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‘Yardsticks, Milestones and Memories’

I have been accused of being a nostalgic bowler. I plead guilty. I love the history of bowls, the characters, the amusing incidents, the truly memorable moments; the friendships that evolve over time and it’s great to see fellow competitors and supporters whom we only ever see once a year when we attend county and national events (writes John Rednall).
Within that nostalgia come the understandable sentimental memories from decades ago: of competing with my parents, going to watch them wherever they played, supporting them, willing their bowls on and sharing in their successes, inspired by their glories.
I attended my first national championships aged six-months-old when my mother competed in the EWBA championships at Wimbledon, then, later as a toddler, watched her at Leamington and my father at Worthing.
Their love of, and loyalty to the sport, set my potential future-bowler cogs into motion and it was not long before my grandmother’s set of dusty lignums that hung in a net, on a hook in the garage were being used on the front lawn. There, I would play uphill and downhill for hours, often on my own, and my heavy deliveries finished in the rose bed.
The grandmother I never knew, (she died well before I was born) had played with the said set of lignums with the England’s well-known international bowler, Olive Freeman but as grandma grew terminally ill, she needed a substitute and that’s when my mother started to play, in her teens.
Many of us have been introduced to the sport by our parents and now the Rednall generation game continues as I can now share in
my daughter Katherine’s enjoyment of the sport and her
international successes.
But perhaps the greatest joy now comes from watching my two-year-old grandson trot onto the green, rolling carpet bowls and jacks with
a smile on his face. He loves the sport already.
County finals day in Suffolk never ceases to be nostalgic for me and last month, I took part in three Suffolk Bowls England finals.
As usual, my sentimental mind turned back to my first county final as a 16-year-old. The year was 1980 and I was a finalist in the Suffolk Champion of Champions, playing an experienced Westgate Ward bowler, John Williams.
To my surprise, I advanced into a 20-14 lead, but as the adrenaline rushed and with my vocally over-enthusiastic clubmates cheering me on, I saw not only the winning line, but the large trophy gleaming in the sunshine and reality struck that I was just one point away from a dream come true: my first county title.
Crumbling with inexperience, the legs went to jelly and the pressure got too much as my opponent drew level, 20-20 and that feeling of impending doom swallowed me up. To this day, I don’t know how I got the shot the next end, but somehow, my prayers were answered; I managed to clamber to victory, and a first Suffolk trophy was timidly but gratefully received, followed by the selectors’ reward of a Middleton Cup debut the next year.
Ironically, my opponent in the 2023 Suffolk singles final last month was the brilliant Charlie Beeton who recently won the British Isles Under 18 title, aged 16. The boot was now on the other foot. Here was the up-and-coming star against seasoned comparative veteran. Charlie is an amazing talent: I have compared him to the young Mozart of his day: a little genius and he had beaten me just two weeks earlier in the Felixstowe Open Tournament
semi-final. It was the final ‘everyone’ wanted to see, and it was clear where the allegiances of the neutrals lay; however, on this occasion, I mastered the rink and gusty conditions the best. Charlie was gracious in defeat, and he will go on to lift many titles, both county and national.
Meanwhile, for me, winning the singles and becoming county champion for a record fifth time means so much. It is days like this that inspire us, and I still get the same thrill from competing and winning as I did that first time back in 1980.
The whole sense of occasion of county finals allows us the opportunity to gauge how successful we have been in an outdoor season plagued by isolated showers, thunderstorms, the coldest north-easterly coastal winds I have ever known and greens that suffered too much rain in February and not enough in March. As competitive bowlers, we measure our success by yardsticks, milestones and glories. We have given up countless evenings, made numerous journeys to every point of the county and abandoned any kind of normal social life, playing every day, perhaps for weeks. And even when we don’t really feel like it, we turn out when our clubs cannot field a team without us and dutifully play in the inter-club competitions because we want to be good members and not let the side down. And here lies a dilemma: do we become stale if we play too much, or is it good to play so frequently that our deliveries become second nature?
Practice makes perfect we are told but the balance is crucial. We need to play consistently well to win; momentum of a winning run is a positive and breeds optimism and confidence but conversely, it is all too easy to overplay, lose our sharpness and our desire. Ideally, we need to be hitting our best form, feeling our fittest and hungriest (competitively-speaking) just as we reach the quarter-finals of county bowls and then hit a purple patch of form when we reach the pinnacle of our ability and confidence as we arrive at the national finals.
Yardsticks: Those of us who have a real pride in our ability and performance will measure success by how many county finals we reach and whether or not we qualify for the nationals. We routinely evaluate our performances and because we set high personal standards, we ask ourselves how well we are playing, how effectively we are executing the full repertoire of shots and whether our delivery action feels right. We become concerned if we are underachieving, not playing as well as we hope, or as effectively as we used to. Because our sport is a sport for all and health permitting, we can play it for decades, we can compare our form with that of previous seasons and measure our successes from year to year.
Milestones: The longer our bowling career lasts, providing we manage to retain our skills, consistency and desire, the more milestones and achievements we can add. I have now qualified for the EBA/BE national finals more than fifty times, hold the record for the longest serving England player, the most international caps and the most Middleton Cup appearances for Suffolk. These are my personal milestones of which I’m grateful and I acknowledge all my friends, partners and colleagues who have assisted me, recently and in the past. We all have our own lists of achievements. They are the reward for all the time and effort we have put in.
Memories of Glories: Winning county and national titles is the aim of any competitive player but inevitably, for all of us there will come a time when we don’t win any more silverware and all we are left with are the nostalgic memories to which I eluded earlier on. I guess being nostalgic is really a reflection of magical moments. One of the greatest moments occurred almost exactly 20 years ago on the greens of Beach House Park, Worthing when my long-time pairs partner, Clive Webb and I won the EBA national pairs. Time may have flown ever since but we are determined to celebrate the memory with a meal and a bottle of something. It’s so important to relive the moments and revel in the sentiment. Winning team events with friends makes bonds even stronger and life-long, and to illustrate his longevity, Clive has just won the Suffolk pairs with Elliot Last. You really can’t keep a good bowler down.
That same competitive hunger is as strong as ever in so many stalwarts who are annually inspired by the hunt for national and county trophies. The inexplicable urge to qualify, compete and succeed may seem strange to those who only play for fun or recreation, but year after year, many of the same faces, men and women, along with new emerging talent grace the greens of Victoria Park and Skegness. Our consistency and ability, desire, energy and stamina gets us there, year after year, season after season. With curiosity and excitement, we study the draw, speculating who we might have to play and looking for the big names who might be considered favourites, or giant killers! We are fervent in our enjoyment, yet again proving that our sport really is a life-long sport for everyone. We support the sport we love and the governing bodies who organise us.
When this September issue of Bowls International magazine is released, the Bowls England and EBF national finals will be in progress; indeed, some of the silverware will already be in the victorious hands of those who prevailed, and well done to them! They succeeded where others didn’t; they now glow with satisfaction of dreams fulfilled, those feelings of jubilation and creation of memories that will be treasured forever.

Caption: John with British Isles pairs partner Clive Webb, 2004

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