Playing boules in the Lancashire village of Croston
- Credit: Pics; John Cocks
Croston and District Boules Club are celebrating 20 years of playing a very French sport in the heart of Lancashire.
Sunday breakfasts usually consist of fried eggs and bacon, but in Croston they do things with a rather more continental twist. It was 20 years ago that coffee and croissants sparked a sporting craze in the West Lancashire village – one that shows no sign of slowing down.
In this attractive riverside community, the traditional clunk of bowls is joined by the more metallic chink of boules. Peter Briggs, league chairman of Croston and District Boules Club, says it all started when they twinned with the French town of Azay-le-Rideau in the Loire Valley. ‘The twinning association committee would hold boules breakfasts at the Black Horse pub on Sunday mornings where we’d have coffee and croissants and then a game of boules,’ he says.
Word soon spread and the pub game fast became a popular sport within the village, so much so that in 1996 five members of the association decided to set up a league.
‘We just thought, let’s see how it goes,’ said Peter, who told me that in 2006, the league then split away from the twinning association to enable them to receive a lottery grant of £2,545, bringing all the pistes (pitches) up to present day standard. ‘Twenty years on it’s now quite extensive, quite incredible really.’
Today, the league has 12 teams and over 120 members. A mix of ages, they meet each Tuesday evening between April and September, playing at seven different locations around Croston and host numerous competitions throughout the year. Outside France, Peter says, you won’t find a village like Croston that has 12 boules teams. He puts their success down to the spirit of the players.
‘It can get quite competitive, like with any sport. But we have our own set of rules, and one of the principal ones is that all players have a fun evening and enjoy the game,’ says Peter, who is captain for the Twinning team. It sounds like things can get quite tense in the Briggs household, as his wife Sheila is captain of an opposition team, Amazons. He jokes that it means they don’t get to talk to each other for a few months.
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‘We have quite a lot of husbands and wives that play together. It’s very social, so after a match we’ll all be in the pub together and we also host an annual presentation evening at the sports club.’
Earlier this year as part of their anniversary celebrations, 27 members of the league spent five days playing boules in Azay-le-Rideau. The players were also treated to a vinyard trip at nearby Chateau de l’Aulee, and an awards presentation by the mayor of Cheille.
‘It was a brilliant trip,’ recalls Peter. ‘Thirty-two pairs played boules, ten of which were ours so 22 French pairs turned up to just play with us. We won a few trophies which was great, but they have a different playing style and rules to us – so by the time we picked them up we had lost quite a few! However, the rule was the winning team had to by the losers a drink, so we kept winning in that respect.
‘I don’t think Brexit will affect any future trips or our relationship with people over in France. They’re so welcoming and we’ve had a few couples come over and stay here with us.’
A brief guide to boules
Parisian Manu Charfe explains the rules:
1. First throw the cochonet (jack) onto the piste and then throw your first boule. The next player will then take their turn
2. The aim is to be the player closest to the cochonet after you have each thrown your three boules
3. The first to 13 points wins. If playing a doubles match, you will have 12 boules. This is the limit to amount of boules allowed on the piste
Find out more at www.crostonboules.co.uk