Petanque might not be the most obvious sport to employ a development officer but if devotee Dave Bartram has his way, we’ll all be playing the game in years to come.
Dave is determined to grow the sport from grass roots level through to elite national and international competitions. He’s hoping that with the support of the Guernsey Sports Commission and some further sponsorship his dream of bringing petanque to the masses will be realised.
‘I had never played until I came over to Guernsey. There was only the Centre at St Andrew’s where you could play at the time,’ said Dave.
‘I enjoyed it and started playing in the friendly ‘melee’ sessions on a Saturday. That was my introduction to the sport 15 years ago.’
The Petanque Centre in St Andrew’s is still the hub of the sport, but Dave’s perseverance and obvious love of the game has seen it go from strength to strength.
‘We have around 150 members with around 50 people playing in the leagues on a Wednesday night.’
In 2012 Dave was instrumental in starting up a business league in Guernsey. Working alongside Jack Honeybill from the Town Centre Partnership, with the support of other sponsors who gave their time and expertise for free, plus a grant from the HSBC Charitable Trust he was able to establish the petanque terrains adjacent to the QE II Marina in St Peter Port.
‘We had 12 teams for our first summer business league in 2012,’ said Dave.
‘We now have 50 teams signed up, each with three or four players.’
The teams play between noon and 2pm from Monday to Friday with a spring league operating from April to June and a summer league from July to September.
Dave is hoping that the move into Phase 5 means that the leagues can start up again.
‘We are ready to start playing now.’
The business league has certainly helped recruit more players and improved standards, although Dave looks longingly at the situation in our sister isle of Jersey where government investment in the sport means Guernsey needs to catch up.
‘The inter-insular match against Jersey has been going for 27 years and we were evenly matched until a few years ago. Jersey started a major investment in the sport supported by the States of Jersey and so they got better and better.
‘They have petanque terrains in lots of places and so the sport is really accessible. Every parish has access to a terrain. So, they started winning.
‘We are getting closer. I feel that any time now we will be back on top.’
Dave has big plans to build on some of the successful initiatives of recent years. The Specsavers Youth Games in 2019 featured petanque for the first time and of the 19 children who took part, 11 went on to join the cadet club.
The creation of the Guernsey Petanque Association in 2016 as a local governing body has helped move the sport forward too. Guernsey can now compete in European and World Federation events as a separate jurisdiction and although Dave has modest ambitions for this elite level of competition, he’s hoping being able to represent the island at international level will attract more new players.
‘Our aim is to move players who start in schools into the cadet club and hopefully enable them to compete in Youth World and European competitions. Then as they get older move to the main club in St Andrew’s and have more players representing Guernsey and going off-island to play in national and international competitions. A triples team competed in the European Championships in Bulgaria last year and in singles the year before.
‘It’s about getting the experience because it’s a whole new world out there; playing indoors with 80 people on the terrain at the same time,’ says Dave.
‘Our modest ambition so far is not to come last in these competitions – and so far we haven’t!’
If Dave is successful in establishing a part-time development officer role, he has a long list of ideas to help grow the sport.
He’s been speaking to parish constables, schools, care homes, assisted living complexes and other venues about developing petanque terrains on their sites. The minimum requirements are for a flat area of either gravel or dirt, 12m x 2m.
Dave believes petanque has a unique attraction.
‘It’s a multi-generational sport. There are not many sports you can play where parents, grand parents and children can play on an even footing.
‘It teaches hand-eye coordination as well as communication. You must work as a team and there is an element of competitiveness.
‘I think it is also one of the cheapest sports in Guernsey.’
But Dave’s main focus is going to be on introducing petanque into schools.
‘I’m looking for a combination of a sponsor and Guernsey Sports Commission support to get started. Firstly, I will do an audit of schools to check facilities, then I would like to try to get in as part of PE lessons helping with fundamental movement skills such as throwing – or establishing after-school clubs.’
In addition to working with schools, other ideas include having petanque as part of the social prescribing programme, establishing inter-parish competitions, offering ‘have a go’ events at Seafront Sundays and Street Sports sessions as well as continuing to support the popular Deputies’ Inter-Insular match.
‘Any reason to get people together is positive,’ said Dave.
‘I actually prefer getting more people to play than playing myself.’
If Dave’s activities so far are anything to go by it won’t be long before we are all playing petanque.