BOWLS: IT'S official: They have now heard of crown green bowls down south, writes John Buckley.
Go further than Birmingham and it seems that all the greens have been ironed into lawns.
If ever there was such an emergency, you could even play tennis on them. Or croquet, or putting. But you cannot play crown green.
Especially as southerners have not previously recognised its existence.
Money, population and people of influence are all in the south so it has been hard for crown green to shove in its northern nose.
Sport England, for instance, had seemingly been under the impression crown and flat were different arms of the same sport. Rather than different sports played with the same arms!
They have a rule to only support a sport on a national basis if it has one governing body. Crown green does but isn't national. Flat green doesn't but is national.
Therefore, far less popular sports - such as badminton, Rugby League and sailing - are included in the top 20 given funding and both bowls codes are excluded.
But now things have changed, thanks to a Sheffield MP who instigated the first crown green bowls debate in the House of Commons.
Helen Jackson generalised the sport's problems of disappearing greens and facilities in need of modernisation.
She said 155,000 players play crown green every week, compared with 23,000 in RL, 55,000 canoeing and 50,000 who play badminton.
'I challenge the Sports Minister (Richard Caborn) to show any participation figure which does not put crown green in the top 10,' she said.
Another criterion for Sport England support was retention.
'Crown green attracts 6,000 new players every year and they play for 25-30 years,' she said.
'To ask crown green to join with flat green is like asking Rugby League to join with Rugby Union.
'The BCGBA is recognised as the governing body.'
But she acknowledged crown green was often played by older people and it could not meet the final criterion of success, with no international competitions.
She continued: 'I would like to know why we are failing to support a sport that keeps so many of our constituents fit and active in retirement. Is English sport suffering from ageism or are we only interested in supporting potential medal winners?'
Caborn pointed out individual clubs could and do apply for cash. There were also 'unification' talks under the title of Bowls England for all governing bodies to work on strategy and development.
Jackson's speech, together with canvassing of Sport England by the BCGBA, has let the south know what goes on up north.
Chief executive John Crowther, who lives on Wirral, said: 'We are hoping to be recognised as a separate sport, just like RL and RU.
'I think Helen Jackson was making people aware of crown green's existence. I really believe in the south they just did not appreciate how important it is in the north.
'Nationally, we are not desperately short of money but we would certainly be able to distribute funds if they were made available to the sport as a whole. I think the authorities are now accepting crown green, albeit reluctantly.'
Cheshire's major problem is of disappearing greens and poorly maintained public park facilities.
Crowther says there is only one green attached to Wirral pubs - yet there are more players than ever.
He added: 'It is still a cheap sport to play. You can play every night of the week for a fiver.'
But greens are expensive and breweries can see a better return from other uses for the land.
Sport generally is shifting to municipal pitches and the future may be in laying several together in a central complex, in the way amateur football is organised.
To do that, major grant funding would have to be forthcoming and for that to happen, Sport England would have to learn the difference between a crown and flat.
'At least they know we exist now,' said Crowther.