but my first game on Indy was tremendous. I completed the central grid of features on the playfield which I had never done before, and was able to put my initials up on the high score table. I then realised I had a good chance of getting through to the next round on Sunday. I scored 1,089,000,000 points, however my second game was disastrous and the third was only average for me.
Soon after returning to the sales stand someone told me that one set of drop targets on Firepower weren't resetting properly. It had never done this before, and after a quick examination, everything looked normal. I put the problem down to the machine being on all day and getting a bit hot - at home it is never on for more than an hour at a time, so I turned it off for a while, and later it was fine.
At the end of the afternoon the public dispersed and the hall was locked until the members only evening session.
After a meal and a drink there, we bundled into two cars and went back to the NIA. At last, this was a time for the workers to have some fun.
It was interesting to see different versions of the same game in the hall, namely Pinball Champ and Pinball Champ '82, the Lola and Marilyn versions of Taxi, and the standard and Gold editions of Addams Family.
In addition to the electronic games, there was a fine selection of electromechanicals such as Hot Shot, Square Head and Metro. There was also a display of old one arm bandits, and a small group of video games.
I had a few games on Timeshock which was incredibly realistic. Empire Interactive were running their own competition with a pile of software and other goodies going to the winner.
On the Wizard competition notice board I saw that I was through to the next round after all, having achieved the third top score of the day on Indianapolis 500.
A bar selling drinks and snacks was open in the hall throughout the evening, which passed all too quickly.
On the way to the car at the end of the day, we passed a huge door leading to the main arena of the NIA which is massive. We walked down and had a glimpse inside. The ceiling must have been about thirty metres high, and there were thousands of seats circling it. That week it was being used for a basketball competition. The security guard who was with us said the complex was only a few years old, and previously the whole area was a wasteland.
at the Convention
Taking a break for fresh air, I had a wander around outside. The area around the NIA has undergone a £500 million transformation. Only yards away from the main arena is a restored canal with barges and walkways leading to other attractions such as The National Sea Life Centre. Shops, new flats, and quaint restored pubs form part of the site, with new buildings still under construction. At the edge of the development are long since abandoned and partly collapsed factory buildings such as Birmingham Pipe Works, begging to be flattened or converted into something else.
Back inside the hall, the competition machines were being changed. It was noticed that a few people who were through to the second round were practising on the competition machines during Saturday's evening session when they were free to play. The replacement games were Cactus Jacks, Johnny Mnemonic, Getaway and Fish Tales.
Sunday was generally quieter than Saturday with fewer visitors. On both days, quite a few people came over to the stand saying that they play pinball a lot in arcades and pubs, but they never considered owning a game, and weren't aware that anything like the POA existed. Quite a few of these joined up.
Each pair were to play three games, and the winner of two got through to the next round. One game was played on a machine of each player's choice, and the third game on a machine picked at random. I chose to play Fish Tales and Martin chose Getaway, with the third game also played on Fish Tales. I won the first game on my chosen machine, but Martin won the other two games, and in fact went right through to the final.
Over in the corner, Dave Dutton was busy organising a junior competition on Hot Shot, which ran throughout the day.
I returned to the stand and noticed John Whyatt nearby being interviewed by a camera crew from BBC Midlands Today, a local news programme. On Saturday Sky News attended and a news item was broadcast that evening.
Other prizes included a gumball machine, bottle of wine and a Williams promotional display of pinball tokens from their recent Safecracker game.
Then it was time for the machine awards, which were presented by Tom from Empire Interactive. They were as follows:
|Best electromechanical game 1950-1969:||Williams Metro, Phil Crow|
|Best electromechanical game from the 1970's:||Bally Bowl-O, Ray Foster|
|Best electronic game 1977 to 1984:||Stern Orbitor, Ray Foster|
|Best electronic game post 1984 non-dot matrix:||Premier Class of 1812, Dave Kingston|
|Best electronic dot matrix game:||Bally Indianapolis 500, Phil Palmer|
|Best Overall game:||Bally Vector, Matthew White|
The machines were chosen by Ad Jonker from the Netherlands.
The huge pile of goodies from Empire Interactive for the winner of their competition on Pro Pinball: Timeshock was won by Mike Parkins who scored 362 million points.
13 year old Fuchsia Arnold won the Junior Wizard competition.
John thanked everyone for attending, and Empire Interactive for their support. The machines were switched back on for the final hour or so during which the competition final took place. Martin Ayub and Martin Keates battled it out on Williams' latest game, Junkyard, two of which were loaned by Pinball Express.
Martin Keates was the winner with a score of 16 million points. Full details of the competition winners and European Pinball Championship qualifiers can be found in the Competition Report.
With the trophies given, the 20th Anniversary POA Convention was over.
available for play at the Convention
I retrieved my van from the car park and we started loading it up. Before long, the hall was nearly empty, and we were ready to leave.
Dave Kingston, Jill and myself formed a mini pinball convoy as we followed a family who'd bought his Bride Of Pinbot to their house which was about 10 miles away. They had a room full of mostly dot matrix machines. We then picked up a non-working Kiss machine from just south of Birmingham. Dave had met the owner at the show and agreed to restore the game for him.
We then set off along The M6 and down the M1 and got back to Dave's place at around 1.30am. He phoned a mate of his on the way who helped us unload which we did as quietly as possible, trying not to disturb the neighbours, but this was a bit difficult with the tail lift, and then I set off home to Worthing, arriving at 5am - gibber!
After unloading and having breakfast, I returned the van at 7am, and staggered the half mile or so back home. Luckily I had the day off work, and needless to say spent most of it in bed, falling asleep almost as my head hit the pillow.
My last thought was 'The things I do for pinball!'
Because of going to bed at a time when I normally get up, I suffered a sort of jet lag which took a few days to get over. It was all worth it though as it was a fantastic weekend. A lot of members said they thought it was the best show yet which was nice to hear. Ray Foster said the hall had good acoustics which was true. The games were on quite loud, yet you didn't get a headache. Firepower was on full volume in fact, and was still hard to hear among the other games, even though it was a fair distance from most of them. When I set it up at home, I forgot the volume was on full, and was almost blasted across the room when I started up a game!
Well, that's it then, my personal view of the 1997 POA convention. Thanks for attending if you went. If you missed out, see you at the next one.
The next convention, now there's a thought!