‘Say it ain’t so’ – GBC will struggle to replace Joe

BORN in Wales, moulded by Lancashire and ultimately a proud Guernseyman.

That was Joe Thompson, the one-time Crown Green bowler who rescued the fortunes of the Guernsey Bowling Club and was sprinkling his charm and steady hand of influence on the sport’s umbrella body when he finally succumbed to a long period of illness last week.

Garry Collins, secretary of Bowls Guernsey, the organisation which Joe became head of in 2017, said that he would ‘miss his wise council’ especially at this time of crisis for so many sports caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

As Joe’s predecessor as president of Bowls Guernsey, I can also happily tell you there was nobody more aware of the need to change the outlook of bowls and the way it operated, than Joe.

He was a rock of support in my two-year stint as Bowls Guernsey president.

Joe would never shy away from tough issues and was prepared to challenge individuals, take them to task, even though it might make him briefly unpopular.

At his beloved Beau Sejour green Joe Thompson makes the draw for the Rothschilds Open Bowls event which he sponsored heavily. Also pictured are Rob Batiste, Thompson's predecessor as Bowls Guernbsey president, and secretary Garry Collins. (27926863)

Honest and loyal, Joe so deserved the Bowls Guernsey ‘Marion Parker Service to Bowls’ award given to him only last year.

‘The award recognised his countless hours invested into his club and the Island,’ said Collins.

‘I remember fondly just after the public presentation [in September, just after the Inter-Insular Le Quesne match] Joe thanking me and making some comments, about I kept that one quiet, which was his way of saying “do I really deserve this?”

‘My reply was just simply: "Joe without you we would only have two clubs on this Island, who has done more?’’'

Having retired to Guernsey in 2008 he left behind a Lancastrian passion for Crown Green which, of course, has never been adopted here.

Lawn bowls would have to do for the businessman who once managed a workforce of 300.

Sound head and judge: Joe Thompson had the measure of everyone on bowls committees. (27946393)

He saw the Beau Sejour green first, before any other local green, and duly joined the Guernsey Bowling Club.

But the island’s oldest bowling club and a central feature of sport at Beau Sejour for the best part of 90 years, was facing extinction.

He not only set about playing the game, but also saving the club.

A man with the ‘stubbornness of a Guern’ slowly transformed the GBC and while it may have left a small hole in his own pocket, he was quite obviously proud to have saved an old island sporting institution and set it on a pathway to sustainability and a brighter future.

He was born and raised in the Wye Valley, South Wales.

Then came a move to Lancashire where he and his brother set up a successful joinery business.

‘We started with 60 quid and a second-hand car and ended up employing 350 people before my brother, on the sales side, got fed up of forever of having to suck up to customers who always wanted more, so he wanted to get out and I got out too.’

At that stage Guernsey was just a place on a map to the Thompsons, but then his daughter brought about a closer inspection of the Channel Islands.

Speaking to the Press last year he said:

‘My daughter had twin daughters and she moved over here with her role in the finance industry and it was either buy Aurigny, because we came over that often because my wife wanted to keep visiting having been used to seeing them every day, or move over.

‘That we did in 2008.’

With no Crown Green to play here the natural progression was, he said in 2019, to play lawn bowls.

Paul Sargent was running the Guernsey Bowling Club at the time and despite a mountain of work he was up against ever falling numbers and an ever ageing club playing force.

The club was in dire straits and down to 40 members, probably only 30 of which bowled regularly.

‘When you looked at the membership and the average age it was clear that it wouldn’t be long that the numbers would be close to none,’ he recalled, so it became a challenge of how do get more numbers in.

His strategy was simple.

‘I started nagging people. First it was on the golf course, then in the bar waiting for results.’

His spreading of the bowls gospel brought in many novices from his other club, La Grande Mare Golf Club, and he left this world with his adopted club now enjoying the biggest membership of the three island clubs.

Collins much admired his work in the sport and leadership at Bowls Guernsey meetings.

‘Joe and I also worked together as Island selectors for five years and had a good working relationship. We will all miss his passion and keenness for the sport at club and Island level for sure, plus given the Covid-19 crisis we will miss his wise council on our sport over the next weeks and months’.

The GBC flag flew at half mast within a few hours of his passing and, metaphorically, it will be in that position for a long while.

Joe was GBC and his strong direction and passion for the club leaves a massive void to fill.

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