“BOWLING is in your blood once you start,” said Dave Wilson.
And Mr Wilson, 67, should know.
He’s a member of West Park Veterans’ Bowling Club and secretary of South Tyneside Bowling Association.
Lawn bowling has been part of the sporting and social fabric of the borough for more than a century.
But it’s an ageing sport and today Mr Wilson, of Lonsdale Court, South Shields, appealed for a younger generation to pick up a wood and bowl it in the direction of ‘the jack’ – the small white ball that players need to get as close as possible to.
The rules of the game may be simple but there’s a huge amount of skill involved – and rivalry can be intense.
There are 29 clubs across South Tyneside, from Hebburn to Whiburn, down to the Marine Park in South Shields.
It is now 119 years since the West Park Bowling Club in South Shields was established – and it still has a thriving bowling fraternity.
Mr Wilson said: “Westoe, Brinkburn, The West Park Veterans’ Bowling Club, they’re all still here. Ashley Bowling Club is no longer here, they are now at Jack Clark Park, but there is the West End Ladies, who play on the bottom green here.
“West Park is a very thriving park as far as bowls is concerned. All the clubs are in leagues the fixtures for which, as secretary of South Tyneside, I sort out with my assistant around about January.
“A fixture book is printed and they are distributed to all the clubs after our AGM in March.
“We lack a lot of new members and younger members coming into the game. I would say that 99.9 per cent of players are all retired, we’re all over 65, so we desperately need new players to come into the game.
“Bowling is alive and well but the only sad thing is that we do not have the youngsters coming in.”
Mr Wilson started playing 40 years ago – but his career got in the way.
He explained: “I only played for a couple of years because I started working abroad for International Paints as a logistics manager, through which I travelled around the world.
“I don’t think bowling gets the publicity that it should. I don’t know if that’s our fault or because we don’t get the youngsters coming into the park that we used to get. There was a time when you could have perhaps have 100 people in this park, on the bowling green, during the Sports Week. That was days when you had bowling going on all over town.”
Mr Wilson believes there are many what he described as “natural bowlers” in the borough.
He added: “There is a lot of skill involved. There are a lot of people playing bowls now that I would consider as naturals. They come into the game and they just pick it up and then you also have the bowlers who are not interested in competition – it’s purely recreational. What is important to be a good player is that you have a feeling for the wood.”
Television coverage of bowling has dwindled in recent years, the days of David Bryant are a distant memory – and that may be a reason for it not being in the public eye.
“But the Indoor Nationals are televised every year – Co-operative Care get involved with that, and Co-operative Care are also our main sponsor in South Tyneside,” Mr Wilson said, before issuing an invitation for a new generation of players to test their arm, saying: “Just come along to any of the parks in South Tyneside.
“You have got the North Marine Park, where The Beacon and the Marine Vets play. You have got Carr-Ellison Park at Hebburn, where Palmers, Elmfield, Hebburn Vets and Leslies play, or West Park, where Jarrow Borough play.
“Just pop along to any bowling green and you will be welcomed with open arms. We’re a friendly lot.”