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News > OP updates > The genteel snake pit - croquet at PGS

The genteel snake pit - croquet at PGS

21 Jun 2022
Written by John Sadden
OP updates
Players on Governor's Green, led by Miranda Worley (right) Summer 2016
Players on Governor's Green, led by Miranda Worley (right) Summer 2016

This week sees the annual staff versus Sixth Form croquet match on Governor’s Green grass, when “the higher and dirtier croquet player can use the guile of a cobra and the inhumanity of a boa constrictor”* to win. In keeping with a largely non-existent tradition, triumphalism will be hidden as best as it can be.  

Croquet is not mentioned in the official school histories and, unlike rugby, appears to have been overlooked in PGS attempts to ape the top public schools. However, in the 1970s, pupils – all boys in those days - formed an Upper and a Lower Sixth Croquet Club. Whether this was an attempt to ape the top public schools, or an excuse to consort with girls from the High School is not known.  

The Portmuthian reports that an inaugural match took place against the High School on the green behind the New Hall (where the dining hall and theatre is today) in the summer of 1973, three years before the first female pupil was admitted to PGS. The pioneering team had a brief training session with History teacher Mr Marsh, who kindly lent his equipment for the match. After four preliminary rounds had sorted the chaf from the chaffier, the PGS team was represented by Greg Croydon and Graham (Bonz) Moon. The High School team proceeded to wipe the green with them. 

The frequency of such encounters is not recorded, unlike that other PGS sport, lacrosse, which offered around four matches against the High School on Southsea Common every summer. 

Croquet players of the period included K C Filer (1965-74), C H Franklin (1967-73), T F W Martin (1965-75), M A Orszulik (1967-73), A J Spindler (1967-73), J R Stephenson (1964-74) and R C Thomas (1969-73). There appears to be no evidence that school croquet survived after they left, though one pupil who was not in any way deterred by the lack of opportunity to play was Ian Lines (1974-84), who read Physics at St Edmund Hall, Oxford and, in 1995, became All-England Croquet Champion. Ian explained that he started playing “very informally as a young child in my grandparent's garden, but never played on a croquet lawn till I went up to Oxford in 1984, but even there I wasn't aware that the university had a club. I only started playing properly when I joined an excellent croquet club near Manchester in 1993, and have progressed from there - the highlight being a member of the Great Britain team that won the World Team Championship (MacRobertson Shield) in 2010.”  

Ian descibes croquet as “a wonderful sport as you can take it up at any stage of life, and still progress to quite a decent level with a little effort. Having said that, I wish I'd taken the game up earlier as most of today's top players are younger than me and almost all began at school. I wish we'd had a club at PGS in my time!” 

Thankfully, former teacher of English Julian Elphick-Smith revived the sport in 2009 and pupils continue to have the opportunity to develop the game's unique delicate skills and strategy, rather than that blunt reliance on speed or strength of other sports. In this way, and in spite of its image, croquet may be said to be a great leveller. The teachers  are in with a chance.  

* Quote: Alexander Woollcott (1887-1943) 

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