It was 103 years of hurt finally put to rest as the Czech Republic won it’s first ever International Petanque tournament since becoming an independent nation in 1918. In a gripping final, the Czechs – none of whom were Czech -triumphed 12- 9 over Italy (none of whom were Italian) and the coveted ‘Plate of Petanquiness’ was raised aloft by Slavic hands. None of which were Slavic. But, this was no ordinary international fixture. Organised by Michael Wheatley of the Bridgwater La Ciotat Link Group as part of Twinning week and the Quayside festival, due to Covid and a total lack of international travel, only one of the 16 players was actually from a partner nation (Ana Luisa was 50% of the Portuguese team). The winners -representing the Czech Republic, were Town Council Leader Brian ‘on top form’ Smedley and Tim ‘wasn’t too bad’ Mander, both stalwarts of the Bridgwater-Uherske Hradiste link, Britain’s first post Velvet Revolution twinning link with the Czechs & Slovaks.
Petanque as a sport was invented in the early twentieth century in Bridgwater’s French twin town of La Ciotat. It involves a small court area, or ‘piste’, and 2 teams competing to get their balls or ‘boules’ nearest the ‘Jack’ by a skillful form of ‘throwing’ an adept type of ‘back spin’ or a more typical element of ‘good luck’.
Victoria Park Setting
The venue was Victoria park, Bridgwater. The Community Centre café provided teas and coffees and a range of helpful paninis for the event which was sponsored by Mayor of Bridgwater Leigh Redman who went to the great lengths of testing positive for Covid in order to avoid having to play.
Bridgwater has 6 official twinnings, in order La Ciotat (France) 1957, Homberg (Germany) 1992 Uherske Hradiste (Czech Republic) 1992, Marsa (Malta) 2006, Priverno (Italy) 2015 and Camacha, Madeira (Portugal) 2019. In addition Bridgwater has strong historic links with Bridgewater Massachusetts, revived in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter campaign and stretching back to the 1840’s joint campaign against Slavery, so we also fielded a USA team. And we threw an England team in for good measure (so we had an even 8).
The teams were drawn into 2 leagues and games were played 2 at a time.
In League 1 they went like this
England 6 v Germany 5
Malta 3 v Italy 11
Germany 8 v Malta 3
Italy 7 v England 4
In League 2 they went
Czech 13 v USA 1
France 8 v Portugal 7
France 13 v USA 2
Czech 13 v Portugal 8
That meant LEAGUE 1 looked like this
TEAM W L F A PTS
ITALY 2 0 18 7 6
GERMANY 1 1 13 9 3
ENGLAND 1 1 10 12 3
MALTA 0 2 6 19 0
And LEAGUE 2 looked like this
TEAM W L F A PTS
CZECH 2 0 26 9 6
FRANCE 2 0 21 9 6
PORTUGAL 0 2 15 21 0
USA 0 2 3 26 0
So, after a ball biting calculation of the points difference between the top 2 teams in each league it was determined that the Grand final would be between the Czechs and the Italians with a third place play-off (for bronze) between the French and the Germans. There was everything to play for. ‘Everything’ being some winners medals and a hand crafted plate .
The Bronze went to the French with a comfortable 10 -5 win over Germany and all eyes (that weren’t watching the 3rd place game) focused on the Grand Final.
THE FINAL SHOWDOWN
The Czechs were off to a comfortable lead with Smedley and Mander throwing around accurately placed balls like they were Kalvin Phillips passes, but complacency seemed to set in a bit as the canny but methodical (non) Italians, Annie Hall and Joe May, cautiously built up the score. But was the comeback fast enough? Would the Italians time themselves out and leave the Czechs ahead when the final Petanque Whistle blew. Smedley engaged them in distracting conversations about the road network around Othery, but they weren’t buying it. In fact it probably wasn’t for sale.
The Czechs remained on 12 points, one short of an outright victory and the Italians crept back up to 9. Smedley tried one last ploy of feigning a heart attack in the middle of the Piste. But no one noticed. The tape measures came out. Mander’s balls needed checking. Phew, close, but not close enough. And then it was all over, a resounding and much deserved victory 12-9 to the Czechs.
Back at ground zero (the tea urn) medals were awarded -Gold CZECH Silver ITALY Bronze FRANCE and organiser Michael Wheatley was congratulated for his devotion to detail, fixation for fairness and promotion of Petanque in general. When something is the first of what will become a future full of similar tournaments, it’s always worth recording.
And not just who won.