'No, please, not the peg! Please don't send me into the peg!' My opponent has hit my yellow ball. Now he places his foot on his own ball, with my yellow in front. He swings his mallet and.....he misses! I'm still alive! I can still win!
In childhood, everyone played croquet this way. Later, we learned about 'loose' croquet, where you don't hold your own ball steady. In Norway and the other Nordic countries we still enjoy the old form we played in childhood, though we nowadays also have the choice of the two 'loose croquet' varieties, Association Croquet and Golf Croquet.
It is believed that croquet arrived in Norway in the 1860's. In 1867 Falck Ytter published a book about games, with croquet among them. The same year Christiania Boldlag (Christiania is the old name for Oslo, boldlag means "ballteam," written the old way) started playing croquet - which indicates that at least one sportclub played the game. Both men and women played at Akershus Fortress. Croquet soon became popular in the towns, and was taken up by civil servants living in the countryside, and later by wealthy farmers. Around 1880, just as it did in England, tennis eclipsed much of the interest in croquet, especially in the cities. But In the countryside the old-style game survived through the 1920's.
The croquet renaissance
Around 1970, there was a resurgence of interest in croquet in Norway, where groups were often seen playing in the public parks. At the same time croquet was still being played in private gardens as a family game, as it had been for generations.
No one can say with certainty who introduced croquet to Norway. Falck Ytter with his book in 1867 certainly had a great impact. It is believed that seamen might have brought the game back home from England, and civil servants might have learned it abroad as well.
Today, some Norweigians still play croquet with very short mallets, among them some players at Lillestroem. The short mallets may have been introduced from Denmark, where tens of thousands play the game with short mallets even today. (Danish croquet is a popular traditional form of the game administered by the national sporting body of Denmark and not affiliated with international croquet bodies.)
At Jaeren (quite close to Denmark) and in some places on the southern coast, croquet is played with short mallets. Old pictures from the Jaeren area show long mallets in use, and females playing. Short mallets seem to be a feature of male-only play historically, perhaps because of the body postures required - not a graceful position for a female. However, many believe the short-mallet games were not for croquet at all, but for a scaled-down wicket game called roque, played on sand, not grass, with boards around the court - just as they have in the version of croquet played at Jaeren. (Roque was played in the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis, Missouri.)
Introducing "Association Croquet"
Jeloey Croquet Club (JCC) and Croquet-selskabet (The Croquet Society), introduced Association Croquet into Norway in 1974. The first game there was played on June 8, 1974. Golf Croquet was introduced the next year, after we first witnessed this easy-to-learn game during a visit to the British Isles and Ryde Croquet Club on the Isle of Wight. We also brought back from England the translated Laws of Association Croquet as well as Golf Croquet.
Golf Croquet quickly became the favored game among the two modern imports - Association and Golf Croquet - for the 100 members of the Jeloey club and the other members of the national association. During the Jubilee Tournament, Golf Croquet was played for both seniors (past 18!) and juniors, but Association was only demonstrated. The 1976 and 1977 seasons highlighted the 'British' form of croquet. Equipment had been bought from John Jaques in Britain. At times, Association and Golf Croquet were being played as much as "Norwegian Standard" croquet. The Autumn Tournament in 1976 was the first major event were Association Croquet was played competitively in Norway. All the Association games were doubles, for both seniors and juniors. Golf Croquet was played in the same way.
In 1977 competitions for both Association Croquet and Golf Croquet were introduced. These competitions lasted the whole season, like the Croquet-statistics (in Norwegian Standard) which had started 1970 and which is the longest running croquet competition in Norway. But it was difficult recruit players from other clubs at the time, because no one else played Association Croquet or Golf Croquet in Norway. So nationally, the interest declined. 1981 was the last attempt from Jeloey to stage games described as the 'British' form of croquet, in their 'After Eight' tournament. Golf Croquet was played for the last time, not to be seen again on Norwegian lawns for the next 23 years.
Then, in July 2004, Jeloey Croquet Club celebrated their 30 Anniversary with another Jubilee Tournament, and in the Opening Ceremony the creation of The Croquet Association of Norway was announced! This was made possible by the combined forces of Jeloey and the Brevik Croquet Team as founding members,with the membership now grown to eleven clubs. Since then, both Association Croquet and Golf Croquet have been reintroduced to the Norwegian croquet scene.
It is true that some other groups had independently started playing Association Croquet, among them Nord Jarlsberg County & Croquet Club, Christiania Croquet Selskab and Oslo Croquet Club, but without any national organized presence, they had little or no impact on the development of the sport in Norway.
Because of Jeloey Grand Tournament, the first international tournament in Norway, staged by The Croquet Society and JCC in May 2005, the first National Team was organized by The Croquet Association of Norway. The tournament developed into the first Nordic Championships. In April the same year the National Team learned how to play Association and Golf Croquet. They beat the Finns, who also had just learned the games, but were less successful against the Swedes. The Norwegian National Team, however, achieved a measure of revenge in the autumn when they beat the Swedes in Golf Croquet during a battle between the two brother nations 100 years after the union between Norway and Sweden was dissolved.
What the scene looks like today
Much of the croquet played today is in public parks, on long grass. In late 2005 the foundation of an international-type lawn was laid by Hjulmakerveien Crocket Club in Fredrikstad, 2/3 size. At Jaeren four or five outdoor lawns are also said to exist. Earlier, in the 1950's, five lawns had been built at Lillestroem, close to the river, but flooding took them away.
The first National Championships were played in 2005, for all three forms of the game: Norwegian Standard, Association Croquet and Golf Croquet. The Croquet Society produced the Norway Open in August 2007, the second international tournament in Norway, held at Holmsbu. The Norway Open was played again, in May of 2008. The winner of the event is also the Nordic Champion, as the Nordic Open is played at the same time.
The prospects of croquet in Norway in its various forms seems good. The season is short, but hardrocked vikings play even in snow and ice - and where else can you enjoy a game of croquet under the midnight sun?
CROQUET CONTACTS IN EUROPE
Anyone interested in finding out more about croquet in the countries affiliated with the European Croquet Federation may contact their national organizations directly.
Austria, www.croquet.at, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tore Gulbrandsen lives in both Moss and Oslo, Norway. He is the founder of The Croquet Society (1970), co-founder of Jeloey Croquet Club (1974), Oslo Croquet Venner (Friends) (2005), introduced Association Croquet into Norway in 1974 and Golf Croquet in 1975, encouraged the creation in 1970 of the long-running annual croquet event (Croquet-statistikken, or The Croquet Statistics) and the Norway Open (2007), an annual golf croquet tournament. Tore was the first president of The Croquet Association of Norway (2004-2008), and is now leader of The National Team. Divorced, with one daughter, he loves travel and has contributed to two books about travel. He also enjoys designing logos and postal stamp camcellations, some with croquet themes.
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