Colour is everywhere in bowls these days, changing a sedate, monochrome pastime into a trendy modern sport – or at least that is what the sport’s spin doctors would have people believe.
It is true that in the old days, when the Clevedon maestro David Bryant held sway on the world’s bowling greens, everyone, except the more adventurous free spirits, who went for dark brown, trundled black bowls.
The idea that bowls should be anything but black or brown did not receive official approval from the World Bowls Board until 1998, but it took a court case in Belfast to decide that, in Ireland at least, as long as bowls passed the bias test they could be any colour you wanted them to be.
Bowls in the world indoor championships are red or green, and the rink is electric blue, and if you visit the world outdoor championships, as I did in Adelaide in December, or even the English national championships, you will find that the idea of colour has caught on big time. The same applies to the clothes: gone are the days when for friendlies it was grey trousers and white above the waist, or all-white for big games.
And gone are the days when the code of dress for women made a laughing stock of those who loved the game, and wanted to play at a high level.
Brogue-style shoes – with flat soles of course. Tights of serious denier were compulsory. There was also a fixed length of skirt – measuring ten inches from ground to hem, however tall or short the player. And do you remember those dreadful hats that were a left-over from the 1920s?
These days, hats, tights and gloves are no longer a requirement, and clubs are encouraged to adopt their own coloured tops. Trousers and culottes – and even shorts – may be worn, and women turn up for a game looking as if they are going to take part in a sporting activity, not a meeting of the Suffragettes.
The concept of colour has some way to go, with many advocating that all players on one side should use the same colour bowls, and wear shirts to match. But, while that seems a good idea, it could be prohibitively expensive.
Young people are now taking up the sport, and they clearly not put off by the uniform any more, but progress in some areas is slow – and particularly so, it must be said, in the West Country, where bowlers are conservative, at least with a small ‘c’.
Most of my excellent Clevedon Promenade club-mates, and the vast majority of members of neighbouring clubs in North Somerset, still propel black bowls down the rinks, indoors and out.
Fifteen years after it all started, I still raise eyebrows and provoke ribald comments with my bright red bowls – and, as I glance across the greens, I see very few coloured woods being trundled. Mine usually stand out like a sore thumb.
When coloured bowls were introduced, the choice was simple – there were red, blue or green bowls available, then yellow and pink became popular, and eventually, to some people’s horror, white bowls became the thing, particularly down under in Australia.
It was in November, 2008 that I witnessed Mark Walton and Leif Selby, both unquestionably red-blooded males, playing in the final of the Hong Kong International Classic singles at the Kowloon Bowling Green Club, where Mark’s pink bowls cut a pretty dash alongside Leif’s white ones.
Speckled bowls became all the rage, grey-and-white, red-and-black, blue-and-grey, and very tasteful they are, too – Clarrie Dunbar’s Graham Shadwell, who recently won the national Champion of Champions title for the second time, has a set of speckled granite.
Inevitably, perhaps, there was even an attempt, in crown green land, to produce see-through bowls, though the composition left them too light in weight to be of any use to the competitive player.
The introduction of colour has given our sport a shot in the arm, both in terms of the bowls we roll, and the clothes we wear. Who would have thought the dowdy monochrome game of 20 years ago would have developed into a blaze of colour?
Not everyone’s cup of tea, of course – some people just don’t like change. Just ask some of my mates in North Somerset! And ask those cricket-lovers who detest the notion of playing that great game in track-suits or pyjamas! “Twenty-twenty? What’s that? New fangled nonsense!”
I have even heard of a few bowls clubs who have debated the issue of coloured tops for ages at their AGM before resolving to register their new coloured shirts with Bowls England. And what did they come up with? What was their colour of choice? White!
Neil Smith, who was knocked out of the Warner Leisure Hotels National Champion of Champions in the final stages, has reached the last 32 in England’s open singles championship, and will represent Area 10 in the national finals at Nottingham next month.
Having beaten Malvern Hills star Mark Atkins in the area final of the Champion of Champions event, Smith, from Westlecot, faced Atkins’ son Ryan, a hot prospect, in his second area final, and experienced a curious case of déjà vu.
Against father Mark, Smith had trailed 13-19 before going on to win 21-19 – and his clash with son Ryan followed an identical script.
“It was a great game of bowls, and a pleasure to play in,” said Smith. “We were level at 7-7, 10-10 and, after I had dropped behind, 13-19, level again at 19-19. Ryan was spot-on with his drives, but I kept my head and kept drawing.
“On the last end, I drew a front toucher, and was holding two shots, and, although he hit both my counters out, one-at-a-time, I was able to draw with my third and fourth, and came away with a 21-19 victory.”
Waiting for him in Nottingham on March 28 will be world ranked Nick Brett, who has won national titles at pairs, triples and fours, but has yet to win the singles.
EXCITING FINISH TO WESSEX LEAGUE SEASON
In the most exciting finish to the regular season for years in the Warner Leisure Hotels Wessex League, a single point has prevented two West Country teams from achieving their play-off goals.
Weston St Andrews denied Clarrie Dunbar their chance of winning the Central Region by forcing a draw on the rink skipped by Craig Doughty.
This meant that Clarrie Dunbar won the match 15-1. Had they won all 16 points in this match, they would have won the Central Region title on shot difference over Bristol.
However, Bristol, who are the only undefeated team in the region, topped the League table by one point.
In the West Region, Torbay’s 14-2 defeat at the hands of Exonia left them tied on 60 points in the table, but Exonia’s better shot difference gave them second place in the region and a play-off position, knocking Torbay out of the competition.
In the North Region, Cotswold’s strong finish to the season, winning their last two matches 16-0, secured the club a ‘wild card’ entry into the play-offs, finishing level on points with second-placed MidGlos, but with an inferior shot difference.
CLARRIE DUNBAR SIDES PROGRESS
Having won the Somerset County Double Rink title last season, Clarrie Dunbar faced Nailsea in the third round of this year’s campaign to retain the title.
Clarrie dominated the game from early on and had a 23-shot advantage after ten ends.
This lead was built on in the second half of the match, Clarrie eventually winning by 20 shots – 49-29.
They now face Taunton (Vivary Park) in the semi-final of the competition on March 2.
In the first round of the President’s Trophy Ladies Double Rink knockout competition, Clarrie faced Bristol, pulling off an impressive win.
Clarrie started strongly, storming away to a 27-shot advantage after ten ends, eventually wining by 35 shots, 57-22 in the end. Clarrie play Clevedon in the next round.
Warner Leisure Hotels Wessex League Results – Central Region: Christie Miller bt Purnell 93-68 (14-2), Clarrie Dunbar bt Weston St Andrews 94-52 (15-1), North Wilts bt Nailsea 75-69 (12-4). West Region: Plymouth by Torquay United 98-76 (12-4), Exonia bt Torbay 83-62 (14-2). North Region: Midglos bt Fairford 110-49 (16-0), Cotswold bt Midglos B 79-64 (16-0), Malvern bt Thornbury 85-76 (14-2), Gloucester bt Cotswold B 92-68 (16-0). East Region: Banbury Cross bt Rivermead 93-78 (12-4), West Berks bt Oxford & District 96-67 (16-0), Carterton bt Westlecot 80-65 (14-2), Oxford City & County bt Chipping Norton 107-52 (16-0). Coastal Region: Bournemouth bt Dolphin Blues 90-61 (14-2), Dolphin bt Five Rivers 87-75 (16-0), Bournemouth Royals bt Bridport 83-64 (12-4), Moonfleet bt East Dorset 95-57 (14-2) Dorchester bt Moonfleet B 97-61 (16-0). Midland Region: Tamworth bt Daventry 87-61 (14-2), Bromsgrove bt Solihull 106-61 (14-2).
Warner Leisure Hotels Wessex League First Round Play-offs: Game A: Rugby v Cotswold, Game B: Dolphin v Clarrie Dunbar, Game C: Malvern v Exonia, Game D: West Berks v Bromsgrove, Game E: Bristol v Carterton, Game F: Moonfleet v Westlecot, Game G: Church Gresley v Midglos, Game H: Plymouth v Bournemouth.