HRH the Duke of Gloucester opened the tournament on Friday 26th July, with a parade by the players and officials with country and WCF flags preceded by a Jazz band. He was introduced to may of the players and then partnered the English captain John-Paul Moberley in a Doubles match against the Lord Lieutenant of Sussex and the USA captain Ben Rothman. We’ll draw a veil over the result!
The event proper started the following day, with the BBC Broadcasting live from Southwick. 80 players from 19 countries took part over the nine day tournament with the first five days being divided into 8 all-play-all blocks. The top four from these played in the knock-out phase.
The weather didn’t help, with Tunbridge Wells lawns being flooded on the Saturday morning after a month’s worth of rain overnight. These were playable by lunch-time, but Tournament Manager Mike Town rearranged the schedule on the fly, so that six players had to make a dash to Southwick or West Worthing to complete their games. The players continued to enjoy the best of British summer weather with some sun and clouds, but high winds and rain on Tuesday also!
There were a couple of surprises in the Blocks – the main one being Simon Carter, main sponsor for the event, getting through to the Knock-Out stage, after only getting into the Championship through the Qualifying event. Stephen Mulliner from England and Duncan Dixon from New Zealand were the only unbeaten players. Other surprise packages were Joi Elebo from Sweden, Manuel Alvarez-Sala from Spain, John Richardson from Canada and Nick Archer from England.
The 2017 World Champion, South African Reg Bamford, and the runner-up Ahmed Nasr from Egypt both got through, but not undefeated.
The first two rounds of the 32 player Knock-Out were carnage, with all four previous champions, including Reg and Ahmed, crashing out. So there was a guaranteed new Champion. Stephen Mulliner, an ex-Association Croquet World Champion, was now the only undefeated player in the event.
The Quarter-Finals consisted of two English players, three Egyptians, one New Zealander, one American and one Spaniard.
The first three matches were all one sided ending in three straight games (the format is a best of five games from this stage onwards): Hamy Erian from Egypt beating Jose Alvarez-Sala from Spain. Ben Rothman beat Richard Bilton from England and Josh Freeth from New Zealand beating Stephen Mulliner. The final match was between Mohamed Karem and Moustafa Nezar from Egypt, with Mohamed winning in four games, leaving three Egyptians and one USA player in the semi-finals; the oldest of whom was Ben at just 35.
The first semi-final was between Hamy Erian and Mohamed Karem and was excellent play, but Mohamed took it by three games to one. The second one was between Josh Freeth and Ben Rothman. Josh took a two game lead, but Ben won the next two to take it to a sudden death decider. Ben ended up as the winner after 7 hours play.
The final was a magical occasion with superb play by both players for an audience of about 300 spectators at Southwick and more than 500 people around the world watching the live feed with commentary by Stephen Mulliner.
Ben won the first game, but Karem then started to find his hitting form and took the next game 7-2. He then won the third to put Ben’s back against the wall and even more so when he went 6-3 up, meaning that he only had to win one of the next four hoops to become World Champion. But it was not to be – he had two chances at hoop 13 (the golden hoop) to run it from the boundary, one of them a bouncing jump, but failed both, so Ben levelled the match. The final game was close again, being level at 5-5, but Ben won the next two hoops to win the Champion by three games to two. Not just a new name on the Trophy, but also a new country, the USA.
Bronze medal winners were Hamy Erian and Josh Freeth. 5th to 8th were respectively Roger Bilton, Mostafa Nezar, Stephen Mulliner and Jose Alvarez-Sala.
In parallel with the Knock-Outs there were also competitions for the losers – the Plate for those who didn’t qualify for the Knock-Out, the Bowl for losers in the first round of the Knock-Out and the Shield for second round losers. The Plate was won by Euan Burridge (England) beating Lionel Tibble (England), the Bowl by George Coulter (New Zealand) beating Harry Fisher (England) and the Shield by Duncan Dixon (New Zealand) beating Tobi Savage (England).
LIvestreaming of several lawns at Southwick was provided by the CA’s team throughout, with commentary for the semi-finals and final.
Overall, a very sussccessful event with the best part of 1000 spectators and some 5000 unique viewers online. In addition there were many press articles, including the national press, and also broadcasting on the BBC and ITV.
Finally, thanks must be given to all our 100+ volunteers and our sponsors, but particularly our main one Simon Carter.
We can be sure that Croquet in the UK will build on this success and continue to grow in the future.
We’ve got a couple of photo albums that you can peruse and use as you wish in print or online: https://photos.app.goo.gl/cZKcCpP6dzH8RkbJ8 and https://link.shutterfly.com/9V4sxja2RY
These include some photos from both the Opening and Closing Ceremonies plus most of the players in action and some behind the scene photos. Most are taken at Southwick, but some (with July dates in the Shutterfly album) are from Tunbridge Wells and West Worthing.