Honiton Petanque Club forced to put fifth anniversary events on hold owing to the Coronavirus pandemic
PUBLISHED: 09:23 05 May 2020 | UPDATED: 09:23 05 May 2020
Celebrations for Honiton Petanque Club’s fifth anniversary have had to be put on hold with the current crisis gripping the country.
The Mountbatten Park based club reached the milestone recently and have been reflecting on their journey so far, particularly following their successful 2019 season. But it was back in Spring 2015 when the ribbon was cut for the new petanque terrain by the then Mayor of Honiton, Peter Halse, and John Thatcher, then president of Devon petanque. Finance for the construction of the 25-metre purpose-built facility had been provided by East Devon District Council from funding set aside for sports projects in the town.
The idea for a petanque facility in Honiton was originally the brainchild of Chris Bigmore who co-ordinated the project from application through to the construction of the terrain, and then establishing a club, he recalls: “Like many others, my interest was first sparked by seeing the game played in France while on holiday, and I liked the strategic nature of the play as well as the technical side.”
He then played for some years at other East Devon clubs before seizing on the opportunity to get something started locally, when it arose.
The first season in 2015 was spent recruiting members and by the end of the year a committee was appointed. There were a few experienced players, as well as people new to the sport, and it was bolstered by players from local twinning town associations and a fledgling U3A group. Well attended twice weekly playing sessions were in place by the time the 2016 season was underway and the club were now registered with the sport’s governing body, Petanque England, also joining the Devon League for the first time.
That first year Honiton finished bottom of the six-team league, though most of the matches were only lost by a single game, in some cases by a single point. Some individual players also started to enter regional and national championships and other open tournaments in a year which saw the club flourish in all aspects, and hold its first AGM to form an elected committee. The year of 2017 was one of consolidation for the club with membership nudging up to 30.
With playing standards rising several members were beginning to make more progress in tournaments, though for some it remained a club leisure activity and catering for all levels of participation was always part of the aims of the club. In the Devon League, now with seven teams, there was also good progress with the club team finishing one off the bottom and recording five wins.
They actually finished on the same league points as the fourth placed team, but were left in sixth spot on points difference. The club also staged their first in house closed competition, played in the doubles format, with the pairing of Paul Puddicombe and Ron Hutchinson winning the Gold medal. Continued progress with a growing membership was made in 2018 with the club team finishing the Devon league in the same slot as the previous season.
However, there was club success when Chris Bigmore, Charlie O’Reilly and Jenny Lavender won the Plate title at the Devon Triples Championships and that was followed up by Ron Hutchinson winning the Plate at the Devon Singles event. Although these are classed as the minor trophies, they were an important step as it was the first silverware for the club. Later in the season the club team entered the 2018/19 Eurocup competition for the first time, going out in the second round away at the City of Bath club, tough opponents who play at a higher level. They then dropped into the National Plate competition winning through to the third round to be played early in the following year. It was also decided to hold two club competitions in 2018 with Ron Hutchinson retaining his title for the first Gold Medal, though this time partnered by Charlie O’Reilly, who then retained the title himself in the second event, partnered by Costa Drakatos. Also, this year for the first time three Honiton players were selected to represent Devon in Inter Regional matches.
The 2019 season opened with the Eurocup National Plate third round match for the club team against another top-class side, Northey Boules, from Wiltshire. Honiton were narrowly beaten, but it was a big achievement in reaching the last 16 of a national competition, further than any Devon team has ever been before.
The experience set the team up for the Devon League season, which had now expanded to nine teams. A mid-table place was targeted, but a run of top form in the second half of the season saw that change to a top four target, then top three before going into the final two games with second spot in their own hands.
The team duly secured the runners-up trophy – finishing second to local rivals Ottery - and that capped a very good league season for the club. The 2019/20 Eurocup was the next challenge and this time the team reached the third round (last 32) of the main competition, again exiting at the City of Bath Club.
Some more minor trophies in tournaments were picked up during the season by members, but the club had it’s first major success when Den and Carol Williams won the Devon Charity Shield doubles staged at Ottery St Mary.
More players earned Devon representative honours during the season and in the club doubles competition Paul Puddicombe and Linda Vince won the Gold Medal. Also added in 2019, to assist future development, the club now had a qualified coach and a successful playing season with the club generally in very good shape saw membership numbers up to around the early thirties mark.
The club were eagerly anticipating the 2020 season to build on the previous year’s achievements, and plans were even in place to run a second team in the Devon League. That has now been suspended and other events have been cancelled, it remains to be seen if the whole season will get written off.
The club had also planned to host its first ever regional championship, the Devon Singles in August, but that too is now in doubt. Chris Bigmore, who remains as club chair and captain said: “The club is now well established and amongst the strongest in the region, we are in very good health both on and off the terrain.
“Looking back though, we have to thank the District and Town Councils for backing the project initially and Mountbatten Sports & Social Club for accommodating us and giving us tremendous support these last five years.
“Over 60 people have been members at one time or another, but we do always welcome new players.”
Chris continued: “Our game is one of technique so doesn’t require great strength or athleticism, and the sport is proud of its uniqueness as being played by all ages, both sexes and all abilities on an equal footing. It is a great shame we can’t play at the moment, but obviously the overwhelming priority is to see everyone back fit and healthy in whatever time it takes, particularly as we have many members who are classed in the vulnerable groups - there will be more good reasons then to celebrate.”
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