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The 1990 Pétanque League

Ted Robertson Talks to Lyndon Whitaker About the British People's Great Love for Pétanque

Ted Robertson, with appologies for the poor quality IN villages throughout the Melton area the clonk of metal on metal is becoming as familiar as the sound of leather on willow.

Pétanque is as quintessentially French as cricket is English. But over the last few years much of the country has been captivated by the French game of boule.

Anyone who has been to France will retain images of sitting around a town or village square, drinking wine and eating, perhaps, as the French - invariably men - while away a warm summer evening, typically shrugging their shoulders and smoking Gauloise on a dusty pétanque piste.

The game has adapted well to British soil which needs a sprinkling of gravel to offset effects of damper conditions.

Apart from the weather, the main difference is that players and spectators are more likely to be drinking pints of beer than claret.

One of the pioneers of pétanque in this part of the world is Ted Robertson who began playing 20 or so years ago and plays for Ashby Folville.

To start with there were half a dozen teams in the Melton and District Pétanque League which a few years ago was incorporated into the Leicestershire Pétanque Association.

Ted was among those who were unhappy about travelling distances for matches and was instrumental in setting up the 1990 Pétanque League which was more or less based on the old Melton league area.

There are now 64 teams playing in the league's eight divisions including teams from Great Dalby, Twyford, Gaddesby, Asfordby and Thrussington.

Pétanque is a simple game and you can start playing in competitions almost straight away. There are seriously competitive tournaments for those who take their sport seriously and there's relaxed fun for those who regard It as a pub game to enjoy with a glass of something close to hand.

Ted and those who play in the 1990 League are known for putting enjoyment first and foremost. "In England, unlike France, the game is not male dominated. Here, women compete on equal terms with men and school pupils with pensioners in their 80s," says Ted.

"And how many sports are there where wheelchair users compete on equal terms with able-bodied players?"

Among the joys are that it is so Simple. You don't have to be very athletic to play. You don't need special clothing and it can be played on a wide variety of surfaces, although varying amounts of gravel are usually involved.

It is immensely sociable and if you have a reasonably good eye and enough co-ordination to throw a metal ball weighing about a pound over six to 10 metres, it could take only a minute or so to start playing well enough to enjoy it and maybe an hour or so's practice to be good enough to do a job for a village team.

The only disadvantage is that we on this side of The Channel, though improving all the time, are not yet good enough to challenge the French at national level. Never mind, we could trounce them at cricket. Couldn't we?

Originally published in The Melton Times, Thursday August 27 1998.

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