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"I don't regret one
moment" says England star Sandy Hazell as she opens up about her bowls
career on and off the green
Forty-seven years after first picking up a bowl, one of the
game's most recognisable players says she still loves the game
and its challenges and wouldn't change a thing.
"England Indoor International Sandy Hazell
believes there is something new to be learnt every time she steps on
to the green. There is no sport quite like it and no two games
are ever the same," she said.
"I love the inclusivity of the sport in terms of ability,
disability, sex and age- what other sport is there where a novice
could be playing with or against a World Champion, a man can play
against a woman, or a nine-year-old can play with or against a
"Some might say I'm a perfectionist, but I still
enjoy the challenge of trying to be the best I can be and bowling
the perfect bowl."
Sandy is no stranger to good bowls, having
won a haul of titles and accolades.
When pushed to choose her top
achievements, she lists winning the Indoor National Singles, World
Singles and British Isles Singles in the 1996/7 season, winning a
Commonwealth Games Bronze Medal in the Triples with Jamie-Lea Winch
and Sian Honnor in Delhi in 2010 and being crowned Hong Kong Classic
Singles Champion two years later.
The final highlight was winning
the EIBA National Women's Fours at Melton in 2014, when at the same
time the Swale men were also winning the National Men's Fours on the
rink next door.
"That was an unforgettable moment," Sandy said,
"But I can honestly say that every national title has been very
special in its own way and been played with special people.
"Like many bowlers, I also enjoy the social side of the sport, I
have made so many friends all over the world and have been very
lucky to play at all levels."
Sandy, 57, started bowling
outdoors at the age of ten, joining father John at The Co-op Club in
Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. As the only female at
the club, she began to play with and against the men in local
leagues and competitions.
"The members were really good to me
and welcomed me into the fold," Sandy said.
"Initially I just
loved the social side of the game and the camaraderie. The Co-op
club was not a seriously competitive club, but we had such good fun
playing. I was always allowed into the club after our games for a
lemonade and a packet of crisps and used to sit and listen to the
men telling jokes and funny stories. They were really good times."
After about eight years Sandy also became a member of St.
Georges BC in Sheerness, a competitive club with a handful of women
members. Here she continued to play domestic leagues and local
competitions and was instrumental in affiliating the Ladies Section
to the Kent County Women's Bowling Association so they could start
to play county competitions.Indoor bowls started in 1987 when
Sandy was asked to join a mixed four with Terry Branchett and Lee
Shoobridge who would become life-long friends.
By 16, Sandy
had started winning club and Island (Isle of Sheppey) competitions.
She was selected as an Outdoor Junior International in 1990 and
would play for the senior team from 2007 to 2016.
making her indoor debut in 1998, Sandy remains part of the team and
has been captain since 2006.
She recalled: "I remember at my first Indoor series, I found
myself alongside the likes of Norma Shaw, Mavis Steele, and Mary
Price, players I had only read about, and I found it quite daunting.
I didn't know too many of the players and, although they probably
don't know it, I was so thankful to Doreen Hankin, Katherine Hawes,
Catherine Popple and Jean Baker, who went out of their way to make
me feel included.
"I have never forgotten their kindness and, as
Captain, I always try to ensure all new caps are integrated into the
team and that they feel welcome and able to ask any questions or
raise any concerns.
"Thankfully, rules and dress codes have
relaxed over the years but, in the past, dress code was very strict.
At my first series we played in shirts, ties, skirts, waistcoats and
cardigans, along with tights and brown shoes, and outdoors had to
play in hats. Now we have the luxury of playing in kit more akin to
sports than formality.
"Bowls has taken me all over the world
and given me experiences I never even dreamt of when I took up the
sport as a young girl. I feel very privileged to have played for my
Country and still feel the same pride today playing in an England
shirt as I did 30 plus years ago."
It is testament to her
dedication to bowls that Sandy continues to win national titles.
She said: "I remain extremely competitive, take my bowls seriously
and still have that burning ambition, desire and will to win.
"After years at Mote Park, where I enjoyed my singles success but
also won the National & British Isles Pairs with Ann Hill in 2004,
in 2009 I took the extremely difficult decision to join Swale IBC.
For the first time in my career, I was playing with people of my own
age and younger, and I definitely feel this shake up gave me a new
lease of life."
Since joining Swale sandy has won the
National Pairs twice, National Triples four times, the National
Fours three times and the National Mixed Pairs with Perry Martin.
She said: "I have been part of the Swale Team which has also won
several National team events (Yetton, Top Club and Egham). We are a
very competitive club and I have been fortunate to play with
like-minded people. I feel very lucky as, within our combinations,
we are also good friends both on and off the green, which is so
"We enjoy ourselves whilst playing, stick together
and there is no blame culture. It goes without saying that we enjoy
ourselves socially off the green too. I feel I play hard but fair on
the green, but am the first to the bar after the game to buy my
opponent a drink."
Yet despite such a glittering career,
intriguingly Sandy doesn't believe she is naturally talented.
work hard at my game and know I need to be playing at least three
times a week indoors to keep any consistency," she said.
have an important game coming up and I haven't
played for a while, I will go to the club and put the time in
practicing as I don't like letting other
people down. I believe that (in bowls) you need to be as fit as you
possibly can, both mentally and physically. I try to walk regularly
and have a cross trainer in my garage. I also try to eat as
healthily as possible (particularly during the week). I regularly
have a sports massage and also see a chiropractor. I prepare for any
competitive game by ensuring I have eaten before I play, I get to
the venue approximately 30 mins before the game, which gives me time
to settle and do some stretching etc. and ensure I am fully prepared
for the start of the game. I try to learn the characteristics of
rinks early and fortunately am quite good at remembering rinks we
may have played on before, you need to make use of any advantage as
much as you can."
The last three years
have seen Sandy transition to selector and management roles for
Bowls England including being the Women's Assistant Team Manager for
the Commonwealth Games last year.
She said: "I have had many
'champagne moments' in my bowls life, but being part of these Games
and seeing, enjoying, and sharing the successes of the England team,
is definitely one of my highlights.
"I suppose the best bit in a
strange way, is still being part of the whole set up, but not
actually having the pressure of playing and performing to such a
high standard. There is still pressure, but a different type of
"I love seeing people perform well and realise their
dreams. Being part of the management team, I still felt a close bond
with the players and enjoyed watching their success as much as if it
were my own. I cried at every medal ceremony, felt a real part of
each and everyone's success and enjoyed it as much, if not more than
when I played myself."
Despite having played at Commonwealth
Games herself, Sandy admits it was a "totally different experience"
being involved in the management side.
"There were so many
different jobs to focus on and details to be confirmed," she said.
"Apart from ensuring everything was in tip top condition for the
players at the College, there were meetings to attend, bowls to
register, players to register, kit to organise, practice sessions to
arrange, daily updates of results and playing schedules. It was just
so much paper work, but I love a bit of detail, so was in my
"The set up at Victoria Park was truly amazing. The
greens looked the best I have ever seen them, the volunteers were
brilliant, always smiling, and eager to speak with everyone. Vocal
and appreciative crowds, huge stands, and the spectator shopping and
food village, all helped to make it a great event. Leamington was
"Prior to the games I never appreciated the
significance of a 'home games', but having experienced the support
that the England players received throughout the whole tournament, I
now realise its importance. The support was immense from start to
finish, and I know the players fully appreciated it all. It also
gave families the chance to support their own and there can be no
greater feeling than having your loved ones around to see you
achieve your dream and to share the moment with you.
reflection, the games experience was emotional. It had its highs and
lows and being on the management side you want everything to be
perfect for your team and for them to play well and enjoy the whole
experience. You also bowl every bowl and feel every emotion with
"We overcame illness, injury, bad news from home and also
a batch of white washing that came back pink! These Games also gave
me the chance to be involved with the Para Team. What an inspiration
"It was a pleasure to work with them and to see
first-hand the adversities they overcome on a daily basis, but
always with a smile on their faces. Hopefully we all learnt
something from each other throughout the journey. The whole
experience was fantastic and everything I hoped it would be. I got
the chance to work alongside some great people and have made so many
memories that will stay with me forever. I was honoured to have been
involved and play my part."
This week Sandy was named
Bowls England Interim Women's Team Manager.
difficult circumstances I was both shocked and honoured. I wish John
the nest and look forward to him returning to the fold in the near
future. I have big shoes to fill, but will do the job to the best of
my ability and look forward to the challenge."
As someone who
has played at the highest level, she is perfectly placed to help
efforts to drive the game forward.
Indeed, she admits one of her
biggest frustrations about bowls is when national Governing Bodies
introduce new rules, only for counties or clubs to put a stop to
One example is when Swale IBC introduced black trousers
and another club in the county refused players on the green wearing
Sandy said: "We seem to spend far too much time and energy
worrying about what people are wearing, rather than focusing on the
fact our game is in great decline.
"Although I feel fortunate
to have started playing bowls at a young age, it wasn't an easy path
and looking back it's a wonder how and why I continued to play. I'm
frustrated that the obstacles put in the way for lady bowlers years
ago has caused the 'missing generation' (those in their 40s/50s) we
are currently experiencing. This is the age group that should be now
running the game and planning for the future, but due to the
situation 30 years ago, there are not enough of us involved in the
sport. There is a void in our game that can't instantly be filled.
"When I first started playing, there were clubs who would not
allow me to play on their greens until I was 16 and even when I
first joined St Georges BC I was only allowed to play in the
evenings if there was a rink free that the men were not using.
Ladies County and National competitions were all played in the
afternoons at 2.30pm. This was non-negotiable, so consequently I
couldn't play competitively for quite a number of years due to
either being at school or working full time. When I did, I had to
use almost all my annual leave to do so. Even women's friendly
matches were only played mid-week, there were no such thing as mixed
matches. We weren't allowed to play at weekends, but were required
to make the sandwiches and tea for the men.
"The dress code
has always been strict and it wasn't that long ago for playing in
County competitions outdoors, we had to turn up to play in full
uniform - blazer, cravat, hat, gloves, tights, skirt, blue
walking-in shoes, blue handbag. The pleats in our skirts were
sharply ironed, we had standing up skirts and sitting down skirts
and woe betides anyone who dared to sit down in their standing up
"I personally had further barriers to overcome in
1996, when despite having qualified through to the PBA finals in
Stevenage, (the first lady to do so), the EIBA, who at the time were
purely a men's organisation, threatened to ban me from playing, just
for being female. Fortunately, the PBA intervened, and I was
'allowed' to play in the competition I had rightly qualified for.
Shortly afterwards, as the current Ladies World Champion, I was
invited to play in the International Open at the Preston Guild Hall.
Despite being welcomed, I was fully aware that the majority of men
taking part did not agree that women should be invited to play in
'their' world championships
"Thankfully, things have changed
over recent years. The amalgamation of County and National
Associations is very positive and there are now more opportunities
for Juniors and ladies to play a full part in bowls without the
constraints of playing times, stuffy uniforms and the obstacles that
were present in the past.
"To help move the game forward, I feel
it is important to create pathways at Club, County, National and
International levels, for people of all ages to enter our sport and
to participate at whatever level they choose."
Sandy has some
top tips for clubs in the quest to make the game more attractive and
recruit new members:
1.Most clubs are private clubs, but if a
stranger does walk in, we need to welcome them, talk to them and
tell them about the club and the game. Let them have a go. Too often
we bombard new recruits with theory and the rules. To start with
just let them enjoy the actual playing and introduce the laws at a
2. Initially introduce the game to them with a
short sharp format for play - maybe sets. Playing for two and half
hours can be daunting and far too long for new bowlers (of all ages)
to keep their focus. Let's try to create a much more relaxed
atmosphere generally and welcome members into our clubs.
3. Make available our facilities/meeting rooms to other organisations
(businesses, schools, societies), which in turn might result in the
recruitment of new members. Family days, where you can all try the
sport together, would be another way of introducing the sport to a
4. Relax certain dress codes. There is a time
and a place for the correct uniform, but for example, I can't see
the problem in wearing casual clothes when practising.
said: "The great thing about bowls is that it gives you the
opportunity to play at the level you choose, whether it be casual,
club, local competitions, county, national or International levels.
It's a sport you can play all year, at any time of the day and being
indoors, you are not dependant on the weather. In comparison to a
lot of other sports, it's relatively cheap to play, no need for a
huge initial outlay and most clubs provide equipment and some form
of coaching. The sport also provides good, gentle exercise. It's a
great social sport, you will never feel lonely stepping into any
bowls club as there is always someone there to sit and have a drink
with or a chat.
"I have been very fortunate to have a long
career in bowls. Like many, I have made sacrifices along the way and
experienced highs and lows. I have dedicated a lot of my time to the
sport, but have been lucky enough to have reaped the rewards. I don't
regret one moment."
John & Beata Hollowell