Bowled over in Worthing
PUBLISHED: 01:16 05 September 2011 | UPDATED: 19:55 20 February 2013
Worthing is less famous for its sporting connections than it should be: the town has nine bowls clubs and it is where the national governing body is based. Jenny Mark-Bell went to meet some of the sport's biggest supporters
In September, Worthing Pavilion Bowling Club will host the Under 25s Home International Finals. The competition is a welcome boost to Club Chairman Malcolm Gilbeys assertion that the sport has inter-generational appeal. Bowls has a bad image, in my opinion. We have youngsters here that can out-bowl any of us. Its a young persons game that can be played as you get older, too. Malcolm has been at the Club for 15 years, and defines himself as a social bowler, before adding, there are different types.
Currently, members range in age from eight to 96. The Club has been chosen as the West Sussex base for Sussex County Youth Academy and has 10 accredited coaches to train beginners. Malcolm tells me that five training sessions would be required before theyd let me anywhere near their flawless grass. Groundsman Vince arrives at six each morning and spends four hours on general maintenance the Club wouldnt want his handiwork ruined by my clumsy efforts.
Even at 9.30 the Club is bustling. Despite this, Malcolm says: We are at a disadvantage here because we dont get any passing trade some of our competitors have the facility for people to wander up and have a look, watch a game and then have a go themselves. Even some locals dont know we are here. To remedy this lack of visibility, Malcolm designed a website. It now gets 20,000 hits a month. We had some visitors last week from Australia who found us through the website.
Alistair Hollis is the Development Officer at Bowls England. It is the governing body for outdoor flat green bowls. The majority of staff members are based at the Worthing office, with a small team at Leamington Spa. Bowls England oversees the 2,700 clubs across the country, 123 of which are here in Sussex.
The sport is very strong along the South East coast, says Alistair. There is a lot of membership in the area and the seaside tournaments are very popular. Worthing has a very large part to play the World Championships were here in 1992 and we are hosting another international event, the Visually Impaired World Championships, in 2013 at Beach House Park.
The National Championships take place at Beach House Park every August. This is probably the highlight of the season for the majority of players. They are all striving to qualify to get to Worthing. For some its almost a regular holiday and theyre regular qualifiers, others might play for 20 or 30 years and qualify once and its the highlight of their careers.
Alistair agrees with Malcolm Gilbey that bowls transcends age boundaries. We proudly state that we are the sport for all ages. We have many examples of two or three generations of the same family playing together at the National Championships. Certainly we are looking all the time to do what we can to help clubs and associations that want to work within their local schools or with scouts, or other uniform groups. We are also keen to attract sportspeople who have reached the end of their active playing lives. Somebody starting to play bowls at 35, say, could still go on to reach a very high level in our sport. They might even be able to reach county or international standard. We have recent examples at the Womens Championships of a girl of 16 competing against a woman of 80, and everything in between. We have people with disabilities competing against the able-bodied on a level playing field.
When people do give it a go, they tend to be hooked quite quickly its getting them through the door thats the challenge!