Blackpool bowlers trying to save crown green's 'Wembley'
Blackpool crown green bowling fans have launched an emergency appeal to save the sport’s equivalent of Wembley stadium.
The resort’s Waterloo Bowling Green may have seen its final “end” after the volunteers running it were hit with a massive bill of repairs.
The green, which has been the “holy grail” of bowlers from across the country and beyond has not been able to open for this year’s spring competition and unless safety work is carried out may not be open at all.
The team battling to keep it alive were given a structural report in January which said around £30,000 of work was needed urgently.
The shocked volunteers went back to the inspectors and were told that around £10,000 would be needed to keep it going for 2019 and allow a raft of iconic competitions to take place.
Bowls manager Mark Audin, who runs the Mayfield pub in St Annes, said if it was to close, it would be a major loss to the resort.
He said: “Bowls have been played here for 112 years, if we can’t raise the money then it will all over.
“Once it is gone, it will never come back.”
In its heyday, the Waterloo Autumn competition attracted huge TV audiences and thousands of spectators to the South Shore venue.
It is the UK’s only purpose built crown green arena with seating and terraces.
Mark Audin said it put the resort in the spotlight and brought thousands to stay in the hotels and B&BS.
He said: “We had the report on January 3 but did not get the results until the start of April. It said we had to get work done in three months, so we were terrified.
“We are just volunteers. In the old days it was owned by Greenall Whitley and later London and Edinburgh and the manager was paid, but we are not.
“We are just bowlers who want to keep this icon open.
“We have paid £1,800 to keep the green in good condition over winter.”
He said parts of the South terrace needed to be enclosed in scaffolding to make it safe to use, while urgent work was needed on parts of the West stand and the North.
The East stand was in such bad condition it has had to be demolished.
Mark added: “We do not own the lease, we just sub-let it, but we are in talks with the landlord and if we can get the lease then we could start applying for National Lottery and other grants.
“But we can’t at present and that’s why we have started a crowd-funding site to raise the £10,000.
“We would ask anyone who can to support the fight to keep the Waterloo open.”
The bowling stadium has been separate from the Waterloo pub for some years and the current leaseholder has it on a 25-year full repairs lease.
Stuart Mort, who owns the Alondra Hotel in Hornby Road, but who was originall from Wigan, has been coming to the Waterloo since he was a teenager.
He took part in last year’s Autumn Waterloo competition and just lost out to the eventual winner, Jon Palmer, in the semi-final.
He said: “This is the Wembley of crown green bowling. Everyone wants to play here in one of the big competitions.
“I have been helping out with the green.
“I first came here in 1976 to watch my dad play.
“I had never seen anything like it. There were 3,000 people watching and they were queueing down the road to get in.
“Dad lost on the final day. I was 14 or 15 and I will never forget it.
“If the Waterloo closed it would be devastating. It would be like if Wembley was no more for football fans.
“It is sad to see how it has been neglected. There is a lot of work that should have been done but hasn’t.
“The bowling competitions are fascinating. Anyone of the top players can beat any other, you never know how it is going to go which makes it interesting.”
Publicity volunteer Mark Mills said: “This has been the place to come since 1907.
“We have three league teams based here and the series of competitions.”
He said the spring tournament due to take place this weekend has had to be cancelled but they were hoping to raise the money for the rest and then move forward next year.
He said they hoped to be having their Ladies competition, the juniors competitions, over 50s competitions, the Charlie Tattersall Open, and the British Crown Green Bowling Association’s premier event as well as the Waterloo Autumn Handicap which attracted more than 500 entrants through its many qualifying rounds.
He said: “It is a shame about the East stand having to be pulled down.
“It used to look fantastic it originally had a Victorian glass roof. But that was replaced by another building which was not up to the job.
“When the Autumn finals are on you get 300 people on the terraces alone. It is a bit like Old Trafford, there is a real atmosphere not like in indoor bowls where it it quiet.
“There are four or five bookies there taking bets.
“It is a big event people come from across the North, The Isle of Man, Cumbria and down to Shropshire and Coventry.
“Last year we had two visitors from New Zealand.”
The volunteers said that in the long run asbestos in some of the roofing would have to be replaced and some of the seating, which had originally come from Lancaster Cricket Club, may have to go too.
Mark Audin added: “We need the support of bowlers from across the country, but locally too. Many quite rightly support their own club and look on us as a sort of rival, but the Waterloo is a Blackpool institution and needs help.
“We had to cancel the spring competition and we are refunding, but many of the entrants have said to keep the entry fees to help the fund-raising.”
The group’s crowdfunding site can be found online at www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/waterloo21