Anyone fortunate enough to witness the three nail-biting finales in which Silksworth BC worked their way to Men’s Two Fours glory at Victoria Park in September would have found it impossible not to sense fierce loyalty and togetherness within their celebrations.
And according to club secretary Jaxon McKenna this spirit very much epitomises a club which was once a focal point for sport and recreation in the Sunderland mining community.
“Bowls is very popular in Sunderland where there are plenty of greens and there are some good clubs,” he says.
“But the thing that makes Silksworth stand out is how much we all look out for each other – the spirit is amazing.”
“That is built on a group of us having played together for quite a few years – but it has also been good to hear a couple of newer members say how welcome they feel and that they have been given every opportunity.”
“We have a few older members who will always help out and are happy to go on the green with new players, teach them a few tricks and bring them on a bit. We’ve had people literally wander in off the street and within no time they are playing regularly.”
This togetherness was typified by the immediate response of Jaxon and his winning teammates to lifting the Men’s Club Two Fours crown which centred on ‘absent friends.’
“We had some tremendous support and one of our longest-standing members Vic Avery, who joined Silksworth in the 1970’s, collected the trophy,” he said.
“Despite being a reserve this year, Vic had previously been in loads of semi-finals and even though he didn’t bowl himself to finally be part of the squad and see us win was really special for him.”
“It was also great for Layton Sykes – who is our youngest club member aged 11 – to be named as part of the squad and get a medal and a winner’s jacket.”
“But in particular I think I will always remember Paul Baker in floods of tears on Facetime after we won. His son Scott was ‘lead’ on my rink and because Paul was on holiday he couldn’t be there. He has been involved with the club for years, is our shirt sponsor and it just meant so much to him that we’d eventually won after so many years of trying.”
Silksworth Pumas are currently going through an especially successful spell in the three Sunderland and District leagues in which they compete – The Earl Cup where they finished as runners-up to Houghton in 2022, the Swan Cup and the Harold Howey Trophy.
Along with eye-catching progress in a range of National competitions this has seen a range of Silksworth members selected for Durham – but according to Jaxon the club remains very much a friendly, relaxed environment where everyone is welcome.
“We have around 40 members across an age range from 11 to 92,” he says.
“Our best-known member David Bolt has been at Silksworth for a lot of years and in the past has won National Singles, National Fours, British Isles Fours and a bronze medal in the Commonwealth Games.”
“Alf Ferguson and George Brown who are both over 90 are legends of the club who have been there as long as I can remember while young Layton was born March 2011!”
“We also have a strong connection with South Shields Indoor Bowls Club, but every club needs a strong base of club bowlers to keep it going and we’re no different and we are always keen to attract new members.”
“We are not just about competitive bowling and we sometimes worry that people see us the wrong way. Everyone who joins Silksworth will get chances to bowl in one of the teams if they want it as well as playing at the club on any afternoon during the season.”
“We’ve seen how well Bowls’ Big Weekend has worked elsewhere – to be honest last summer we probably missed a trick by not aligning our annual open day with it and I imagine we will rectify that by making sure we sign up next summer.”