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Too many hoops to jump through?

Charles Thursby ruminates upon a sporting lost opportinuty and the passing of a player

Way back in time my family home boasted an off-shoot of its sloping main lawn that had clearly been carefully levelled for sporting purposes – probably originally a grass tennis court but, by the time we came to own the property, it had officially become a croquet lawn.

A proper adult-sized ‘wooden box’-worth of croquet mallets, balls and hoops was duly purchased and then for the best part of 25 years family and friends occasionally teamed up to play croquet – either deliberately as some form of organised tournament, or else because (unusually and temporarily out of ideas for things to do) an impromptu game was set up as a ‘least worst’ manner of killing time.

I cannot claim that any of us became proficient croquet-players. Some of us were on the outer edge of capability just mastering and remembering the rules from one game to the next. To be fair, however, a considerable amount of fun was to be had – from a socialising point of view, the strategic and tactical aspects of contriving to come out on top provided plenty of opportunity for scheming, both covert and overt – and croquet became a low-priority family staple.

In the late 1980s, at a point where snooker [can you remember this far back?] was having its ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ and the likes of Ray Reardon, Dennis Taylor, Steve Davis and Cliff Thorburn were household names as we all burned the midnight oil watching television coverage of the final stages of the world championships from the Crucible Theatre, I was working for an ITV franchise-holder that provided a great deal of sport to the network.

One day, in a rare flash of inspiration, I had a vision that – properly adapted – croquet could potentially become the ‘next big thing’.

Snooker, of course, had been given its coincidental stratospheric boost as a televised sport on the day that someone mastered the art of delivering colour television. Previously its television coverage hadn’t quite cut the mustard, as perfectly demonstrated by BBC commentator Ted Lowe’s classic on-air gaffe “ …and for those of you who are watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green.”

Our vision was simple. Snooker was massively popular as a TV ‘sport’. Croquet has similar qualities: coloured balls, a rectangular ‘pitch’, hoops instead of pockets to aim at, a premium set upon strategy and tactics and – best of all – the players, teamed in pairs, were fully entitled to be beastly to their opponents.

I had duly talked with a friendly TV producer and for a while we worked upon developing the project. We researched croquet as a sport (its history, its leading exponents, the administrative authorities) and the potential issues, not least including the fact that some tinkering with the rules might be necessary because croquet matches were effectively open-ended from a duration point of view. Plainly, televised croquet matches would have to have neat time limits to fit the demands of a broadcasting schedule.

Would its authorities be prepared to sanction a television-friendly form of the game? The conflicting aspects of this dilemma might be akin to mucking about with the centuries-old rules of chess in order to create speed-chess. Would the croquet purists stomach it for the chance to create a pot of television-fuelled gold?

At the time we thought they might – or the chance that they might was one worth pursuing.

Nothing came of the project in the end. I cannot remember why. Maybe it was even that my producer pal and I got bored with the idea after a substantial period of no progress – I cannot remember the details.

Maybe it was that the croquet authorities didn’t buy into our vision, or were just too riddled with politics, or were just too fuddy-duddy to see the possibilities. Maybe it was just Fate. Whatever the reason, our particular concept of televised croquet bit the dust.

Snooker these days seems a bit like show jumping. It’s still around, occasionally gets a bit of coverage on satellite or cable sporting channels, but its heyday as a mass-attracting sport appears to have passed. Or could there be a revival one day? Could even croquet’s chance might come again.

I was minded to speculate upon such issues when I saw this excellent obituary of croquet player John Solomon today on the website of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH



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About Charles Thursby

After a lifetime in sports journalism, Charles Thursby continues his immersion in the world of sport by providing the National Rust with dispatches from all points of the compass. More Posts