European Championship 2009

18-20 September 2009, Jersey

It fell to me, as the player who had failed to qualify from the Black Block [1] to enter the knockout stage of the Championship, and as one who consequently had a bye in the first round on Saturday, to attempt the role of reporter on the spot at the 17th European Association Croquet Championship, being played in Jersey from Friday the 18th to Sunday the 20th of September 2009.

The Championship this year had its usual complement of 20 players, drawn from 11 countries: six from Jersey, three from Norway, two from England including the reigning Champion (and manager) Stephen Mulliner, two from Spain, and one each from the Czech Republic, France, the Isle of Man, Luxembourg, Scotland, Sweden and Wales.  For the first day's play they were divided into four blocks of five players each, labelled respectively with the four primary colours of croquet in their canonical order, with everyone playing the four others in the same block and having one bye in the course of a busy day of five rounds with two-hour time limits.  (The time limits were reduced to one hour and 45 minutes for some of the later games in an attempt to ensure a finish before dark.  Even so the twilight was dim by the time Jersey's Richard Sowerby pegged out, a little before 8pm, to complete the latest-finishing game and relegate me to fifth place in our block.)

At dinner on Friday evening the manager announced the results of the block stage and made the draw for the knockout, for which the top four players in each block had qualified. The draw was accomplished by getting those block winners present at the dinner to draw pieces of paper bearing the letters W, X, Y and Z.  As Stephen explained, these would determine which fourth-placed player each one of the block winners was to play in the first round of the knockout.  That was the theory; but Stephen's alert compatriot Phil Cordingley spotted an irregularity in the procedure, whereby when Tony Le Moignan (winner of the Black Block) drew a letter Stephen entered it against not Tony's own block but the preceding block in the draw (Red), whose winner, James Le Moignan, was not present, with the effect that the rest of the draw was out of order.  Stephen acknowledged his error and corrected it.  But Rodolphe Dourthe, the French representative, who now (in place of Phil) had to play the top seed Stephen, was unhappy with the corrected draw and declared that he would cede his place in the knockout.  So finished the first day.

First to arrive at the club on Saturday morning were Stephen and myself, chauffered by our ever-helpful host and taxi provider Elizabeth Medway.  There was some moving of hoops to be done on court 2, which had not had this done on Friday evening when the other courts did because the game between Richard and me was still in progress; but this was accomplished in good time for the scheduled 09:30 start, and the first round of the knockout accordingly got under way.  There was a wildcard place available for one of the block losers because of Rodolphe's withdrawal, and this went to the Norwegian Birger Stene.  Those not in the knockout had a late start, as already mentioned, and Borge Bringsvaerd (Norway) and I made use of this to put the flags up and to sort out a problem with the rope on the easternmost pole.  (The end of the rope was "up the pole".  Flag expert Kevin Garrad (Isle of Man) told us that there were two common solutions to such a problem: to get someone fit and active, such as Stephen or me, to shin up the pole, or to lift the pole out of the ground.  We came up with a third way [2], consisting of lashing two switch handles together, extending the switch blade on one of them, attaching a hook, and using the resulting long hooked implement to catch the loop in the end of the rope and pull it down to ground level.)

The first round of the knockout, played as single games, produced no upsets except that Richard Griffiths (Jersey) defeated Cliff Jones (Wales) by a narrow margin.  The quarter-finals (best-of-three) were thus as follows.  In the top half of the draw, Gavin Carter was playing Richard Griffiths in an all-Jersey match, and Phil Cordingley was up against the younger (James) Le Moignan.  In the bottom half, it was Simon Carlsson (Sweden) against John Davis (Luxembourg), and Stephen Mulliner against Tony Le Moignan.

All the quarter-finals were won in straight games, and the resultant semi-finals were Carter v James Le Moignan (a battle of the Jersey youth) and Davis v Mulliner (the non-Jersey non-youth).  These also were completed on Saturday in straight games, with a quartet of triple peels, and the winners were Gavin Carter (+17tp, +14otp) and Stephen Mulliner (+26tp, +10tpo).  No further formalities were needed at Saturday's dinner, but a few more players did drop out (from the Plate) - leaving the remaining Plate contestants with no shortage of lawns on Sunday despite the single-banking of the final.

With the whole of Sunday available, the final was played as best of five games, in pleasant sunshine for much of the time, on the show court (no.4) in front of the pavilion.  Stephen Mulliner took the first two games, +26tp in each.  The third was more interactive, with Gavin having the first break to 4-back, and then getting a contact after a Mulliner TPO, only to take off (from near corner 2) over the east boundary beside Stephen's backward ball and eventually lose by 13 points.  So all was over by lunch time, and the "Mulliner sequence" was maintained [3].

What was still in progress was the consolation event (known as the Plate in accordance with convention, though the Plate in this case was notional rather than physical).  Cliff Jones was well ahead in this, with five wins, followed by several people on three wins.  Having won three of my four Plate games by noon on Sunday, I was set to play Cliff next - and I won.  This meant that he and I were to play again in the final in the afternoon - and I won again, this time with a rather eventful triple peel, the rover peel being achieved by bombarding the peelee, over which I had jumped when the straight peel attempt left it just in front of the hoop, with one of Cliff's balls, after which I pegged out from about eight yards.

Players I haven't mentioned yet were Petr Barta from the Czech Republic, Roar Michalsen from Norway, and Fernando de Ansorena and Lucas Azcona from Spain - all of whom reached the first round of the knockout.  Other points of interest were Simon Carlsson's win over Stephen Mulliner in the Blue Block (Mulliner's only defeat in the tournament) and the superb jigsaw puzzle, devised by Martin Hodge, which kept several of us entertained between games throughout the first two days.  Also I don't seem to have mentioned the weather on Friday and Saturday - but now I have, and it was unremarkable enough, being dry throughout with some sunshine.

The nonexistence of the Plate and the absence of the Cup (left behind in Stephen's house) meant that there were no presentations, but there were some concluding announcements, including the assignment of handicaps to players in need of them: Borge and Birger both 8, Petr 5, Roar 4 and Simon 1.  Also at the end there was an AGM of the Fédération Européenne de Croquet, whose activities had lapsed somewhat in recent years but were resolved to be revived henceforth.  In token of its revival the FEC now had a flag, designed by Kevin Garrad, which was flying during the Championship alongside the competing nations' flags and which showed six stars in European Union gold around a hoop on a field of blue.

There is a sad postscript to my report.  I heard from Elizabeth, on the way to the airport on the Monday after the tournament, of the untimely death of Martin Hodge, long-time member of the Jersey club, the night before.  Why is it so often the people of talent and generosity, the ones the world can least afford to lose, who are taken from us like this?  Although I didn't know him well, I shall remember him fondly for that jigsaw puzzle amongst other things.  It was a work of genius if ever a jigsaw puzzle was - irregularly shaped, with a multiplicity of small photographs surrounding the main picture of the Jersey lawns and pavilion, and with pieces in interesting shapes including the letters of "Jersey Croquet Club", the initials of the players depicted, and various birds and animals wielding croquet mallets.  I hope those who knew him, in the croquet community and elsewhere, will live the better for his having lived, and that will be his best memorial.

Fergus McInnes

[1] but who fortunately did not have to encounter a cheap and chippy chopper as a punishment (acknowledgements and all due apologies to G&S)
[2] no credits, but a casual nod, to Blair et al
[3] The Mulliner sequence, which has continued throughout the history of the European Championship to date, consists of three consecutive wins by Stephen Mulliner followed by two wins by other players, after which it is Stephen's turn to win three times again.