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It’s all in a name

Reading in past editions of Bowls International of the exploits of the extraordinary Craig BOWLER, I have been mightily impressed, not only by his skill on the green, but by his back story, which surely deserves to be turned into an Oscar-winning film (writes David Rhys Jones).
The way in which Craig turned his life around to become a top exponent of our wonderful sport is truly inspirational – but there is something else that struck me about the man from Olney, near Milton Keynes, who, in 2007, lost both legs and an arm in a desperate suicide attempt, but who went on to represent England in the Commonwealth Games in Leamington 2022, when he won a bronze medal in the men’s para pairs event.
With a surname like BOWLER, Craig was surely born to play bowls, and I began to think about other participants in Drake’s ancient game that have names that are particularly appropriate – and I did not have to search for long, because his bronze-winning partner in Leamington was none other than Kieran ROLLINGS, from Northamptonshire, who made his Commonwealth Games debut on the Gold Coast in 2018. And, of course, in Wales, there’s a young man called Chaad BOWLING, who made a name for himself by winning the Merthyr West End Open Tournament in September!
Born to play bowls? – Well, what about the one-and-only William Walker WOOD? The evergreen Scot went by his initials WWW before the World Wide Web was ever thought of? Willie, a veritable wizard with the woods, struck gold in the men’s singles for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982, and went on to win the Commonwealth fours title in 1990. He should have defended his singles title in his native Edinburgh in 1986, but was deemed to be ineligible, a because he was a ‘professional’ – unlike ‘amateur’ athletic icons like Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Daly Thomson, who were happily plying their trade down the road in the Meadowbank Stadium.
The talented Scot, who made his international debut for Scotland in 1966, was runner-up in the world outdoor singles championship – twice – in 1984 and 1988. But, as a great team player, he garnered world gold medals outdoors in triples three times (Adelaide, 1996; Ayr, 2004; Christchurch, 2008) and fours once (Worthing, 1992). Note also that his appearances at world level spanned an incredible period (1982 to 2008) of 26 years!
I know bowlers everywhere were saddened towards the end of 2023, when Willie lost his wife of 56 years. Morag, herself a well-known figure on the bowls scene, was a tower of strength, epitomising the old saying, ‘behind every great man there is a great woman’.
Then there’s that distinguished husband-and-wife duo from Hampshire, who have won, respectively, the men’s and women’s English outdoor national singles title, and have both struck gold at world level. I refer, of course, to the remarkable Peter and Wendy LINE, who live in Southampton, and whose achievements are legendary. Together, they won the All-England mixed pairs title in 1990.
Peter made his international debut in 1955, and pulled on his England shirt for the last time in 1985. He won the English outdoor singles title three times – in 1961 and 1964 – and skipped England to the world outdoor fours title at Worthing in 1972. Wendy who has won a full set of national titles (two-wood and four-wood singles, pairs, triples and fours), played for England regularly between 1983 and 2001. Her greatest achievement came in 1986, when she won the women’s singles title at the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh.
I have a treasured personal memory from 1992, when I was covering the women’s national championships at Leamington for national press. In an exciting four-wood singles final, Wendy LINE edged home, 21-20 against Norfolk’s Liz SHORTER – and my report in The Times the following day read as follows…
“For those who enjoy a play on words, the last end of the Liverpool Victoria EWBA singles championship was a gift yesterday. Wendy LINE found a better LINE to the jack than her opponent, Liz SHORTER, who bowled SHORT with her third bowl and was SHORTER still with her final delivery. LINE also found a better LENGTH on that last end, while SHORTER, who held game twice, finished one shot SHORT of the 21 she needed for her first national title.”
It was around about that time that my partiality for word play was given a boost – and again it was Leamington that provided the spark. Staying at a farm in Radford Semele, I had the good fortune to meet, at breakfast, two ladies who were drawn to play each other that morning. Their names were Mrs HERRING and Mrs WHITING. Then, another year, but still at Victoria Park, I got two female competitors together for a happy snap. They, too, were likely to meet head-to-head. Their names? – Mrs TAPE and Mrs MEASURES.
Switching briefly to the Federation, I wonder if anyone can tell me who the national EBF pairs winners were in Skegness in 1989? I was delighted to see the names of the champions, who hailed from County Durham. Indeed, I could hardly believe it! You will chuckle, too, when you read their names – but, for full effect, you will have to read them out loud. They were – wait for it – MAUGHAN and KNIGHT!
Before the days of unification, the English Bowling Association lunched a couple of appropriately-named characters on our sport. There was Fred INCH, who was a popular figure in Worthing – and, of course, who can forget the EBA’s long-serving Treasurer, Bob JACK, who, apart from looking after the money from 1975 to 2005, served a year as president in 1992? Yes, we’d all like to get our WOODS within an INCH of the JACK!
Finally, a true story from the Commonwealth Games at Pakuranga, near Auckland, in 1990, when we first made the acquaintance of bowlers like Fiji’s CAUCAU TURAGABECI, INATIO AKARURU from the Cook Islands and Western Samoan duo TAOALEOO FAASOO and TAPUSATELE TUATALAGOA. These days, in football and athletics especially, there are so many tongue-twisters for sports commentators to deal with – but it was (literally) a whole new ball game for the late, great Jimmy Davidson and me!
You can probably imagine the panic in the BBC commentary box as we speculated how these gentlemen might pronounce their names. Eventually, of course, we discovered that the first-named above was known as Thowthow Toorangabethy, and got to know him quite well over the years, but, on our first meeting with the Fijian, Jimmy and I were flummoxed, because, this morning, we were down to commentate on a fours match in which the said character was skipping for Fiji.
Our commentary box was perched high up above the grandstand, and we would have to base our coverage on what we could see on the TV monitor, because the match in question was scheduled to be played on a rink on the far green. Jimmy generously volunteered to take a trek to the end of the rink where the teams were playing their trial ends to ascertain the correct pronunciation.
While he was on his way, a message came through my cans, informing me that the Fijians had changed the order of their player, and that a new name appeared at skip. I had no way of contacting Jimmy. But I could hear quite clearly what happened next.
Jimmy called the skip over, and I heard him ask, “Excuse me asking, but how do you pronounce your surname?” I hope you can imagine the look on Jimmy’s face when the answer came back: “STEPHENS!”

Caption: Craig Bowler (left) and Kieran Rollings with Team England Commonwealth Games ambassador Denise Lewis

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