BIG READ: The gentle French game that puts a smile on your faceÂ
It's been described as infectious, sociable and fun '“Â and it's rising in popularity across Britain. Now there is even a campaign to make gentle, jovial,Â easy-to-play pÃ©tanque an Olympic sport in time for Paris 2024.Â
TheÂ outdoorÂ game,Â alsoÂ known as French boules, can be playedÂ in teamsÂ by anyone on any terrain except grass '“ and local clubs areÂ trying to getÂ more peopleÂ involved in their sessions.
The Portchester PÃ©tanqueÂ Club was set up 30 years ago and now has more than 80 members. Chairman of the group, Nick Hall, was drawn into the sport's tight-knit community 28 years ago.Â
The 80-year-oldÂ says: 'PÃ©tanqueÂ is alsoÂ knownÂ as FrenchÂ Boules and was taken up on a big scale in FranceÂ '“Â itÂ started off just outside ofÂ MarseilleÂ manyÂ years ago.Â Â
'In this country it was started at a pubÂ not far awayÂ inÂ Shedfield,Â called Samuel's Rest.Â Â
'People who used to go there went over to France and came back and started playing it at the pub.Â
'It started out as a general pass-time for me, but I look upon it as providing a service for others, because everyone who plays really, really enjoys it.Â
'The first time I had a go I found itÂ infectious.Â Â
'YouÂ start playing andÂ immediately you're drawn into this community where everyone gets on,Â andÂ it'sÂ a funÂ gameÂ '“Â youÂ canÂ be as competitive as you wish.'
In pÃ©tanqueÂ you have aÂ cochonnetÂ known as a jack on the floor,Â and each teamÂ of playersÂ has a total of sixÂ metalÂ boulesÂ to throw. The idea is to get those boules as close as possible to the jack.Â
You canÂ roll aÂ bouleÂ upÂ andÂ then your opponentÂ might decide toÂ rollÂ theirs up to the jackÂ toÂ getÂ itÂ closerÂ than yours,Â or,Â theyÂ might decide toÂ hitÂ your bouleÂ outÂ ofÂ the way.Â
'You normally play as a team of pairs or triples, ifÂ you'reÂ playing as a pair you have three boules each, if you're playing as a three youÂ have two boulesÂ each', says Nick.Â Â
'So,Â it's always six boules against six boulesÂ -Â apart from singles.Â Â 'You play the game until you get 13 points locally,Â 15Â at an international level,Â andÂ you get a point for everyÂ bouleÂ that's closer than theÂ opponent'sÂ to the jack.Â Â
'The first player will go, and then it's up to the other team to get closer to the jack than that first boule, andÂ theyÂ keep throwing it until it beats the one on the ground.Â
'Both teams throw from the same side in each game and switch ends for the next game.'Â
The club play on a site opposite Portchester Community Centre.Â PÃ©tanqueÂ England is the national governing body for the sportÂ and has 16 regional associationsÂ across England affiliated to it.Â
The SouthernÂ CountiesÂ PÃ©tanqueÂ Association is the second biggest region with 22Â localÂ clubs,Â includingÂ PortchesterÂ and Fareham.
Players canÂ compete atÂ local, regional, national andÂ internationalÂ levels.Â
'PÃ©tanqueÂ is played on any surface apart from grass so back in the day, you'd draw a circle on the floor about the width of your shoulders,Â and stand in it.Â Â
'Now, we getÂ customisedÂ rings which you put down on the ground.Â Â
'You don't roll the boules you hold them,Â flick your handÂ orÂ wrist upwards and throwÂ themÂ andÂ thenÂ theyÂ roll.Â Â
'They're hollow,Â made ofÂ metalÂ and come inÂ allÂ different weights and hand sizes.Â Â
'We sell ourselves on the fact thatÂ we'll giveÂ anyone who walks through our gate a chance.Â
'We're happy to take on anyone who isÂ disabledÂ becauseÂ weÂ haveÂ disabledÂ accessÂ and members who play in wheelchairs, plusÂ partially-sighted players.' Â
PortchesterÂ PÃ©tanqueÂ Club is operating a new 'try-it' scheme, where anyone interested in playing can turn up to one of the club's six weekly sessions and have a go.Â
Bill Wright,Â the group's vice chairman, says the club want more children and young people to get involved.Â
'All people need to do is turn up,' the 75-year-old, who lives in Portchester, says.Â
'PÃ©tanqueÂ isÂ flexible, very much a family type of sport,Â and cheap '“ we're saying people can come to three sessions for free and if theyÂ want to keep playing, look into getting a membership with us whichÂ costs Â£25 per year.
'But that's notÂ set in stone, they don't have to.
'That membershipÂ means you can play six times per week if you like. We run sessions during the day and in the evenings.
'Games lastÂ about 25 minutes, and there's usually about four games per two-hour session.Â Â
'Our club is made up of mainly older members at the momentÂ butÂ we're doing a lotÂ toÂ try and bring younger people in, including working with schools.Â
'PÃ©tanqueÂ is very social, you're trying to win but with a smile on your face '“Â sometimes!Â
'And there's so many health benefits for people who play.Â
'I startedÂ playingÂ when I retired because my wife liked the game, and then I got into it myself. I planned to take up snooker or something while she was playingÂ thatÂ andÂ ended up taking up the same hobby!Â Â
'It's become a very big part of my life, and the fact that there's a big campaign for it to become an Olympic sport, and it's being played by more and more people, shows it's rising in popularity.'Â
Call Bill Wright on (023) 9235 9426 or visit portchesterpetanqueclub.orgÂ to find out more about playing at Portchester. Fareham PÃ©tanque Club are also seeking more players, and there is also a PÃ©tanque club based at Southsea. VisitÂ southseapetanqueclub.co.uk.
PASSIONATE ABOUT PÃ‰TANQUE
HassiÂ Leverett, 59, is a member ofÂ FarehamÂ PÃ©tanqueÂ Club.
She organised a women's doubles competition as part of the national Women in PÃ©tanque initiative she leads for PÃ©tanque England. The event was held on March 10 to mark International Women's Day, and the centenary celebration of the first votes for women. '˜We had 47 women competing. There were all levels of players '“ from those who have never taken part in a competition, to some of the top-ranking women players,' says Hassi. '˜Diversity and inclusivity was key, the oldest player was 86, the youngest 21. '˜It was the first time an event like that was hosted in our region and it was such a success that Southern Counties PÃ©tanque Association has agreed to host it every year as part of International Women's Day. '˜I took up playing pÃ©tanque four years ago and fell in love with it from the very first session, which was on a cold and rainy February evening, at Fareham. Â '˜I really enjoy the social aspect of the game but thrive on the competitive side. Â '˜I love playing in all the competitions and pretty much play every single weekend. Â I will be 60 next year and never imagined it possible to find a sport that I would be competing in, and be so passionate about, at this age.' In 2017, Hassi entered the National Titles competition and was ranked in the Top 16 Women's Squad. Anyone interested in playing with Fareham can visit the pÃ©tanque club at Fareham North-West Community Centre on Wednesdays, during their 7.30pm sessions. Visit Farehampetanqueclub. org.uk