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Welcome to Nationwide Bowler

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Nationwide Bowler Magazine
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WOOD YOU BELIEVE IT!

Michael McEwan meets Scotland’s all-time greatest bowler, Willie Wood MBE, to chat about a glory-laden career . . .

Long before the World Wide Web was dreamt up by a London businessman, there was another WWW making an impact on the global stage.

And, as he celebrated his 70th birthday in his home village of Gifford – just a short drive from Edinburgh – William Walker Wood was able to look back on his extraordinary bowls career with significant pride.

He has more medals than an army major, more caps than a hat-stand and more happy memories than 100 childhoods, some of which he was more than happy to share with the UK’s No.1 bowls title.

Willie, first and foremost, a very ‘Happy Birthday’ from everyone at Nationwide Bowler. Did you do anything particularly nice to celebrate?
Not really. I just had a quiet thing with the family. The big celebrations were five years ago when I turned 65 and there was a big surprise party laid on for me but there was nothing like that this time.

Could you have predicted that, at 70, you’d still be competing and winning in major world events?
Not at all. In fact, I said in 1988 – after being beaten by a complete fluke by David Bryant in the singles final in New Zealand – that that was it for me playing bowls at the top level. I’d had enough. Four years later, however, I was picking up two gold medals. Four years after that, I was picking up two bronze. Four years after that, I was picking up even more gold!

Could you take us right back to the start, then, and tell us a little about how you got started in the game?
Well, I come from a bowls family. My grandfather, my father and my mother all played. In fact, my father was the Scottish singles champion in 1967. However, it was long before then, 1951 in fact, that I took an interest in the game, mainly because there wasn’t much else to do in Gifford. Plus, at that time not many people had a car so you had to rely on public transport to get you wherever you wanted to go. A lot of my friends went swimming at the nearest pool in North Berwick but, if I wanted to go, I’d have had to take two or three different buses just to get there, so I just went to the bowling green to practice instead and everything just sort of went from there, really.

And how long did it take for success to come along?
I joined the club when I was 12 but I wasn’t allowed to take part in the club championship until I was 18. However, I won it at the first attempt but then I had to go and join the army and, when my service was up, I signed on for another year to earn more money. So, I was away for three years – and never once in that time did I get to bowl. However, I came back in November 1959 and, in 1960, I won the club championship again. I’ve since won it 23 times.

What an incredible record. No wonder international honours came along when they did.
Yes, well, I had a trial in 1962 and didn’t get in the team but I didn’t try again because you had to be nominated in those days. In any case, I’d met my girlfriend around that time – who later became my wife – so I wasn’t too bothered about going for another trial. However, one of the selectors – a guy called Willie Dick – came to me and said, ‘Go on, get your club to nominate you.’ After that, I went to our secretary and asked him to put me forward. I got in in 1966 and I’ve never been out of the team since. Forty-two years, a record.

Speaking of records, you were the first athlete ever to compete in seven Commonwealth Games. They have played quite a significant part in your career, haven’t they?
Oh yes, I love the Commonwealths. I first played in 1974 in New Zealand and I managed to get a bronze medal in the singles there, which I was more than happy with, particularly because the greens were so fast – I’d never played on greens that quick before – and you had to use a different type of bowl there. So, my love affair with the Games started quite early on.

And what about the World Outdoor Championships. You’ve played in nine and had some great successes. What is your most enduring memory from these events?
Funnily enough, it’s from a match I lost! I was pipped for the singles gold medal at Ayr in 1984 by Peter Belliss. He beat me by a matter of millimetres and that was a sore one to take, particularly in front of my home crowd. However, I was speaking to someone recently who had been on holiday in Australia where he’d picked up a bowls magazine and in it John Snell had written a column all about the greatest game of bowls he’d ever witnessed and, sure enough, it was that match from 1984 between Belliss and me. So, even though I lost, I was pleased to have taken part in such a great match.

You’ve made amends for that defeat though on plenty of occasions – you’ve got 15 championship medals after all. Do you think you could add to your haul?
Well, I’m playing okay. I had a good indoor season and played well in New Zealand and I know the other players want me there, which is great. They say to me, ‘Willie, if you don’t go, who’s going to fill your place?’ which
is nice, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Assuming you don’t add any more medals, which one will you look back on and be most proud of?
Probably the first gold medal I won, which was at the South African Games in 1973. It was a proper gold medal as well, made from the gold mines. I beat David Bryant in the final, and that was when he was at his peak, but, on that day in South Africa, I beat him 21-11. I went back to there again eight years ago in 2000 and there were still people who remembered me and that win!

Conversely, what’s been the biggest disappointment you’ve experienced during your career?
Losing my brother in 1961. He was 17 at the time – and a very good bowler as well – and his death was obviously a helluva devastation for the family. These things are all part of life, though.

Do you still have any ambitions that remain to be fulfilled?
I’d love to be the oldest man to win the Scottish singles – and I’m going to keep on trying until I do so!

Finally, in years to come, how would you like people to remember you?
In New Zealand this year, a lot of people who I’d never met before came up to shake my hand because, they said, they wanted to shake hands with a legend. I was flabbergasted by that and even more so when I read a
journalist refer to me as ‘arguably the best bowler in the world’. That was pretty nice. Needless to say, I kept the cutting from that article!

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