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This Tuesday I had the pleasure of sitting at a table in the Bowls Pavilion at Ashbrooke and looking at one of the oldest and most prestigious trophies in both the club’s and the national sport’s history. Sunderland Bowling Club’s Men’s Handicap in 2023 was won by the intrepid Ian McConnell. The first winner way back in 1903, the very year of the founding of what is now Bowls England, was John Park. He was club chairman at the time and during the following year, was chosen to represent England. His name is on the trophy as is those of all who were victorious over the ensuing 120 years – and what names they are. For example

· J R Chapman (1905 and 1912) – selected for England 1906 -1909

· C L Cummings (1908 and 1919) – selected for England on numerous occasions between 1905 and 1921 and only the second person (in 1906) to win the English singles championship. In 1922 he served as the very first president of the Durham and Yorkshire Bowling Clubs Association.

· Charles Gibb (1921) – Singles champion of England in 1913 and selected for England in 1910, 1920 and 1921. All England Rink Champion (4s) in 1920, 1927, 1932, 1935 and 1936 with fellow club members. County and North of England Champion and Rink Skip for the county for many years.

· Charlie Pickersgill (1934) – Possibly Sunderland’s greatest sportsman ever. The 1963 Ashbrooke Club history records ‘ He played for Durham County at cricket, Rugby football and tennis; amateur soccer for Sunderland A F C and was a member of the Sunderland bowling club rinks which in 1932 and 1935 won the All England Bowls Championship’. Most of his sporting success was pre First World War and his bowls success is all the more remarkable considering a war wound which occurred when he was leading his men to safety on Whit Monday 1915. On the same day many young Ashbrooke sportsmen were killed and wounded in the same action as part of the Ashbrooke based 7th DLI. Charlie was mentioned in despatches for his bravery in the same action.

· “Jackie” Washington (1990) has a gate to the green named after him. Another fine sportsman as a Northern Echo reporter noted in 2007 – ‘Jackie Washington - Bishop Auckland's goalkeeper in the 1939 Amateur Cup final win against Willington and again, 11 years later, when Willington exacted a memorable revenge. A former Durham County cricketer, he reckoned that - at just 5ft 6in - he was the smallest goalkeeper ever to play at Wembley. Jack was also an enthusiastic member of the Ashbrooke, Sunderland Bowls’ section. He died, aged 88, in 2002 and was buried in the club sweater’.

Sunderland Bowling Club/Bowls section of Ashbrooke Sports Club and its fine pavilion (1907) were at the very forefront of Bowls in the Edwardian period when the national association was formed. Ian, handicap winner in 2023, can be proud to have his name on the trophy alongside many of the good and great of the sport.

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