Rolling in the Gard – part 1

Here’s the first part of another amazing article from our resident writer, Sam…hope you enjoy it as much I did! Fascinating insight into the world of petanque:

Just returned from the Gard (Dept 30), my favourite part of the world, where they play a style of petanque, involving shooting-any-boule–which-isn’t-yours. As I usually do, being a glutton for punishment, I check the local paper for village fetes with a petanque contest included, usually with a few centimes at stake. On the Friday, at a triplet melee at Montfrin while waiting for the rain to stop and the draw, which in any case sometimes takes place an hour after the play was scheduled to begin, I fell into conversation with a short, paint bespeckled Nimeois. Arriving straight from work, rejoicing in the name of F. Lafleur, Artisan painter, according to his shirt. He later confessed that his mastery of school English had peaked at…. “Alo, my name is Frankie, ow do you do” and he had no plans to extend it.

He turned out to be, not just your average carpet spoiler, as I soon found out, but one of the Schatz clan. Avid readers of petanque lore will recognise the name of a top class French player and, therefore the known universe, champion of a few of decades ago.  Michel Schatz, for it is he, is Frankie’s uncle, Jean-Francois Schatz, his cousin and it would appear that young Tyson Molinas, the next Dylan Rocher, is a cousin as well.  The extended family have produced a continuing plethora of crack players at all levels……Little wonder he can shoot a bit and claims to have once beaten Quintais 13-3 at singles, and I tend to believe him. He misses very few.

Nobody gets rich, anywhere, playing petanque despite the massive participation and even Japan boasts 10,000 licence holders.  The prize money in many games seems good but is soon ‘eaten up’ by travel, food and accommodation costs without regular wins. 

The terrains were full on Saturday and Sunday but, how many archers or clay shooters did you see and yet these are Olympic sports?  By sheer coincidence since writing most of this rant, I have heard a sports radio studio interview with some well known semi pro players Webel, Souchard, Quintais, Lequois et al. Fédération Française is pushing hard for Olympic inclusion and these players were making a similar point but added kayaking, fencing and volleyball to the list of sports less prolific than petanque. Amongst the banter, wit and pi** taking they agreed that we must concentrate more on the young players and raise their profile as entertainers, crowd pullers and role models . This will be greatly helped by exposure on the Olympic stage and the media. Despite some equipment and clothing sponsorships this is still, in real terms, an amateur sport. Change is coming, they agreed “observe how l’Anglais are now leading cycling”. At this, Claudie Webel suggested that Belgium would soon do the same for boules to cries of ‘merde’ from his French mates.

The infrastructure is there, Nimes has a bouledrome about the seize of Terminal 3 for the winter and most village clubs can host a good sized contest on the open terrains.

But I digress; as the language at terrain level here is delivered mercilessly clipped and argot-peppered at high speed with my word catching ratio at about one in five,  I will abridge the gist. ” Bonjour. My name is frankie. You are not French? Vrai… allemagne? Non …anglais?”. “Non, grace a Dieu, Irlandais!”  (Sorry friends, but being able to avow an Irish birth certificate has always kept me in good odour around here even in the lamb burning years and treacherously slandering the land of my bread and butter maintains my dubious credibility )

“Ah Bon , Great football team! Fancy a game while we are waiting” “Oui ok” “How many players have you got in Ireland?”   “About 46 as far as I know”. “How many? ” “But I actually live in England where we have got 3000 or so”.  “Oh,were they mostly French?”

Off we go, ‘Tete a Tete’ with three boules each. Point on the bouchon then a carreau. Next point rests on his boule touching,that gets shot and his boule does not move. Point, shoot, point, shoot, shoot, point and so on to 13-1. He says , “I won the Gard singles championship you know,” Cheers Frankie I might have guessed. Having a chat later after we were both knocked out of the melee in the 3rd round, (our triple after a win,a bye and a 12-12 shootout), he said “Listen Sam, tomorrow at Ales, big triplet with a 2500euro pot, winners get 500, do you want to play with me and my copain? You are not a bad pointer and Sa can shoot well I’ll give him a ring”. To be honest, I think it was as much because trying to find someone prepared to lob in a third of the 50 euro per team entry fee, at short notice, for a Saturday early doors start was tight and you’ll do. “A oui , says I, count moi in mon mec”. (What’s a £20 note for a days education.!!!) 

What happens next? Look out for part 2 coming out shortly….

Thank you again Sam. Brilliant read.

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