Players with a passion for petanque

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People, passion and petanque all mixed in with a side helping of pride – that is what makes up the Lockswood Petanque Academy.

The club has been going for three years and is made up of a mixed bunch of 30 members.

Players take part in a warm-up.

Players take part in a warm-up.

At its heart is Tony Hewitt, its chairman, who has thrown open the doors of the club for a taster Saturday morning.

The community centre hall in Locks Heath, near Fareham is packed, with members of his academy plus their guests, curious passers-by and pupils and teachers from Brookfield Community School.

Indoor petanque is a bit of a niche, a relatively new sport not often seen as much competition for the more serious world of its English counterpart bowls. But there’s something relaxed and friendly about this group.

A gentle warm-up gets the players into the spirit and then the games begin.

Tony tells me that the club was set up to meet clear objectives – the most important one being to bring petanque to all ages and abilities.

He says: ‘It is a challenge. It’s the mind and the attitude that people have got that petanque relates to the over-60s, that’s what we are trying to break.

‘I am hoping that we can persuade people that it is a good sport for everybody.’

Indoor petanque is a sport that is in its fledgling stages, based on the traditional game of petanque – a French form of boules.

The aim of the game is to get your boule closest to the ‘cochonnet’ or jack.

It is usually played outdoors on rough terrains, but here at Lockswood it’s being played on a shiny sports hall floor and the balls have been exchanged for malleable beany substitutes, which do not roll but stay where they land.

Shelly Mckenzie, who also plays in Portchester, explains: ‘The only thing that’s different is the floor surface and the boule.

‘When you play indoors the floors are never flat, there’s always an angle and your boule curls off.

‘Outdoors you are playing on a rough, gritty surface with stones that are tiny up to little boulders.

‘When you are playing outdoors you are looking more for the line.’

Shelly, from Portchester, says that indoor petanque has many benefits, not just protection from the variable English weather.

She says: ‘As it’s a soft boule, which contains polymer beads, they do last a long time, they are like Playdough.

‘Outdoors you play with steel boules that don’t change shape, which can be heavy weighing up to 800g each.

‘Indoors the boules are a lot lighter. They sit in the palm of your hand and they are just one size.

‘The steel boules can also be quite cold, especially when you are playing outside.’

Shelly got into the sport when she was 14 years old through her dad – Jack Weedon – who was one of the founding members of the petanque club at the Limes in Catisfield, which has since been built on.

Shelly, 45, now plays with her husband Malcolm, and sometimes her 20-year-old daughter Kaitlin.

She says: ‘As I am disabled it’s a sport that I can actually play because I don’t have to walk long distances.

‘When you throw a boule from the circle it’s about six to 10 metres so I don’t have to walk very far and I can stop.

‘While other people are throwing I can have a seat at the side of the terrain.

‘It’s great for able or disabled people. You can even play in a wheelchair. It is a good sport for everybody.’

Tony adds: ‘It is extremely wide in its scope – you can play locally, nationally or just for fun. And it keeps you physically fit.’

As players take turns to play the sport, there’s a buzz of excitement in the hall.

Every face has a smile and it’s clear to see that new friendships have been formed today.

At the end of the session, Tony presents the medals and everyone breaks for a cup of tea.

‘It has got a good sense of camaraderie,’ says Shelly.

‘It has helped to bring out people and then they have made new friends. It also provides gentle exercise which they might not have been doing otherwise.’

How to play

Indoor petanque is a head-to-head game that can be played singularly, in doubles or triples.

It uses a different terrain and equipment to the outdoor version.

Sides are three balls each; teams of three get two. A throwing area of around 50cm by 50cm is marked out and a player from the team who has won the toss throws the target ball around 10m away.

A team-mate then throws the first ball – attempting to get it as close to the target ball as possible.

The opposing team then attempt to throw the ball as close to the target as possible.

If they fail to do so, a fellow team-mate then tries to land it closer.

This continues until they manage to get closer and then it is the turn of the opposite team – a trend that continues until one team has no balls left to throw.

Then the remainder of the balls from the other team are thrown and points are counted.

Only one team gets points in each round. The team whose ball is closest to the target ball gets a point for each ball that is closer to the target ball than the opposing team’s nearest ball. This is process is carried out until 13 points is reached and a winner declared.

At a glance

The Indoor Petanque Academy meets every Friday at the Lockswood Centre in Locks Heath from 1.45pm until 3.15pm.

Members are introduced to the history of petanque, told basic rules and then taught how to point and to shoot, together with some basic tactics.

They can then enjoy interaction with nine-a-side or six-a-side competitions.

Fees are £5 per month. All instructors are accredited members of the English Petanque Association.

Outdoor petanque

While Lockswood may be the only indoor petanque club in the Portsmouth area, there are many outdoor clubs where you can try your hand at the sport.

* The Fareham Petanque Club meets every Wednesday night at 7.30pm at a terrain adjacent to the North-West Fareham Community Centre, Henry Cort Drive.

* The Portchester Petanque Club meets on a terrain in Westlands Grove Wednesdays and Sundays from 10am until midday and Thursday evenings from 7pm until 9pm

* Searles Petanque Club meets at the social club in Frankport Way, off Newgate Lane, Fareham at 7.30pm on a Wednesday.

* Farmhouse Petanque Club meets at the Farmhouse Pub, in Burrfields Road, Portsmouth Monday evenings

* Hampshire Rose Petanque Club meets at The Hampshire Rose, in London Road, Widley, near Waterlooville, on a Wednesday at 7.30pm.

* Shedfield Petanque Club meets at Shedfield Recreation Ground on Fridays from 7.15pm.