18 AUGUST 2021 BY TONY THOMAS
The Great North West Annual Festival of Croquet made a very welcome return at Southport last weekend for the 26th time. Was it worth the wait? Well record numbers provide the answer – 41 teams played in the five competitions and it is estimated over 107 people attended each day, supporting the claim this event is the largest gathering of Croquet players in the UK (some claim the world!). It started in sunshine, finished in sunshine, between we had wind and rain, but this could not deter the wonderful ‘great to be back’ atmosphere at Southport & Birkdale Croquet Club.
Teams clad in different colours, the mix of beginners and experts, contesting five different croquet competitions, produce an unrivalled spectacle of excitement and enjoyment making this the premier event in the north west croquet calendar.
The Southport club presented 16 lawns in excellent condition, a tribute to the many weeks of preparation led by the Grounds Manager Don Williamson and over the weekend the club members who arrived early to set out all equipment needed and kept refreshments flowing throughout the event.
The number of games required to be played put pressure on the lawn availability and gave a logistical headache to Manager Ivan Wheatley, who managed the event superbly. As always, the Federation was willing to try new ideas – Triple Banking was used again in the Level Play AC event, the strange colours not causing too much hassle, whilst Doubles teams were controversionally utilised in the Short AC event without causing any major problems – another first for the Federation.
As always, some excellent croquet was played, with rounds of applause from watching spectators in abundance, of course not forgetting cries of anguish from players who fluffed their shots. The standard of play was high with many close contests in all sections. Tales of games ‘given away’could be heard all over the weekend. The most outstanding performance was produced by the two youngest players – Jack Good and Will Mellor representing Bowdon, who won every match they played and securing the Level Play Golf Croquet shield for their club.