Just a kid who fell in love with lawn bowls. Could that be the title of the next blockbuster to hit the big screen? Most 21-year-olds did in fact spend their lockdown bingeing Netflix, refusing to go on their daily family walk and doing an inordinate number of Zoom quizzes.
But for Ewan Lury, pandemic restrictions provided a sporting opportunity to fall in love with bowls.
Here Ewan tells us his story:
When I stumbled across an open day for Strawberry Hill Bowls Club in South West London, whilst on a dog walk with my girlfriend, I couldn’t stop talking about how interested I was. The passion that hit me was sudden. Bowls had been on my radar throughout my life, but it was a clip of Nick Brett’s wonderful shot at the start of lockdown that made me take real notice.
The mesmeric shot is now revered in my household as one of sports’, let alone bowls’, greatest moments, with my brother excited to see me do it in the future.
I pestered my girlfriend so much on the way back to the house about wanting to go and sign up but she wasn’t at all convinced. She was embarrassed that I seemed to be genuine about wanting to join a bowls club.
When we got home, I had my girlfriend arguing one side, begging me not to go the club, and her mum arguing the other, asking the question, why not give it a go? As we all know, having to choose between the view of your girlfriend or the view of her mum is a situation you never want to be in!
I must have walked past that bowls club over 100 times, but I’d never actually seen bowls played there. Usually, you had kids smoking on the green, drinking and kicking a football around, something that is unbelievably detrimental to the grass.
I decided in the end to side with my girlfriend’s mum (boy was that risky!) and that with lockdown hindering my ability to play my true passion, football, there would be no harm in me learning about a new sport and giving it a go.
As I headed over on the open day and had a chat with Carolyn Smith, the club captain, I felt everyone’s eyes get drawn onto me as I asked if I could sign up. I’m not exactly sure what they thought, but it was probably along the lines of ‘this kid has to be joking’ or ‘he won’t last long here.’
Nevertheless, I showed my enthusiasm and signed up to some training sessions with Carolyn herself.
What I didn’t really expect was to fall in love with it as much as I did.
Having gone home as things started to open up in the summer, I even commuted an hour-and-a-half every week to go play at Strawberry Hill when there was a bowls green just around the corner from my house in North London.
The stereotypes with bowls are that it’s an old person’s game, it’s extremely boring and doesn’t take a lot of skill. I very quickly learned that none of these things were true. The people who play bowls have been playing for years, honing their craft week-on-week. Many also attend an indoor bowls club during the winter months.
When I was first invited to a club night the prospect of playing against some of these people was daunting. You had people that to me were giants of the game, and my first question to anyone I played with was always, ‘how long have you been playing?’ The answer was rarely less than 10 years. But bowls isn’t just difficult, it involves detailed tactics, exceptional focus and some intense bits of gamesmanship.
Moving up the mat a couple of inches might mean nothing to non-bowlers, but to the people on the rink, you are making a statement and trying to throw off the performance of your opposition. It became clear that although my teammates were a few generations older than me, the competitive edge that all sportspeople have never really leaves.
My personal favourite bit of sledging involved people calling out ‘ditcher’ if you rolled the ball too far into the ditch at the other side of the rink.
I asked Carolyn what she thought of me after the first couple of training sessions. She told me: “I thought you were naturally quite skilled and so enthusiastic. Personality wise you fit in with everybody and then with people passing by, it was good to have young people on the green.”
Sadly, I can’t have impressed that much, as I was the last pick for the first Intramural tournament of the season. Not that I showed it to my teammates, but despite being picked last, inside I felt like a kid again (a bold statement from someone who has only just turned 21). I couldn’t believe that I had the opportunity to actually try and win a tournament in my first year at the club.
My captain, Mike Chaffe told me he wasn’t too worried about the opposition in our first match, which contained the club’s strongest player. He said: “You play what’s in front of you on the day. It didn’t faze me that you were a newbie! With the right guidance you’d be in. It’s just if you took notice of directions.”
Mike never put pressure on you to win the game. His words of ‘three ends at a time’ are something I’ve taken away from bowls and have implemented in my day-to-day life.
I focus on a few things at a time when I myself get overwhelmed and am worried about the overall outcome. I felt like this was particularly fitting during lockdown, where I like many people felt lost at different points.
This simple piece of advice enabled me to ‘zoom in’ and most importantly when you play bowls, concentrate and focus on the specifics. I must have taken Mike’s directions as we won the match emphatically and there were many other great moments throughout the season.
The club entered into its centenary year in 2020 and because of lockdown they weren’t able to play any matches that year. They postponed their centenary celebrations to 2021 and that allowed me to compete in a variety of different competitions.
This included the club fours competition, which my team won, and the club centenary competition, a variation of bowls that Mike invented himself (think the T20 equivalent of bowls).
But the best moment for me was when I beat my former PE teacher in the opening round of the Newcomer’s Cup. I never knew that bowls would allow me to take vengeance against my former PE teacher. If anything, it made the game even more appetising to me!
Not one person at the club looked down on me at Strawberry Hill when I joined, but instead welcomed me with open arms and were willing to share some stories about their lives.
Ben Walsh, the club president, joined the club in 2011 when he was in his 40s. He echoed everything I said about the welcome he received and he is now heavily involved in the club himself and wishes he could play even more than he does.
Bowls is a game that is crying out for young people to take part and get involved. There’s plenty of opportunities to show off your ability and work in a game that is engaging, entertaining and is full of people who want to teach you.
Perhaps the most important part of it is the opportunity to give something back to those a few generations above us and to hear some quite amazing stories.
I’ll be back down in April when the season begins with a new set of woods that my girlfriend’s grandparents handed down to me, ready to push myself and help to get a younger generation into bowls.
Who knows, you might see me represent England (or Sri Lanka) in 10 years’ time at the Commonwealth Games!
And if my girlfriend’s lucky (yes, she stuck with me!), I might pop in on the way to a match next year…