BIG READ: The gentle French game that puts a smile on your face 

Portchester Petanque Club. (l to r), Wally Walton, Bill Wright, Nick Hall.'Picture Ian Hargreaves (180436-1)
Portchester Petanque Club. (l to r), Wally Walton, Bill Wright, Nick Hall.'Picture Ian Hargreaves (180436-1)
Arthur Bailey from Cosham ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (180606-7076)

Portsmouth D-Day veteran: ‘It was the greatest battle ever. We knew we had to win...’

It's been described as infectious, sociable and fun – and it's rising in popularity across Britain. Now there is even a campaign to make gentle, jovial, easy-to-play pétanque an Olympic sport in time for Paris 2024. 

The outdoor game, also known as French boules, can be played in teams by anyone on any terrain except grass – and local clubs are trying to get more people involved in their sessions.

The Portchester Pétanque 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. 

The 80-year-old says: 'Pétanque is also known as French Boules and was taken up on a big scale in France – it started off just outside of Marseille many years ago.  

'In this country it was started at a pub not far away in Shedfield, called Samuel's Rest.  

'People who used to go there went over to France and came back and started playing it at the pub. 

'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. 

'The first time I had a go I found it infectious.  

'You start playing and immediately you're drawn into this community where everyone gets on, and it's a fun game – you can be as competitive as you wish.'

In pétanque you have a cochonnet known as a jack on the floor, and each team of players has a total of six metal boules to throw. The idea is to get those boules as close as possible to the jack. 

You can roll a boule up and then your opponent might decide to roll theirs up to the jack to get it closer than yours, or, they might decide to hit your boule out of the way. 

'You normally play as a team of pairs or triples, if you're playing as a pair you have three boules each, if you're playing as a three you have two boules each', says Nick.  

'So, it's always six boules against six boules - apart from singles.  
'You play the game until you get 13 points locally, 15 at an international level, and you get a point for every boule that's closer than the opponent's to the jack.  

'The first player will go, and then it's up to the other team to get closer to the jack than that first boule, and they keep throwing it until it beats the one on the ground. 

'Both teams throw from the same side in each game and switch ends for the next game.' 

The club play on a site opposite Portchester Community Centre. Pétanque England is the national governing body for the sport and has 16 regional associations across England affiliated to it. 

The Southern Counties Pétanque Association is the second biggest region with 22 local clubs, including Portchester and Fareham.

Players can compete at local, regional, national and international levels. 

'Pétanque 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, and stand in it.  

'Now, we get customised rings which you put down on the ground.  

'You don’t roll the boules you hold them, flick your hand or wrist upwards and throw them and then they roll.  

'They're hollow, made of metal and come in all different weights and hand sizes.  

'We sell ourselves on the fact that we'll give anyone who walks through our gate a chance. 

'We're happy to take on anyone who is disabled because we have disabled access and members who play in wheelchairs, plus partially-sighted players.'  

Portchester Pétanque 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. 

Bill Wright, the group's vice chairman, says the club want more children and young people to get involved. 

'All people need to do is turn up,' the 75-year-old, who lives in Portchester, says. 

'Pétanque is flexible, very much a family type of sport, and cheap – we're saying people can come to three sessions for free and if they want to keep playing, look into getting a membership with us which costs £25 per year.

'But that's not set in stone, they don't have to.

'That membership means you can play six times per week if you like. We run sessions during the day and in the evenings.

'Games last about 25 minutes, and there's usually about four games per two-hour session.  

'Our club is made up of mainly older members at the moment but we're doing a lot to try and bring younger people in, including working with schools. 

'Pétanque is very social, you're trying to win but with a smile on your face – sometimes! 

'And there's so many health benefits for people who play. 

'I started playing 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 playing that and ended up taking up the same hobby!  

'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.' 

Call Bill Wright on (023) 9235 9426 or visit portchesterpetanqueclub.org to find out more about playing at Portchester. Fareham Pétanque Club are also seeking more players, and there is also a Pétanque club based at Southsea. Visit southseapetanqueclub.co.uk.

PASSIONATE ABOUT PÉTANQUE

Hassi Leverett, 59, is a member of Fareham Pétanque Club.

She organised a women’s doubles competition as part of the national Women in Pétanque initiative she leads for Pétanque 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 Pétanque Association has agreed to host it every year as part of International Women’s Day. ‘I took up playing pétanque 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.   ‘I really enjoy the social aspect of the game but thrive on the competitive side.   ‘I love playing in all the competitions and pretty much play every single weekend.   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 pétanque club at Fareham North-West Community Centre on Wednesdays, during their 7.30pm sessions. Visit Farehampetanqueclub. org.uk