Monday, 20 September 2021

Bowls champion celebrates his half century of county matches

A BOWLS player from Watlington has made history by becoming the first person to play for Oxfordshire for 50 years.

A BOWLS player from Watlington has made history by becoming the first person to play for Oxfordshire for 50 years.

Henry Franklin, of The Meadows, was part of the county team which beat Buckinghamshire in a match played in Thame.

The 84-year-old retired farmer and keen sportsman took up the sport in 1961 after being persuaded to join Watlington Bowls Club.

He used to tend the land next to the club and would watch games after he had finished work.

“There were very few members and no one would turn up,” he recalled. “The old groundsman kept saying to me, ‘when are you going to come and join in?’

“One day I was so frustrated watching them that I ended up doing just that and I took to it straight away. I really enjoy bowls and I wish I started earlier. I was 33 when I started whereas some of our players now are teenagers.”

Mr Franklin was first picked to play for the county in 1963, the same year he won his club’s singles title.

He has gone on to win that title many times, most recently in 2011, and has also won 53 club competitions and the club championship six times.

Mr Franklin has been club captain, president and chairman four times each and vice-captain twice. He has also been match secretary for the last 51 years and greenkeeper for the last 41 years.

Outside the club, he has had two spells as president of the Oxfordshire County Indoor Bowls Association.

Mr Franklin, who moved to Watlington from Lewknor when he retired from farming in 1992, says one of the best things about bowls is that it is a friendly sport.

“You are standing next to your opponent, not on the other side of a wicket or the net,” he said. “You are together and you talk with each other and if someone does well, you say, ‘well bowled’.

“I could probably go around 30 counties and somebody would say ‘hello’ to me.”

Mr Franklin bought his first set of bowls for £6 soon after he took up the sport.

In 1963, he upgraded to a £13 set of Dunlop Woolf bowls with which he still plays.

“Someone said to me that I would never get anywhere with my first set of bowls so I bought these,” he said.

“Now they have been all over the country, to Wales and to the Isle of Wight.” Mr Franklin says he enjoys playing bowls indoors and outdoors equally.

“You can’t beat playing outdoors on a warm sunny day but indoors the greens are faster and you are not going to get wet,” he said.

His one regret is not winning a county final but his competitive spirit means he is determined to keep trying and he plays almost every day to maintain his skill.

“I didn’t take a day off in June and I am down at the club most days for the various competitions and matches,” said Mr Franklin.

“Sometimes I even play twice a day and once I had four finals in a day.” He and his wife, Joyce, always play in the mixed pairs competition at Watlington Bowls Club, winning the title more than 10 times.

Mrs Franklin is a keen bowls player in her own right and was an England indoor international in 1992.

She was also part of the Oxfordshire team which won the Walker Cup national double rink title four times between 1983 and 1990. Mr Franklin cannot imagine a life without bowls.

“I think I shall keep going until I drop,” he said. “I think my ability now is about the same as it was 50 years ago because I have never got too high so I haven’t had all that far to fall.”

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