Welbeck Abbey Bowls Club -- providing a gentle antidote to cut-throat, big-money sport

CLUB STALWARTS -- some of the many volunteers who keep Welbeck Abbey Bowls Club on top of its game, (from left) Eunice Butterfield, Andy Pointon, vice-chairman Brian Morgan, Sheila Pointon and Keith Woodward.
CLUB STALWARTS -- some of the many volunteers who keep Welbeck Abbey Bowls Club on top of its game, (from left) Eunice Butterfield, Andy Pointon, vice-chairman Brian Morgan, Sheila Pointon and Keith Woodward.
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In this day and age of cut-throat, competitive sport, big money is king and winning is everything.

Leicester City might have helped to redress the balance in favour of the underdog. But even they, you might be surprised to discover, were already the 24th richest football club in the world before they embarked on their Premier League heroics.

Tumble way down the sporting foodchain, and down even further, and you will find a sporting organisation that does things very differently. Who still cling to the quaint, but attractive, notion that sport is about the taking part, rather than the result. And for whom the social skills of meeting and greeting take precedence over the selfish quest for beating and defeating.

Let me introduce you to Welbeck Abbey Bowls Club, believed to be one of the few sporting outfits in the country still resisting the lure of league and cup action. A club, set within the grounds of the abbey, that plays friendly matches only, and is happy to stay that way, thankyou very much.

“We try to keep everything as friendly as possible,” explained vice-chairman Brian Morgan. “There is no bitterness, and nobody bothers whether you play well or not. We encourage people simply to play the game.

“We are more like a social club that plays bowls. We like to win, but it is not the be-all and end-all.”

In fact, the historic abbey, a grade one listed building, played host to more competition when it hosted ‘Bake Off: Creme de la Creme’, a BBC TV spin-off from ‘The Great British Bake Off’ earlier this year.

Not that the policy has affected the club’s health. Far from it. Welbeck Abbey have a packed fixture list each year, running from the opening of the green in mid-April to its closing in mid-September.

Friendlies on Sunday afternoons and midweek evenings against other Nottinghamshire clubs have to be fitted in around their opponents’ league and cup commitments, but Welbeck Abbey are proud of their many long-established inter-club competitions. The Stones Cup, an all-day four-bowls knockout contest, scheduled this year for Sunday, August 14, is particularly prestigious, while the annual ladies v gents challenge, scheduled for Sunday, June 19, is a “needle match” not to be missed.

Self-financing and operated entirely by volunteers, the club restricts itself to a membership of 60, but welcomes players of all ages and abilities, who all get an equal opportunity to play at any time during the week. The members, headed by chairman John Bishop and secretary Maureen Morgan, maintain the green thesmelves and also the clubhouse, which was re-designed in 2006 by Maurice Betts and lovingly built and extended to simulate a log-cabin.

The club dates back to 1905 when, rumours suggest, it was set up by the incumbent Duke Of Portland for his chauffeur. Eight years later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand stayed at the abbey, just before his assassination triggered the start of the First World War. But not even such a heady legacy can tempt Welbeck Abbey Bowls Club into sporting wars or battles. Gentle exercise in beautiful surroundings is what they prefer.