Stephen McGinty: Passions run high at lawn bowls

Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum provides a perfect backdrop for the Commonwealth Bowling Greens at Kelvingrove. Picture: Lorraine Hill
Kelvingrove Art Galley and Museum provides a perfect backdrop for the Commonwealth Bowling Greens at Kelvingrove. Picture: Lorraine Hill
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From bad boys to golden girls, Stephen McGinty finds a world more hip than hip replacement

TO pump up the atmosphere at the lawn bowls at Kelvingrove Park the organisers play Franz Ferdinand on the loud speakers. The track of choice is ‘Take Me Out’ whose lyrics about teenage loneliness and thwarted love apply equally well to the practice of knocking an opponents bowl out of the path of the jack. The Commonwealth Games are unstoppable in their goal of re-shaping the gentle pursuit of the geriatric into the hip sport of the 21st century youth. For lawn bowls must be the only sport to be formally dressed down by the Commonwealth Games committee who appear to have stipulated that the traditional sporting attire of long trousers, white shirt and tightly knotted tie for gentleman - navy blazer with club crest optional and weather dependent - be replaced by short sleeved polo shirts and knee length shorts, an ensemble that if worn at most Scots clubs would result in a stern word from the Major and immediate banishment from both green and steering committee.

“I don’t know why they call them shorts,” said William Magee who prefers that I guess his age and seems content with an estimate of 82. “They’re not shorts, they come all the way down to their knees!” Mr Magee is accompanying his wife, Margaret, and appears skeptical of the new more casual dress code, as is Margaret, who explains that when she first joined Cardonald Bowling Club “women weren’t even allowed to wear trousers.”

An afternoon at the lawn bowls is an exercise in having one’s assumptions dismantled. I had thought that if the men’s 100 metre final was the equivalent of the Golden Ticket at the games, desired by the many, secured by the few, then tickets to the bowls - a pursuit accessible daily on every municipal green - was the equivalent of the old joke that first prize was one pair of tickets, while second prize was two. Reader, I was wrong - there were thousands anxious to be here. On the back row in brightly coloured gagoules, two pink and one lemon, looking like a trio of Kipling French Fancies were the ‘Golden Girls’ - heroines of the Games who have accrued quite the following at Kelvingrove on account of their handknitted sweaters bearing the thistled logo of Clyde which they have also accessorised with handmade backpacks. “We’re quite famous now” said Brenda Medley, 79 from Hull. “If we had a pound for every photograph we’ve posed for we would be very rich women.” It was Brenda that secured the tickets for both morning and afternoon sessions for every day bar one and over the past week she’s questioned a number of the umpire’s decisions. “I think there are now called International Technical Officers.” Are they not very good, I ask. She refuses to answer but politely wrinkles her nose.

Vicky Watts, ‘Miss Lemon’, 67, from North Lincolnshire said she didn’t mind the shorts and more casual attire: “If it gets the young ones interested’s that fine. I wanted to play bowls since I was 8 but had to wait almost 50 years until I retired.” She would have played earlier, she said, but it didn’t fit into her shift patterns.

After an opening for the Commonwealth Games which saw the weather in Glasgow twinned with Qatar - who now hope to import dreich clouds for the World Cup in 2022 - normal service was resumed today with a slate grey sky, a chilly wind and intermittent rain. Before the afternoon session began, the audience did a 10 second count down that heralded not the launch of a rocket but the small white jack. From the raised tier of the press desk you enjoy a view over four bowling greens with four games going on in each green. A combination of options which makes my head ache. Luckily I chance upon a familiar figure. Is that ‘Tattie’ I wonder? The bad boy of Lawn bowls? The ‘McEnroe’ of the rink? The victor whose arm thrusting gesture towards a group of mildly critical spectators on Sunday left commentators attempting to explain to foreign visitors the cultural significance of: ‘get it up ye’?

It is indeed. In his long blue shorts, white short sleeved top, snowy white hair - well, what little there is - and mildly commodious belly, he is not the most obvious poster ‘boy’ for Glasgow 2014 and elite athleticism, but his passion for the game and considerable skill has made him an audience favourite. He’s also the game’s ‘hard man’. When the wind picks up, he’s the only player who doesn’t pull on a top.


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