“Petanque? Surely a bit bourgeois for you?”
Naw, no’ really. It is a great sport with 300,000 registered players, the 11th most popular sport in France where 20million play the game. It began as an act of altruism from one friend to another, who was finding it difficult to play Jeu Provencal due to severe rheumatism. Unable to do the run up needed to play the game, his pal came up with a version that was codified in 1907 and became known as Petanque which means ‘feet planted on the ground’. It quickly became popular and is played throughout France where it’s covered on TV and in the press.
“So how did you discover it?”
Like most people, on holiday in France. I came back with a set of boules that I now know were ‘leisure boules’, fine to play with but not of competition standard. Which I needed when Ian Colgan persuaded me to join Inverleith Petanque Club. Ian gave up golf 10 years ago when his knee gave up on him and now says, after he replaced one sport with another, that he “wishes he’d discovered Petanque back then.” Ian’s enthusiasm was infectious so I went along to try it out.
The club was formed by enthusiasts in Inverleith Park in 1985, and we’ve been on our current site since 2002. Nowadays we have 50 odd members from a wide range of backgrounds. Main man Monty and his wife Mags made me feel most welcome as they do for all who come along to try the game. Most fall into the veteran category, a low bar categorization of over 55 is set by the French association which the Scottish Petanque Association follow. (Monty wants you to know this season’s membership are due, chiz!)
“So how do you play?”
The playing surface is called the piste, and can vary in surface and location. Play takes place at a distance between of 6 and 10 metres, and the small round wooden ball cocchonnet, is thrown by the team that wins the toss. Play can be singles, doubles or triples.
Players in the first two have 3 boules each with each player restricted to 2 boules each in triples. The aim is to get your boule nearest to the coche. The boule is held in the palm of the hand by the 3 main fingers with the thumb and pinky not touching the ball. Thrown underarm in a pendulum swing it is the momentum of the swing not strength which propels the ball to the coche.
The spin when leaving the fingers helps the boule on landing from spinning off wildly on tricky terrains. The team or player furthest from the coche continues to throw until nearest or if unable to get past the first boule then until all boules are thrown. There are tactics aplenty but along with skill, luck plays a part in the game, adding a fun element.
It can be more than fun too, with local, national and international competitions.
Inverleith Park is the Hampden Park of petanque and has been used for all 3 levels. It recently hosted the Scottish leg of the Home Nations Challenge where 22 teams of triples plus sub competed for 8 places for the full competition to play against teams from England, Wales, Jersey in England later this year.
With 18 pistes of varying surfaces, which are maintained by the club to a high standard, it provides a test for even the seasoned players and internationalists. Last year in a 2 day play off between the top 4 Scottish club sides, our team (Inverleith) won the right to represent Scotland in the Euro Cup for club sides at the Boulodrome in Angouleme last November. The stadium boasts 63 indoor and 129 outdoor pistes and there are arenas like this all over France to cater for demand.
Richard Osman loves to play petanque and the sport made tabloid news in the UK when Pete Doherty remarked that the game was his ‘latest addiction’. Others known to have played include Peter Gabriel and Robert De Niro. However, perhaps the best story involves Mick Jagger who won £19,000 in Cannes from two Frenchmen who underestimated his skill at the game.
Petanque, above all is about socializing, that’s why you see it being played all over France in village squares by local folks of all ages and from all walks of life.
Here in Scotland the popularity of the sport is growing with new pistes popping up all over the place including; Annan, Moffat, North Berwick and Dunbar. Check the Scottish Petanque Association website to find a club near you.
If in the Edinburgh area, get yourself down to Inverleith where qualified coaches, experienced members will share their insight and knowledge and introduce you to a new sport you will love.
The club meet every Sunday at 11.30am playing until around 3.00pm and, now that the lighter nights are here, also on Tuesday and Thursday nights from 6.30 to end of play/light. ■
Gordon Munro is an Inverleith Euro Cup team member 2022
At the Boulodrome in Angouleme from left: Mari, Huw, Pascal, Stephen, Gordon, Shena, Ian