With hindsight, the formation of the Federation of Island Societies for the Handicapped (F.I.S.H.) Scrabble Club was a Scrabble phenomenon. As we listen to stories of the difficulties that many Scrabble clubs have had in getting off the ground, even in the biggest cities, it is hard to reconcile what we are hearing, with the astonishing success of F.I.S.H's first night. Some 50 people responded to Bill Stock's plea for Scrabble players to come to help to raise funds for a linkline telephone for handicapped people. This sudden concentration of Scrabble players of all abilities in one place, immediately got over the major hurdle which confronts most clubs; that of recruiting new players who are prepared to let you wipe the floor with them on their first night, and still come back for more. With both of the Isle of Wight's Scrabble clubs, there has always been room for a less competitive "social" section, through which new players can be eased into the idea of Club Scrabble, with all its otherwise off-putting paraphernalia; word-lists, OSW's, OSL's, clocks, tile-tracking sheets, etc.
It was 1978 when Bill Stock first placed his advertisement. The response was such that it was possible to set up satellite clubs, meeting on different evenings, all over the Island. A competition was started for a club trophy which Bill, himself, made. This took the form of a "High-Score" qualification period, followed by a knock-out stage. Now known, at the Newport Club, simply as "The Tournament", this is the oldest, and still most coveted trophy on the Island. Still run by the Newport Club it climaxes in a single-game final, played out on "Finals Night", in front of the entire club. Large boards, tiles and racks are used (though not by the players themselves!) to display what is going on to everyone in the room. It is a strange feeling to get to the end of such a game, and realise that you are the only person in the room who does not know what your opponent has on his, or her, rack. Even worse when you are the only one who cannot see the winning move!
By 1983, just two of the satellite clubs remained, at Newport and at Ryde, and these decided to go their separate ways, the Ryde satellite becoming the independent Isle of Wight Scrabble Club.
In the early days, it was not nearly so usual as it is now, for players to belong to both clubs, but, gradually, more and more people felt encouraged to double their Scrabble enjoyment, and attend both evenings. There is still a sense, though, in which some players, particularly those who first established themselves at one club or the other, find themselves thought of as "Ryde" players, or as "Newport" players, a factor which is possibly best reflected in the make-up of the Southern Counties' League teams, and which is given free rein to, once a year, in a challenge match, for the Yvonne Jukes' Shield, a charity competition which, in 2005, was opened-up to Mainland clubs for the first time.
In 1991, Bill decided that the F.I.S.H. Club had taken on a life of its own, and chose to give way to a committee. This resulted in the Club changing its name, basically to avoid the confusion which some people were known to be in, believing the Club to be intended purely for handicapped people. The Newport (I.W.) Scrabble Club still supports F.I.S.H., and, indeed, has no bank account of its own, but instead pays all of its £1000 or more, a year, of takings either into the F.I.S.H. account, or directly to the Riverside Centre, where it now plays. In the same spirit of reducing confusion, particularly for Mainlanders, the Isle of Wight Scrabble Club followed suit, and changed its name to Ryde (I.W.) Scrabble Club.
The style of play at both Island clubs had, until 1990, always been high-score. However, insulated as the Island was from the Mainland scene, the games were never as contrived as they were becoming elsewhere, and maximum scores had never exceeded the 600's (Scores in the 800ís were not unusual on the Mainland!). However, in the late 1980ís, several players began to experiment with more and more outrageous set-ups. Maximum scores suddenly increased, and many other players found themselves feeling less and less comfortable with the high-score game. The Island found itself suffering a crisis, which mirrored that which had already afflicted the Mainland. Both clubs were effected equally, and we all found that we had to learn to play Matchplay, rather quickly! Very quickly, in fact. By the time of the first Isle of Wight Scrabble Event, later in that same year during which we had switched from one type of play to another, we were not sure whether or not to feel complimented, or insulted, when one of the top players, the Welsh Champion, Gareth Williams, said that it was "a pleasure to play against people who were untainted by the faults of High-Score Scrabble"!
Since that time, relatively little has changed. Club members have become more and more involved in Mainland competitions, and the Isle Of Wight Matchplay Event has grown into one of the biggest weekend events in the country. Sadly, Bill Stock, the founder of Island Scrabble, has now died, but we hope that his legacy will live on for many, many years to come, and that the Island can remain a force in national Scrabble, and a source of encouragement to the many other clubs with which it enjoys frequent contact.