It’s Just Not Cricket!

Lym Valley Croquet secretary, Steve Howard, about to play
Lym Valley Croquet secretary, Steve Howard, about to play

Guess the sport: it was dropped from the Olympics after its only appearance in 1900 for having “hardly any pretensions to athleticism”

One piece of its equipment sounds like it can be bought from a DIY shop. It’s been described as “chess on grass” by one of its players at a club in Uplyme, whose members turn out on Mondays and Thursdays at a cricket ground. The game’s popular (but not necessarily well-informed) image is of a genteel pastime more associated with period dramas like Downton Abbey, but that doesn’t fit well with the group I’m visiting who actually play the game.

It’s croquet, of course!

So why have I been invited to a cricket ground to find out more about croquet? Lym Valley Croquet club chairman Richard Godfrey explains. “It’s not ideal at present but the cricket club have been kind enough to let us use their outfield. It means we can continue to play while a new purpose-built field of our own is built. It will be of bowling green type standard on the former playground behind a hedge at the boundary’s edge.”

The ground was first used in 1992 when the club formed, thanks largely to the enthusiasm of Bill Simpson, but a recent legacy has given the chance to have it levelled, re-sown and improved to the bowling green standard necessary to host higher grade teams. It’s likely to be ready for the start of the 2016 season.

Lym Valley play in the South West Region’s Association Croquet Intermediate League South and B League South East, with their first competitive fixture away at Sidmouth on 14 May, while they host Budleigh Salterton in their first home game on Thursday, 28 May. Players have a handicap in a similar way to golf, typically starting at 24 or 26 for beginners. Lym’s best player, Richard Godfrey, plays off a handicap of 10 (meaning he can make 10 mistakes which aren’t counted), but has been as low as 6 in competition.

You don’t need to be an aspiring athlete, just have enthusiasm

When I visited on a bleak Monday “club afternoon”, most of the 20-strong membership were playing paired up, with one new recruit trying out the game. Because of when they can play, members are mostly retired but there are plans for a recruiting drive among younger people in the area. You don’t need to be an aspiring athlete, just have enthusiasm. The oldest member playing when I visited was 88-year-old Peter Briault.

Club secretary Steve Howard (22 handicap), joined the club in a bid to keep fit: “It gets you out in the fresh air and in my case, because I have a fused spine, it’s a form of exercise I can manage,” he told me.

‘I’ve only been a member three years but the people here are so sociable and welcoming’

Peter Briault aged 88 (club’s oldest player) with Richard Godfrey
Peter Briault aged 88 (club’s oldest player)
with Richard Godfrey

The club’s friendliness certainly came across as I also spoke to Phillipa Fortescue, now in her 13th season at Lym Valley, who told me members of the Bridport and District U3A play at The Hyde Nursing Home in Walditch, and former chairman Richard Cousins, who gave a brief outline of the game.

“Players go out in pairs with a mallet and two balls each, aiming to hit theirs through six metal hoops in a clockwise direction before returning in the opposite direction, collecting points (too complicated to go into here) and getting their balls to the central peg (in the middle of the 35 x 28 yard lawn) before their opponent.”

‘Chess on Grass

He also shed light on Steve’s view of the game being “chess on grass”.

“There are tactics as players also try to gain advantage by blocking an opponent, or knocking their balls further away from hoops or even out of play,” he admitted as he commentated for me on a few strokes played out by chairman Richard Godfrey in his match. “All perfectly within the rules,” he assured me.

The Uplyme and Lyme Regis Cricket Club, where Lym Valley Croquet Club play

There’s more information about the game, including its rules and types of play, from the Croquet Association’s website » www.croquet.org.uk

Anyone who would like to try out the game with the Lym Valley club should contact chairman, Richard Godfrey on 01297 445709

Club afternoons are normally Mondays and Thursdays, 2-5pm at Uplyme and Lyme Regis cricket ground

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