Petanque is a sport played widely in Kent and at Gravesend Rugby Club they have a venue that is the envy of clubs across the country. Mike Cubitt has been largely responsible for building a facility capable of hosting county, regional and national events. He has become the first recipient of the Petanque England President’s Medal in recognition of the outstanding effort which was put in to organise and hold the National Championship events in 2020. Mike is currently vice-chairman of the Kent Petanque Association, president of the Kent Petanque League and chairman of the Gravesend club while also president of the rugby club. What better man to speak to about the sport?
TELL US ABOUT THE MEDAL
It’s a new award and it was completely out of the blue, I didn’t even know there was going to be one but it was on the front of a newsletter that came out.
It is in recognition for what we have been doing over the last few years, I suppose. It is nice to get a bit of recognition but I don’t do it for that, you do it to help others carry on and for the future of the game. I just look to improve the facilities we’ve got, which may lead to others to do the same.
In the early 1980s I played a bit of social petanque at Gravesend RFC, but stepped away as rugby, swimming and family commitments took much of my time. I started to play again in the mid-1990s. Between the rugby season and petanque, along with my partner, we work/volunteer at a number of European Golf Tour events in the UK and Europe.
GRAVESEND AS A VENUE
Last year’s annual national titles weekend was held for three days at Gravesend at the end of May, after the venue was made Covid-secure.
We have held it there three years running and it’s pencilled in again this year but I am trying to get it moved to another part of the country because people nationally have to travel down to the south every year.
I think our venue is the best. In 2019 we had 11 world champions playing in a competition there. One of the world champions didn’t have a partner for the doubles, we advertised it for 500 euros and I had eight people wanting to play. Someone came from Wales, paid the amount and played with him.
The size of the venue is good, the difficulty is quite good. A lot of pistes are just flat where you can roll a ball along but I have mixed larger stone underneath the surface and it means you have to be a bit skilled.
We started on some rough old ground. Rugby is the first game of a rugby club and the floodlights had to be moved and they went into the middle of three of our pistes. I took over a lump of ground at the club, built the pistes and we now have 24 international sized pistes.
It’s a covered venue and the canopy was installed in 2017, rebuilt by just three of us, having negotiated for three years with the council over taking it away from where it had been located in Gravesend, abandoned by its former owners at an outdoor market.
The only problem is that last year in the storms, a third of one end was blown out which is annoying. We had Covid after that and we haven’t been able to repair it. We only have 18 members, just a small section of the club.
IS IT AN OLYMPIC SPORT?
The biggest disappointment was that France didn’t get it into the Olympics for 2024 as a trial sport, especially as it is being held in Paris. The sport is huge there but instead they’ve included sports such as break dancing.
They play boccia at the paralympics. Petanque is the able bodied version of that sport, so having already had that in then we thought naturally once the French applied they would have got it in as a trial sport as it is played all over the world.
There are people that would argue whether it is a French sport or devised by Henry VIII but it is a French sport really and every colony played it. Not only there, it is in America, New Zealand, all these people play it.
INTERNATIONALS IN KENT
We have county teams and there is a home nations competition. One of the girls from Gravesend, Becky Edwins, won the ladies singles women’s title last year and with her partner she won the England ladies doubles title and with her male partner the mixed doubles title. She currently plays for the Bat & Ball. I am sure she will go on and represent England but you have to have the points during the year to qualify. We also have got one of the top juniors in the county, Sophie Rowley.
We have had people representing the country, we had four juniors in the national squad and a couple in the next level up at under-18s. We have three current men’s internationals and I am sure Becky will qualify to play for England.
ETIQUETTE IN PETANQUE?
The FIPJP are introducing rules for competitions such as no denim and no drinking. This sport was always played around drink. It is still played informally around town squares but the bigger competitions have also introduced drug testing.
The biggest problem we have is that we haven’t got the finances behind us like bowls because they have had a sponsor. In France, Spain and Belgium it’s a national sport, but over here it is not, but the DCMS did recognise last year we should have been recognised as a national sport. Generally is it a relaxing game and very sociable, even at the top competitions.
Our big target is that we would like the schools to become interested because there are so many youngsters that don’t like hockey, football or rugby. But they could come over and it’s about maths with adding up points and also measuring, so you can get more out of it than just a game and they don’t have to chase around. It might give them another interest or alternative sport and I am more than happy for our facility to be used by local schools if they want to contact us, it is a great introduction.
We get the University of the u3a (the University of the Third Age) locally and they get maybe up to 36 people come down on a Tuesday night, I loan them a ball. They are retired people, they come over and they get shown how to play. We are happy to help if people want to learn to play. Anybody new is welcome.
WHAT’S THE APPEAL?
It’s a game that anybody can play. I know we started off as rugby players playing it, but people who haven’t got that ability to run around can come onto a petanque piste and they don’t have to be as fit, although you can be playing all day. Anybody can play it and you have mixed teams, the team I am playing in at the moment, there is a 50-50 split between men and women.
I still play every Wednesday, it can be played by people of all ages. We’ve had a nine-year old in our division who helped us win the fourth division the other year and I’m mid-70s.
It’s not an expensive sport, a junior ball would probably be around £30, for an adult player you can start off with something a little more expensive, say £39. Once you get better you can get a better set.
DIFFERENT TYPES OF BALL
You can get softer balls and some real hard ones and it really depends on whether you are a shooter or a pointer. A shooter would use a softer ball because they are throwing to hit another ball.
In a team of three, the first would be a pointer who would play to get their first ball nearest to the jack, then the other team will try and beat it, or if it is close enough then the opposition would have a shooter and he will throw the ball with the aim of connecting with mine and knocking it out of play.
You need a soft ball for shooting because you don’t want it to rebound and go off, you want it to hit it and absorb the reaction so it stays and the other ball goes. You do get people that specialise in each one.
THE KENT LEAGUE
There is a coastal league that play on a Tuesday and the Kent League plays on a Wednesday. Distance of travel is one of the reasons there are the two leagues.
The only club from the east of Kent that play in the Kent League are Manston but they play in both.
The first league set up in the county was in 1977 when four of the teams that were playing at that time came together, they being Optimists, GASP, Portex and Seal, with Seal going on to win the inaugural season. Incidentally, Seal are the only one of these teams/clubs still remaining.
The league grew in size and so many of the clubs and teams were associated with public houses that it was also a good night out for the odd pint or two.
The early 2000s saw a decline in the number of clubs, as the hostelries closed their doors or took back the space allocated to petanque for outdoor seating.
By 2017 the club numbers had dropped below 30 for the first time since 1992 and seems to have steadied back to 28 clubs with around 60 teams.
Covid-19 put the breaks on competition at the start of 2020 although we did manage to put together a knock-out cup and plate competition.
When the Maidstone and District League that played a winter competition folded, Mick Nash of Hartley CC started the winter season of the KPL and has enjoyed a reasonable take up of, at times, 40 teams playing in four divisions along with a winter cup and plate competition running alongside.
Hopefully when we have an easing of the lockdown we will again offer all of the clubs and teams the opportunity to continue the sport we all love.