15 May 2020
Only Town Twinning can do this
Apologies to Heineken
by Philip Throp
Abingdon is somewhat unique in the world of bowls because it boasts bowls’ first international superstar. He is Roland Sattler—of Colmar.
A feat made even more remarkable by the fact that Sattler represented Abingdon in an away match at Hanborough in June 2018 after only TWO HOURS bowls experience (the night before the match). When interviewed after the match, he commented (in his native Alsatian, Sattler has very little English) that having previously played boules and petanque counts for nought in playing bowls. A very wise insight from the new bowls superstar, especially coming from a Frenchman.
How did this amazing feat come about?
Only by Town Twinning (in this case between Abingdon and Colmar).
The Colmar twinning party had arrived in Abingdon after spending an afternoon en route in Windsor, just a week after Prince Harry’s wedding there. From their passing coach in Windsor Great Park, our guests were dumbfounded to see a bowls match in progress between some 40 immaculately white-clad bowlers. On arriving in Abingdon our guests ask me what is this strange English game?
We were able to show them a similar match going on at my bowls club, which seemed to generate great excitement for Roland’s wife Michelle ……..and also for Roland. So much so that I had to take him to watch the evening bowling, while I sat on the bench with him explaining what was going on. The Wednesday night matches are the traditional occassion for the captain to pressgang players for the weekend’s matches against other clubs.
Along comes the club captain, trawling, depressed, asks me if I can play on Saturday, he is still short of a number of players for the away match.
Me: “Sorry, no, as you see I have French guests with me and have to look after them on Saturday”.
Captain: “Well he can play too. (Eyeing and addressing Roland 🙂 Have you ever played bowls before?” Silly question. Roland asks me what the man is saying to him.
“Ha ha ha”, I reply in French–(how do you say ha ha ha in French?—-Ed) “he is asking if you can play in our match on Saturday at another club.”
My heart sinks, Roland doesn’t say no.
Captain: “What size of shoes are you, I’ve got a spare pair of bowls shoes with me, I’ll go and get them, if the shoes fit, you’re playing”. Now I’m getting worried, this is getting beyond a joke. He MUST be desperate, but this is all going to fall on me.
Oh HECK, there is some truth in the Cinderella myth, the shoes fit perfectly. Roland, never having been near a bowling green until half an hour ago, is duly inscribed onto the team sheet.
It’s left to me to show him how to play bowls, which can’t happen that evening as all the rinks are taken by a league match in progress.
“The lesson” has to be Friday night, the eve of the match.
I spend two hours with Roland teaching him to play bowls. Yelling my instructions, in French, from one end of the rink to him at the other end, on a fairly well-occupied bowling green. Bizarre goings-on at Abingdon bowling club. Roland is clueless, but he really does want to play. And he is so keen to play he is dutifully respecting my threats from the beginning about the big no-no. “Don’t DROP the bowl on the green. Roll it, don’t throw it. No horsing about trying to play boules on the sacred green”.
Roland is desperate to play, he obeys to the letter. He is really going for this. Two hours later, he has improved markedly, miraculously. He is a very determined character. Its late, everyone has gone long ago.
I say: “Ok lets stop now. You won’t be an embarrassment in the match”.
No, Roland wants to continue, wants to improve. Half an hour later, and its nearly dark. He’s getting good. I’m getting worried. “I’m not teaching you any more Roland, you’re sending down better shots than I ever do.” Finally, he will come home with me.
Roland doesn’t have any whites. I text my pal who is not down to play on Saturday, asking if we can borrow his. The whites arrive on the morning of the match, while our Colmar guests are out with their French friends.
The afternoon of the game arrives and I take the whites to our guests’ in their bedroom. This is a complete surprise to them. It was the game at Windsor with players all dressed in whites that first drew their attention to the game.
“Try these on Roland, we’re setting off in fifteen minutes”.
Ten minutes later Roland appears, beaming, proud. Abingdon club shirt and white flannel trousers; its a miracle, they fit perfectly! Even a bowler can be “over the moon”, especially if he’s French and the club clobber fits.
He and I arrive at Hanborough Bowls Club, early. There’s a cricket match going on in the adjoining field, the only place we can sit. Waiting for the bowls club to open, we watch the cricket—no I’m not even going to try and explain the rules of cricket to you Roland. Concentrate on bowls.
We move into the bowls club. None of our players is there yet but I introduce Roland to the hosts/opponents. This is weird for them. They are delighted, very friendly, highly amused. A unique occasion at their club, or any other bowls club for that matter.
From the 16 players from each club, each of the four groups of four from each club to play against each other are announced. Our captain has put Roland and me to play with him and his uaual playing partner.
We look a solid four, hein? During the game they, and our four opponents on the rink, are very co-operative and very friendly with Roland.
Roland keeps a watchful eye on the score. Amazingly, it is nip and tuck, neither side gets more than one or two lead on the other as it swings to and fro. We come to the last of the 21 ends, scores level.
We get two good bowls in, Roland’s camera comes out again, in readiness to photograph the ultimate scoreboard. Every time we have got ahead, the commemorative photo gets taken. I see my role is going to be photographing a proud Roland in front of the final scoreboard.
Scores level, the opponents’ last bowl of the last end comes down. That last bowl snatches it from us. We lose 16-17!
The usual convivial salad tea in the clubhouse afterwards, and as is customary the opponent buys his opposite number in our team a drink. The scores from the four rinks are added together, and the aggregate score announced. Abingdon win by five shots. Our rink did well enough not to lose the match overall for Abingdon. Roland’s delighted.
Roland is overwhelmed by the camaraderie and sportsmanship he has seen from own club and opponents. He wants to stand up and thank everyone, upwards of 35 seated people, calls on me to do a simultaneous translation of what he has to say. It finishes with: “If you ever meet a Frenchman who tells you boules is better than bowls, you can tell them from me. Bowls is MUCH better, much more difficult, much more absorbing. I love the game and I loved the atmosphere you made for me.” Bowlers from both clubs line up to shake Roland’s hand, telling him his participation has made it a unique afternoon for them.
We return home. Roland (and Michelle, who hasn’t been at the match), now need to go upstairs for a quick change of clothes for the Twinning farewell dinner. We hear only Roland’s excited chatter from their bedroom. He is telling Michelle about his afternoon. Then there’s a “discussion” going on.They emerge. Roland is still in his whites. He has a change of clothes but is refusing to take off the Abingdon club shirt and the white flannels. He is insisting on wearing them to the dinner.
He wants his compatriots to witness his Englishness, he stands at the entrance till everyone has gone in, seen and admired him.
This Frenchman in white bowls gear with Abingdon coat-of-arms, is:
Roland Sattler, Colmar’s international superstar!