Ready, set, go for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil and some of the world’s other premier sporting events over the next two months, but sorry Crows and Power fans, the twilight Showdown at Adelaide Oval on Sunday, June 29 doesn’t rate a mention.
If their fans are struggling with this reality, may we suggest they wipe away the tears and shed a thought for the croquet players of this world. We constantly hear of the Wimbledon Championships being played at the All England Club, but nearly always forgotten is that it is still the All England Lawn Tennis AND Croquet Club.
In fact, when the club was founded at Worple Road, London in July, 1868, croquet was named first because it was then the big rage. By 1882 croquet was dropped from the name, but for sentimental reasons was reinstated in 1899.
Beth Young, president of the Victor Harbor Croquet Club, likes to rekindle this old sporting snippet because croquet is her passion.
“Everyone forgets us,” she bemoans. After all, croquet hardly makes the headlines in our national daily.
And yes, Beth has heard all the cutting remarks before, yet her respect for this old game remains behind her smile. “I love playing croquet,” she says.
And she backs herself up with the fact the energetic state body Croquet SA has 39 clubs, including 22 in the country.
It was 100 years ago this August 8 that a few town members met at the old Institute Hall in Coral Street and established the Victor Harbor Croquet Club. It went into recess six months later because of World War 1, and resumed in 1923.
Many a champion has graced these courts, including Victor Harbor’s first national croquet representative Gwen Rumbleow in 1963, and current club member Shirley Carr, who has represented Australia 17 times in the MacRobertson Shield or the Trans-Tasman competition against New Zealand.
There have also been countless state representatives, but this club with 72 members is best epitomised by the bonding by an incredible passion for this game that few outsiders understand and respect.
Beth, 77, who describes herself as a ‘bit of a newcomer’ to administration having been club president ‘only’ since 1996, and Cynthia Durbridge, 83, once a regular club champion and one of those treasured ‘done everything’ life members that club’s adore, agreed the image of croquet had always made it difficult to attract new members.
Cynthia recalled the time a few years ago when her brother-in-law, a builder, told a workmate he was off to play croquet, and the chap said: ‘… and what, do you knit and crochet as well?’
“That was the belief back then; that croquet wasn’t a real man’s sport but an old ladies’ game,” Cynthia said. “I like to think it’s not like that anymore, but yes, people are surprised when you tell them you play croquet.”
Beth added often forgotten was that croquet offered good exercise and especially healthy mental stimulation because of the incredible friendships developed among club members.
Mind you, when the VHCC applied for a grant a few years ago the average age was 73, and it’s confusing when there is association croquet played Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday afternoons, and golf croquet on Monday, Wednesdays and Saturday mornings.
Historians suggest the golf reference relates to a form of croquet first being played in the XI century with a stick used to hit a ball through a fence, and the Scots modifying the rules to invent golf. Whatever, if a bloke turns to a mate in the pub and says he plays golf croquet they’d think he was strange.
Put simply, golf croquet is easier to learn because it’s about hitting a ball through a hoop; you have one hit at a time.
Beth said association croquet was a more complicated variation that took longer to learn.
“For that reason we find that a lot of people don’t have the patience to keep at it,” she said. “It’s not so much hitting a ball, but where you place the ball afterwards; these are the tactics, much like snooker and billiards, really. Association is the real, dinky-di croquet.”
You can see the frustration in the players’ eyes. “One day you say, ‘why bother’, but the next everything goes alright, even halfway through a game,” Beth said. “The game really hooks you in. You are always learning; there is so much involved. You think you have cracked it and the next time you just blow it.”
Cynthia said the VHCC had given her a huge interest. “I meet heaps of people,” she added. “I really don’t know what I would have done with my life if I did not have my croquet. It’s a part of my family.”
The club offers its twilight games, quiz nights, occasional evening meals, and on a good day there’s the sensational soup. Players from the other clubs around the state gather here for four gala days a year, plus what Cynthia describes as a “big, big tournament” in March.
Okay, croquet has very old sporting origins, but like life it’s very much a game for the young at heart. This club doesn’t escape the increasing financial strains so it needs to appeal to the kindness of its generous sponsors, and again, it’s not easy attracting new members. Interested? Give Beth a call on 8552 2348.
And if you really think croquet is just a game for old ladies and behind the times then consider that South Australia’s Greg Fletcher, No. 50 in world singles rankings, is in his mid-20s, and today’s mallet shafts are made from carbon fibre and range up to $300. And you may be surprised that not one current member at our vibrant Victor Harbor club was there at that meeting on August 8, 1914.