Huddersfield Junior Bowling secretary Geoff Martin is looking forward to the new league season which kicks off on Saturday May 22.
The Tommy Wilson Cup was created by Geoff and Tommy over 35 years ago. Tommy sadly passed away in the early 2000s and the league was named in his memory.
The first season was in 1994 and despite there being a dip in younger player participation in recent years Geoff is determined to keep promoting the sport. He believes the whole sport is just like one big happy family.
On the 2021 campaign Geoff believes Spen Victoria and Almondbury Liberal Club will be the clubs fighting it out to win the league.
Geoff said: “I’m really looking forward to the league starting and the kids having fun. I think Spen has a good chance to win the league this year. However I wouldn’t count out my club Almondbury.
“It’s not really about who wins but it’s more about them enjoying playing the sport.”
On creating the league Geoff said: “Tommy wanted to start a league to try and get more young people into the sport. He particularly wanted to give girls more of a chance which didn’t happen at the time. He wrote to all 52 clubs to see if there was any interest. He only got one reply and that was from me.
“We started by running an indoor bowling session on a Sunday morning and we’d get about 20 kids. Then in 1994 we founded the Huddersfield Junior Crown Green Bowling League.”
Geoff originally got into the sport through his father Jack and played for a number of years before his interests changed.
Geoff, now 64, was a keen football and Rugby League player who ended up sustaining a bad injury in 1982. Having not played any sport for five years it was in 1986 when a work colleague sparked Geoff’s interest again.
He said: “My father took me to the bowling greens on Leeds Road. There was also a putting green there and me and my brothers were more interested in that, however, we couldn’t go on the putting green until we’d had a go at bowling.
“I’ll always remember as a young kid going into the pavilion and seeing a nice old bloke called Jack. He had hearing aids on both of his ears and you used to have to shout so he could hear you.
“My father was very crafty. The bowls used to go up from 1-40 and the higher the number the heavier and bigger the bowls. Well we used to play with the number 15 set, but my dad would say to Jack, give those lads number 31. These were like 2.4 pound bowls, and I was only seven-years-old at the time I could hardly carry the thing, never mind bowl it!
“My dad would beat us at bowling and then we’d beat him at putting. It was a great time looking back.
“We played for a few years but then as you get older you get into other things. I liked playing football and rugby and going on dates with women and going out with friends.”
Geoff, who has seven brothers, didn’t participate in the sport much unless his brother Bob roped him into playing. However after suffering a serious knee injury in 1982 it was a work colleague in 1986 who rekindled Geoff’s love affair with bowls again.
Geoff said: “My brother Bob was into the sport and when his team was a player short I used to fill in. He’d drag me off the football pitch and say right you’re playing for us today.
“I had a serious knee injury from playing Rugby League in about 1982. So I didn’t play any sport for a few years. I joined a company called Reliance Gears in 1986 and a bloke called Andy Gregory asked me to fill in for the bowling team one night. It went from there and then before I knew it I was playing in various leagues on various nights.”
Having played for a number of years Geoff got his children Michael, 35, and Hannah, 33, into the sport. They were part of the very first junior league season in 1994. He said: “Michael started bowling at eight and Hannah at six. They love the sport which is brilliant.”
Back in the year 2000 the league had as many as 23 teams. Now it has seven.
Looking ahead Geoff still thinks Crown Green Bowling has a place in today’s modern world. He insists that it’s a great sport for young people to get into.
Geoff and his dedicated team of members have managed to raise some funds to help them recruit more young people.
He said: “We will start with a new recruitment drive shortly to try and get youngsters interested in the sport again.
“I set up a Just Giving page with the help of former Junior League president and Thongsbridge member Richard Armitage. We managed to raise a magnificent £5,000 from the Huddersfield bowling community. We have worked in tandem with the One Community project who said they’d match any funds raised. So all in all we have a pot of about £10,000. I never thought we’d raise that amount of money. It’s astounding really.
“The big thing for us is when we can get back into the establishments where we play from. We need to rejuvenate all the clubs and leagues. Hopefully when things get back up and running we can then move forward and improve things.
“Crown Green Bowling is a sport for everyone. No matter your gender, age, ability, race, it’s a truly all welcoming sport. It’s played outside in the fresh air too so there are good health benefits.
“It’s a great sport, especially for young people as they can make new friends. It’s a sport which has a good social side to it too. It’s not just a sport for older people.”