“Here at Eye we have an ambitious bunch keen to achieve things and to brush shoulders with the best of the best at the highest level. As a result, the Nationals are undoubtedly the biggest focal point of the season for many of our members.”
At the end of my conversation with Ben Beamish, Club Captain of Borough of Eye BC, it is fair to say that I knew exactly where his club’s attention is concentrated!
I was also left marvelling at how brilliantly successful what he describes as: “Quite a small club with 63 bowlers in a roughly two-thirds, one-third split of men and women” has been.
Perhaps most interesting of all is that it is the 20-odd women members at Eye (“just call us Eye, the Borough bit is rarely used”) with the widely-known and much-respected Sal Butcher at the helm that have led the way.
“The biggest highlight of 2022 came when Sal teamed up with Sue Bard-Bodek, Sue Bernard and Christine Beamish to win the Senior Fours,” Ben recalls.
“It was an absolutely tremendous achievement for our club and one which truly put us on the map nationally.
“We don’t have that many women members, but we still provide up to nine of Suffolk’s Johns Trophy team and five or six of the Walker Cup team. They are a very competitive bunch.
“We had probably our best-ever year in 2022 with lots of members doing extremely well at Leamington in the Nationals. I went as a spectator, and it was very apparent that our ladies were looking very relaxed on the green and believing that they belonged there.
“Tracey Johnson and Joanne Rowe kick-started things for us by breezing through the early stages of the Ladies’ Pairs. They were then live-streamed on YouTube, which was brilliant for our members who were able to log in and watch, and their great run only ended when they met two international bowlers in the final.
“It’s easy to downplay this achievement given that our Senior Fours went on to win the title, but we are also incredibly proud of Tracey and Jo for their fantastic runners-up finish in the Pairs.
“Joanne’s daughters Kirsty and Amy Rowe then did very well in the Junior Pairs before losing to the eventual runners-up, after which the four of them teamed up in the Fours to win a couple of rounds.
“Tracey was also at Leamington in the Two-Bowl singles while Sal was in the Four-Bowl Singles so it was a very busy three weeks.
“Our men perhaps haven’t achieved as much on the green as we would have liked but we’re very much hoping to change that in the coming years after we won a first County title since 2004 through Mark Royal and Mark Euston, who are both regulars in Suffolk’s Middleton Cup side. They then had a reasonable run at Leamington before losing on the second day.”
Despite their growing profile and success on the national stage there is plenty about Eye BC with which bowlers around England would readily identify.
In fact, its family-oriented, friendly environment, volunteer-driven facilities and thriving social scene in many ways epitomise much of what is good about the sport.
“We were formed in 1969 so we celebrated our 50th anniversary with a celebration match against Bowls England in 2019 which was really good fun,” Ben says.
“We are very fortunate to still have local legend Alf Chambers (Sal Butcher’s father) involved at the club after many years of loyal service. He celebrated his 90th birthday this year at an event organised with his old Middleton Cup teammate and former England international John Rednall that raised almost £1000 for a local charity.
“It’s incredible to see him still bowling competitively and helping around the club. In many ways, Alf put Eye on the map locally in terms of his bowling achievements (he recalls a singles match on the Isle of Wight with the late, great David Bryant CBE in 1990 as a particular highlight), but the club are also indebted to Peter West, a former Suffolk President and founder member at Eye who has helped steer the club in various ways through its 50+ years. Though no longer able to bowl, Peter is still a trustee, active committee member and font of knowledge in his mid-90’s.
“We also have quite a lot of ‘next generation’ members as we are a family-oriented club whose roots haven’t changed that much.
“We are very much viewed as one of the most sociable bowls clubs in Suffolk whose bar and clubhouse are always open and very welcoming. We run the bar on a rota system and because it’s always full of life it’s never a struggle getting volunteers as being there is definitely not a chore!”
According to Ben, Eye also has facilities and local league bowling which also help attract and keep members.
“We are fortunate to have a consistent green which is good enough for us to host Middleton Cup trials and games,” he says.
“We have also hosted quite a few Eastern Counties games. Our greenkeepers do a really good job – like a lot of clubs we have a handful of volunteers who put in lots of time and effort despite having other commitments or full-time jobs and we are very grateful to them.
“We have seven league teams that play each week – every weekday, with two on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. It’s fair to say we’re a club that likes to hedge its bets so we enter everything in the hope that we will end up with a win somewhere!
“One of our Wednesday teams got promoted last summer to the top division and our Monday mixed triples team also did very well, while our men reached the final of one of the county cups we always enter.
“The club also sends 30+ players out on tour in late April/early May, something we have done annually for over 20 years now. Our President Ron Snell is our tour organiser and he does a great job rotating and resting his players in what is a very competitive touring side. 2023 sees us return to Eastbourne and the East Sussex area.
“We did Bowls’ Big Weekend in 2021 and found it really useful as it brought two new families to the club numbering 11 members in total. The dates didn’t work for us in 2022 but given how well we did with it a year earlier we’re likely to get involved again in 2023.”
You suspect we will hear plenty more about Eye in the coming years…