Clubs to join in Norwich

Think of petanque and you may well conjure up images of old men in rural French villages having a game on a summer’s evening. But a local group is setting out to challenge that preconception.

Since taking up residency at its new home in the grounds of a pub two years ago, Norwich Petanque Club has seen its membership numbers soar…spanning generations and nationalities.

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich
– Credits: Sonya Duncan

The club is attracting young and old alike, with members loyally showing up each week at the lush grounds of The Cottage, just off Thunder Lane in Thorpe St Andrew, to join in with a league match or, thanks to its incredibly hospitable hosts, have an impromptu game whenever they fancy. Membership ages range from six to 94, and you’re guaranteed a warm welcome whatever the weather.

“What we like about it [The Cottage] is that we’re based there, we’ve got a club house, floodlights, we can play all-year-round, and we have a lovely relationship with them,” explains chairman Paul Reeve, who’s also president of Petanque England. “Because it’s in a pub garden we can have food and drinks too, and it’s a really social environment.”

Paul Reeve, chairman of Norwich Petanque Club

Paul Reeve, chairman of Norwich Petanque Club
– Credits: Sonya Duncan

Very much a game of skill and precision, the objective is to score points by having boules closer to the target (jack) than your opponent after all boules have been thrown.

Petanque is played in parks, or in dedicated facilities called boulodromes, which are 15 meters long and four meters wide. The ground resembles a fine ash carpark and The Cottage has these aplenty. The winning team gets one point for each of their balls that’s closer to the jack than the losing team’s closest ball. The first to 13 points wins.

“People think its origins are French, but it’s actually a Greek and Roman game,” explains Paul. “The Romans introduced it to France.

“It’s more than a sport for the French, it’s a way of life. In the villages all over France, people play every evening. my wife [Jill] and I came to it late in my life,” he says. “I first played in my 20s. I’m now 75 and we came to it about three years ago. I remembered having a game around 50 years ago!”

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich.

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich.
– Credits: Sonya Duncan

The club meets frequently. Wednesdays are club nights, but there are also Wednesday morning games which see members take on other teams from across the county. League matches are on Thursday evenings, and tuition is available for children on Sundays.

The Cottage itself is an old farm building which became a pub in the ’30s. It’s surrounded by woodland, offering an almost secret, natural haven hidden away in this city suburb.

Petanque offers many benefits, being easy to pick-up, requiring very little kit, and often fostering the beginning of new friendships. “You just turn up and somebody helps you to understand where and what it is,” says Paul.

It’s an accessible sport, but that’s not to say it isn’t anything but competitive and very tactical the higher up you get. A match could see a young person play against someone much older. You don’t need to be physically fit – as long as you can walk, stand and move your arm, you can play. All you need are comfortable clothes and shoes.

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich.

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich
– Credits: Sonya Duncan

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich.

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich
– Credits: Sonya Duncan

“You can come along and see someone who is hobbling across the piste, but don’t be fooled,” says Paul. “We had a player who had a walking frame and was brilliant!”

The club is playing its part in bringing people in the community together, going to great lengths to unite those who have been left feeling lonely following the pandemic.

“It’s a sport in which people, particularly with those with post-Covid mental health issues, stress or who are suffering from loneliness can get involved,” says Paul. “We have people who are stroke victims or have been bereaved. You can do something which is very low impact physically that gets you involved in meeting people, enjoying playing and talking, and it’s really important.

“One of our biggest drives in Petanque England is to do things for communities and help people in need, and it’s a sport which lends itself to that. No matter who you are, you can come along and have fun.”

Paul is responsible for 17 regions across England and of clubs where people are playing and socialising, although it’s not a role he had anticipated: “I volunteered for the committee at the Norwich club, was elected their chair and at the elections of the national governing body they elected me!” he laughs. “I’ve only been playing for two or three years, but I’ve ended up being the head of the sport in the country!”

The club is very much looking to expand its membership, and is open for welcoming new members. For those who want to go along for the first time and give it a try, Wednesday night is best as someone will be on hand to show you the ropes. Membership is £20 for the year, which means you can turn up and play any day of the week and at any time.

Count members

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich.  Vice Chairman Sharon Thorndyke

Vice chairman Sharon Thorndyke
– Credits: Sonya Duncan

Sharon Thorndyke, committee member and vice chair

“We really want to encourage younger people into the sport. On Sunday afternoons there is tuition for children to come along with their parents, and there are some very good young players out there who play with their families.”

Melissa Teillet

“The club brings back memories of growing up in Franc.:
“I didn’t know there was a petanque club here and I turned up one Wednesday a year ago and I loved it! I played in France when I was little with my dad and my friends – we went to the petanque club in town.

“I love coming here because it’s not far from my house, it’s surrounded by trees and it’s very relaxing. When I come here, I can switch off for a few hours, it’s really social and everyone is very kind and friendly.

“I hadn’t played for ages, but people here helped me to get better. They were giving me tips and I felt welcome from the first day. I like that there’s a pub here and you can have a drink together too.

“Coming here is nostalgic to me because I used to play with my dad, and every time I come here, I have that feeling. I’m not able to see my parents that often so it’s really nice to be able to play.”

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich.  Member Richard Jeffery

Member Richard Jeffery
– Credits: Sonya Duncan

Richard Jeffrey

“We’ve lived here for 19 years. We used to come to the pub, and we saw the petanque and kept saying that we must come along. Then we had a flyer through the door with a Come and Try day in 2017. My wife and I came down and had a go and we now play in the league and in the national competitions.

“It’s a simple game in essence, but the more you get into it the more tactical it becomes. If you play in triples games, you have to think about the strength of your partners and their weaknesses and play to that. You need to think what your opponent wouldn’t want to happen next and try and do that, then predict what they’re going to do.

“The social side is great, and here at the pub you can have a beer and good food. A lot of clubs play at pubs, and after a league game we often have sandwiches and a drink together, so it’s very friendly.

“It’s a game young kids and older people can play, and it’s a good game in terms of accessibility if you have a disability. We’re constantly trying to get juniors and more female players in, and we’re slowly chipping away at that so we’re getting a good mix now!”

The Norwich Petanque Club who meet at The Cottage pub in Norwich.  Member Jallal Talbi

Member Jallal
– Credits: Sonya Duncan

Jallal Tallan

“I joined a year ago, and I played before in Morocco where we play a lot. It’s very nice to play the game with people here as they’re very helpful and friendly, and it has helped me settle into Norwich.”

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