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Camden New Journal - By SIMON WROE
Published: 3 January 2008

Croquet on the lawn
Anyone for croquet on Heath?

Hoop dreams as hunt begins for location where you can try the sport with snob appeal

THE Marx Brothers and film director Howard Hawks held special parties for it, and Tolstoy had a court in his back garden, but it’s safe to say croquet has never been the sport of the masses.
But all that may be about to change.
Hampstead Heath bosses are considering locations for the first public croquet lawn in London, with balls and mallets for hire by anyone who wants to play.
The City of London, managers of the Heath, has revealed plans to bring the traditional summer garden sport, long considered a favourite with the landed gentry, military officers and vicars, to the park this summer. While the move has delighted croquet aficionados, there may be other hoops to jump through before everyone is won over.
Klim Seabright, secretary of The Croquet Association, welcomed the news. “It’s in line with a steady growth we’ve been experiencing in the past two or three years,” he said.
“When people get older they tend to think ‘Is there just bowls?’ Croquet is another option – it’s a cross between snooker and chess. It’s not physically exacting but it gets people out in the fresh air.”
But he expressed concern about lawn care. “Before you allow a stranger on your lawn you want to know they’d respect it,” he said.
“You can’t just have people whacking away at it with a mallet.”
EastEnder actor Phil Daniels – the voice behind Blur’s ode to green spaces, Parklife – may be that man with a mallet. He lives in Gospel Oak and runs on the Heath every day. “I’ve only played croquet once and I don’t think I played it properly,” he said. “We just smashed the balls about. I don’t think I’ll play personally but I’m all for sport – the more the better.”
Mr Seabright is keen to dispel what he considers the myths surrounding the sport, for which Great Britain currently holds the world championship title.
“It’s not just for old people – the average age of the England team is about 35,” he said. “And it’s not posh either. Whoever is organising the croquet has work to do in getting that message across. Not that we turn down lords and ladies.”
Paul Maskell, leisure and event manager for Hampstead Heath, said there was “nothing set in stone at the moment but a lot of interest”. Locations across the Heath are being considered.
It might just be the place where croquet breaks into the mainstream. Mr Seabright added: “I would be very surprised if you had a mass of 18-year-olds running to the club – unless someone like Robbie Williams or Lee Mead is seen with a croquet mallet in his hand. When John Prescott was pictured playing croquet a couple of years ago our sales went through the roof.”

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