twechar’s John Watson is looking forward to two European trips where he will be playing the French sport of pétanque.
John (73), a retired warehouse manager who lives in Barrhill Terrace, started playing the sport in the 1970s.
“This chap I’d been drinking with said he was off to play pétanque. I was curious so followed him to the Birds and Bees pub in Stirling, and I’ve been playing there ever since,” he said.
Pétanque is a variant of the better-known game of boules, played by small teams. Like boules, the basic concept is similar to lawn bowls, in that players score points based on their shots’ proximity to the target ball – here called the cochonnet or “piglet”. Boules are thrown rather than rolled. Pétanque uses a smaller playing area and the players throw from a static position without taking any run-up. To add pressure, the game is also played on a strict time limit.
“I take part in numerous tournaments each year,” said John. “I travel all over the country - tournaments are held in Perth, Inverness, Edinburgh, Stirling, Ayr and Troon. People take it quite seriously, and even though we usually play at pubs there’s only one team that usually takes a drink. The competition is fierce - it’s blood and snotters!” joked John, who at the weekend was on a South of Scotland team that defeated the North at Perth Sports Centre with a score of 25-21.
John’s European destinations are Hungary in June, at a tournament near Budapest, and in August he’ll be jetting off to Denmark. Though most popular in its French homeland, the sport is catching on in other countries.
“There are 300 people in Scotland who play on a regular basis, and something like 3000 in England. Of course the French are the best as they start playing as children, but it is growing. I’m currently helping set up a new club in Glasgow,” John added. In Scotland the sport has its own governing body, the Scottish Pétanque Association, whose website can be found at www.scottishpetanque.org.
We asked John what it is that keeps him interested in pétanque. “It’s a game you can play at any age, so you get multiple generations playing together. It’s also a good test of hand/eye coordination.
“I’ve tried playing lawn bowls in the past but I was rubbish at it - the greens are too long for me! Pétanque is a lot easier for me to play.”
John also has a lot of admiration for skill of the top professional players. “Marco Foyot visited Scotland recently and his skills are amazing. He did demonstrations where he knocked a boule out of someone’s hand from ten metres away, without touching the person’s hand.”
John is keen to help others try pétanque for themselves, and if anyone would like to give the sport a go they can call him on 01236 825580.