Vi-King raid on the first Nordic Championships
The Norwegian Croquet Association hosted the Jeloy Grand Tournament 2005 including the first Nordic Championships and Open events. Both the Championships and the Open events had competition in both Association and Golf Croquet to the current World Croquet Federation (WCF) rules. The results featured domination by one nation (Sweden) and one individual (Tim King). The President of the WCF, David Openshaw, had accepted an invitation to attend the Tournament in order to encourage further development of croquet worldwide; Sweden is already a member of the WCF but pan-Nordic croquet seems most likely to prosper in the context of the global croquet family and Norway and Finland have submitted applications to participate in the WCF.
The location for the Tournament was a public park in Moss (about 40 minutes by train south from Oslo). This is a regular playing spot for the local club but, unfortunately, the town council maintains the length of the grass to one that is somewhat challenging for croquet and the area is open to general recreational use by all. After a pre-Tournament experiment with a full-sized court, the decision was to use two-third size and, after acclimatising, good rushing technique could produce acceptable results. All but one set of hoops were wire form and even the cast iron set had some deformed hoops with generous clearances. Of course, there are clubs in the UK that exist under similar circumstances but this was not a Tournament in which Bamford and Fulford will be in any hurry to participate!
The weather consisted of beautiful sunshine for the whole weekend, although the stiff breeze on the Sunday led to everyone feeling quite chilly by the end of play as the sun fell low in the sky. However, as one would expect in the Scandinavian summer, the light remained good even with the last stroke not until after 20:45. People gathered for some pre-Tournament preparations on the Saturday afternoon and then enjoyed a convivial Tournament dinner together. The Tournament organisers had even arranged to teach everyone a song (in Norwegian!) to celebrate the joys of croquet.
In the Nordic Championships, Norway, Finland and Sweden each entered two teams; these players were unable to play in the parallel-running Open events. Across two rounds, each team played against one team from each of the other two nations. Qualification for the two finals was on the basis that no nation had more than one representative in either final (otherwise Sweden would have had a guaranteed clean sweep). As a result, the same team from Norway played the two Swedish teams. In the Golf Croquet final, Sweden A took a 4-0 lead and never looked in trouble (7-4 result). For Association (1.5 hour time limit), the story was similar; Sweden B built a 12-3 lead before some Norwegian resistance began to be effective but the eventual result was 16-6 on time.
Both the Open events had eight entries. In principle, these events were for individuals but Denmark had sent a group of five representatives, who had never played Association or Golf Croquet (hence, a current unwillingness to participate in the Championships) and in the Danish nine-hoop variant of croquet appear always to play as pairs. Thus, some matches were one against two. Qualification for these finals was on the basis of the results of two games for each player (or pair). Tim King won all four of his matches with sufficient magnitude to qualify for the two finals, playing a different Norwegian in each.
The Golf Croquet final was an extremely rapid affair. Tim King managed to set up a scoring chance almost immediately on every hoop and the generous widths posed little challenge; he only needed one of his increasingly trademark jump shots, which was just as well given the unreliable lies (efforts in other games had cleared hoops with ease). The Norwegians are clearly used to seeing the ball bounce and fly on such ground but the local game does not appear to require the jump shot as a key weapon. The score was 7-0.
The Association Croquet final was marginally less one sided. However, after a brief exchange of largely unsuccessful turns, Tim King then proceeded to produce a personal first, taking his yellow ball from first to peg with what was generally a four-ball break. Given that even the Nordic Championship final included no attempts to build breaks, this demonstration was appreciated by a small contingent of Norwegian players who had gathered to watch. Unfortunately, the leave was non-existent but that appears to be beyond the immediate local needs and so the applause was generous. Anyone with a handicap lower than 7 has an ideal opportunity to go and impress! Tim King never managed anything quite as smooth with the red ball but, despite the vagaries of the lawn seeming to return to cause a missed peg out and the need for two further shots to secure that final point, there was no way back and the eventual score was 26 to a few.
The Nordic Championships team trophies were suitably impressive to match the vision of the organisers and all the winners had a personal reward of a delightful six-inch high wooden mallet bearing the Tournament logo (apparently the rumours are false that the winners have to defend their titles using these prizes!); perhaps this could be an inspiration to tournament organisers in England. Having taken no prisoners in his personal sphere of experience, Tim King failed to allow the locals some revenge as he left everyone else to continue with Norwegian Standard Croquet on the Monday. David Openshaw, however, was far more of a gentleman and accepted the challenge to try something new (having also stepped in to play in the Golf Croquet Open but not the Association Croquet).
Some tried and tested principles of the well-run English tournament were missing from the weekend (all-play-all blocks, for instance) but this is an emerging vision without an established infrastructure and any complaint would be inappropriate; all the basics were excellent and the organisers had added some thoughtful extras.
Sweden has agreed to host the Nordic Championships next year and some clubs in Sweden have facilities that would not disgrace one in England. Meanwhile, Denmark is a potential sleeping giant of world croquet. Apparently, 6,000 people play the local form of the game and some clubs would appear to be able to provide decent courts for Association and Golf Croquet. If Open events were to be run in conjunction with the Nordic Championships but such that the players from the national teams were able to play in both, then the presence of a few experienced players from other countries could have a major effect to establish the basics of the game in a willing population of players; some of the Swedish team have already read extensively and only appear to require witnessing what is possible to give them more confidence. In the meantime, handicap play would be another obvious mechanism by which to encourage individuals to play with more adventure.
Tournament organiser Tore Gulbrandsen and his team showed great energy and enthusiasm in their efforts and have sown a wonderful seed for croquet in the Nordic countries. Each of the countries has a different indigenous croquet variant (all nine hoop) and Association and Golf Croquet appear the obvious choice to bring the four countries together. Each country offers fertile ground for further development and mutual encouragement seems an excellent basis on which to bring all into the wider croquet family. The players appear to be eager students and the demonstrated hospitality and friendship will underpin the extension to the that family. If anyone happens to be in the locality of the Championships next year then the welcome will be warm and you will have the opportunity to aid the development of croquet.