CROWN green bowls in Rotherham is facing a bumpy ride as a combination of ageing players, Covid-19 worries and a lack of new blood shrinks numbers across the borough.
And, says one experienced bowler, “the sport may be in its last throes”.
Since the pandemic struck early last year, closing greens, clubs have lost players either through health concerns or bowlers getting out of the habit.
A gentle sport, bowls has always appealed most to people in their 60s and above and that will always be so.
But without future generations of older people embracing bowling as a way to fill their extra leisure time, the future looks bleak.
Terry Canadine, from Phoenix Bowling Club at Brinsworth, has seen the problems at first hand, particularly since the pandemic brought society to a standstill early last year.
“Over the last year or more, the elderly in the main have taken a pounding with the Covid pandemic,” said Terry.
“Many sports and hobbies which involve the elderly in particular have suffered from members passing away or being too ill to participate any longer.
“I make no bones about it, this sport may be in its last throes.
“Not only have members left us through bereavement, but younger people no longer wish to take part because they either know nothing about the game or have the impression it is one played by old men and women, which is far from the truth.
“We, of a certain age, have been guilty both nationally and locally in the Rotherham area of failing to recognise that the sport will die out completely if we cannot get younger people to participate.
“The reasons can be varied, so much more now due to new technology, social media etc, much more than we had years ago.”
Terry is one of more than 40 players who fill three teams in Brinsworth, taking in Phoenix, Phoenix Bradgate and Phoenix Aurora.
There is also plenty of choice to play competitively in the likes of the Rotherham Midweek League, Evening League, Saturday League and Veterans' League.
Despite that, it is still a struggle.
“All the leagues have diminished in membership because of the ageing population, natural wastage if you like,” added Terry.
“I heard Kings at Wath lost three or four members in 12 months. Whether they were all Covid related, I don't know.
“We have 42 members between three teams and sometimes people are playing four or five times a week to keep the fixtures going.
“Some bowlers are definitely still scared of Covid. We have had a couple who have said they are not coming back until they have had their second jabs or until next year, but of course they will then be another year older.
“I'm in the junior section and I'm 75!”
Rather than reach out to young people, the task for the crown green bowls community is to reach out to older adults and show them bowls is a pastime that can improve physical and mental health.
“We know for kids in their 20s, the game is too slow for them,” said Terry. “We also know people work and they have to look after their jobs first and foremost.
“But for older people, it has been proved that keeping ones self fit and active can lessen the impact of any ailment, be it physical or mental.
“We hear the common phrase, 'it helps a person’s wellbeing, which is true beyond doubt.
“Socialising and connecting with both friends and new associates at a bowling green assists greatly.
“In the crown green bowling fraternity we pride ourselves as being one of these sports and hobbies which helps people get out and about and enjoy a convivial couple of hours, be it a newcomer to the game or one who simply wishes to restart their interest which they enjoyed a few years ago.
“The game of bowls is carried out at a slow pace and can be singles or doubles in the main. It is relaxing but competitive at the same time, but most of all enjoyable.”
As the sport looks to attract new faces, friendlies can be arranged for newcomers to try out the game and equipment is available.
Added Terry: “Refreshments are usually provided as is the opportunity to socialise with people of a similar age. Should anyone be interested in having a passion for an outside interest then where better to start?
“League fixtures are played most days of the week and the occasional evening.
“We do need new players all over the area of Rotherham with many clubs having vacancies.
“Nobody will be refused no matter what standard, from a complete beginner to returning players.“
Anyone interested in trying crown green bowls can contact Terry Canadine on 07708 784357.
Clifton Park ... the lovely green without a team
REGULARLY cut and cared for but quiet most of the week, Clifton Park's remaining bowling green stands as a reminder of the sport's decline.
Local club Clifton moved on a few years ago due to rising costs at the council-maintained facility.
Its lack of use is particularly sad to the likes of long-time bowler David Beeley, who remembers the heydays of the sport at Clifton Park.
“It is the first time in my bowling career, some 30 years, that Clifton Park doesn't have a team to represent it,” he said.
“Clifton Park always had good bowling teams, particularly Clifton Ladies, who were the scourge of the Sheffield leagues. They were the only all women's team from Rotherham who played in Sheffield. They won the league 20 times in 23 years.
“The other Rotherham parks are now private clubs, basically, as they are run and maintained by their members and leased from the council.
“Sadly our new culture doesn't include time for crown green bowling.”
David was prompted to get in touch with the Advertiser when we featured an archive picture of the old Foljambe Arms pub at Dalton with its adjoining bowling green, long since gone.
“That was the usual thing to have for bigger pubs and clubs,” he added. “Then they were turned into car parks and lost forever.”
Fellow bowler Terry Canadine makes regular visits to Clifton Park for a walk and to look over the main green. A second green also remains.
He said: “That one is not maintained as much but is still playable with a cut. I don't understand it. You can still hire it, which is a bit daft.
“The greens look really nice to look at but you see kids running on them now because they are not fenced off.
“Whether things will change when restrictions are lifted, I don't know, but it's a pity they're wasted at the moment.”