THE chairman of Worthing Petanque Club is on a mission to let people know that the sport is thriving in the town.
Around 20 people were gathered on the terrain at the back of West Worthing Tennis and Squash Club in Titnore Lane, Durrington, for the club’s session on Thursday.
The aim of petanque is to throw hollow metal balls, known as boules, as close to a smaller ball, the coche, as possible.
The current form of the game originated in 1907, in La Ciotat, southern France, and is played casually in France by around 17 million people.
But in the UK, petanque has a much lower profile, something that Bob is keen to change.
“I have been playing the sport for around three years and started after someone suggested it to me,” he said.
“I played ‘pretend’ petanque in the garden, as you do, but I had no idea that there were any rules and quite fancied the idea of playing properly.
“The biggest problem that we have in attracting new members is that people do not realise that they can play the sport in Worthing and, indeed, across the country.
“I do not find that petanque has suffered from the same stereo-types that bowls has, but that is simply because nobody is sufficiently aware of it to have formed a view one way or the other.
“I think, if anything, we suffer from a lack of profile.
“Bowls is big in Worthing and people seem to gravitate towards the game because they have heard of it.
“Curling is also similar, as you are basically trying to get near an object or knock others off, and this has become very popular.
“I think that, in the same way, if we could get petanque known to people, which is my mission, it would be seen differently.”
Angela Brooks, of Offington, is the club captain.
She said: “I have been playing for about five years and took up the sport because my son has played since he was seven.
“Eventually, I got fed up of going to watch him and standing in the cold or sitting in the car, so thought I would give it a go myself.
“I did not have a clue what the game was when I first saw it advertised at Field Place, but I wanted Martin to try something new.
“He was very good at it and now plays for England.
“I like the fact that you meet lots of different people and you travel to other clubs.
“It is also great to be doing something outside.”
Mrs Brooks said that there were a lack of juniors involved in the game.
“I think it must be because people do not know about it or assume that it is just an old person’s sport,” she said.
“As a result, Martin keeps quiet about what he does and does not like to advertise it, which is a bit of a shame.”
Bob agreed that attracting youngsters to the game was ‘very difficult’.
“I think it goes back to the fact that people have never really heard of petanque,” he said. “For young people, in particular, I think if you got a group of them together to come it would make a difference.
“Having taster sessions in schools would also help because, at the moment, we only have two juniors.
“We are planning to start playing in the evenings, under floodlights, soon, which we hope will encourage younger people and those that work to come along.”
All of the players that I spoke to agreed that the game was friendly and social.
Bob said: “Petanque is addictive and there is no edge to it unlike some other games.
“Club mornings are more about gossip and having a coffee that anything else but for the more serious and competitive player there are league matches where teams play at home and away throughout the season.
“It means that the sport can be played at a range of levels and it is a lot more popular than people think.
“Petanque is easier than bowls, and it is also less formal, for example there is no dress code.
“As long as you do not wear stilettos, anything else goes, you wear what you like.”
Greta Roberts from Tarring said: “I got involved in petanque through a couple of my friends who played bowls.
“It is a very friendly game and it is nice that it is outdoors and in the fresh air.
“You can just come along and play in a club session or you can play in a league so noone is excluded.
“It is also very social.”
Members play on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings.
Anyone who would like more information on the club or petanque should log on to the website www.worthingpetanqueclub.org.uk