Member Profile – John Guy Club Captain

Club Captain, John Guy

I read recently that the development of modern theories of thermodynamics have shown that perpetual motion devices are impossible. 

And yet here I am, sitting in front of the embodiment and living-breathing definition of perpetual motion, our very own croquet club captain, John Keith Guy.

My impression of John is that he never seems to stop, so I was really pleased to pin him down and keep him reasonably still for a couple of hours early in January, whilst we chatted about his love of croquet and Broadwas Croquet Club in particular, over coffee at the St Johns home he shares with wife Jackie.

Because of his seeming omnipotence in all things croquet-related, it’s difficult to imagine a time before John picked up his first mallet. But he reassures there WAS such a time, and John places all the blame for his introduction to croquet and his growing obsession with the sport, on club president John Steel.

John recalls vividly that it was 2008 when his ‘ex’ rang him to pick something up from the shops on his way back home. John called in at the Co-op in St John’s and while he was in the supermarket, he spotted a flyer amongst the many that the now defunct Co-op branch often displayed on its numerous notice boards. He later found out that the notice had been placed by John Steel.

The flyer read ‘Do you want to try something new? Come and play croquet with us on a Friday evening and have a glass of wine!’  Said John of the invitation, “Well, you can’t resist, can you?”

John thoroughly enjoyed his introductory session in Golf Croquet and began playing regularly. In those days, the club  day was Tuesday and John swiftly arranged to take Tuesdays off, after negotiations with his then employer, Smiths News. “I got hooked very quickly” John admitted. After a year – as the grip of croquet got tighter – John asked Smiths News for a further day off.  Initially, the management at the Worcester branch refused, until John threatened to resign. They relented and John was then able to play in the Association Croquet afternoons held at Broadwas on Wednesdays.

Early GC success for John when the Worcester News covered the club’s success in the GC Inter Club Shield. From left, Stuart Smith, John Barber, John Evans and John Guy

John played a lot of sport early in his life – playing ‘parks football’ for a team in Birmingham  and occasionally playing cricket, table-tennis and latterly, badminton. In his younger days, John even qualified as a Class 3 football referee, enabling him to referee parks football matches.

At the time, John had been working in what he described as ‘odds and ends jobs for a few years,’ having left the job he held for 30 years as a computer program analyst at Kays Catalogues in Worcester.

I asked John about his early life. He was born in Old Hill in the Black Country. “Black Country born, Black Country bred, Strong in the arm, And weak in the head” said John cheerily. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that as a Brummie, who went to college in Wednesbury. Although accurate, it was too close for comfort!

A grammar school pupil, John took his 11-plus exam a year early and consequently sat his A-levels at just sixteen.  Deemed by his headmaster to be too young to go to university, John sought work in the then-fledgling world of computers after a neighbour spotted his aptitude and encouraged him to work with computers.

So, in 1963, John  wrote on spec to every firm within ten miles of Birmingham likely to have a computer and eventually secured his first job as a trainee programmer, working for an insurance company. John described the original computers as huge – being seven feet high with a broad base, but they only possessed a memory of just four kilobytes. He later moved to the former engineering firm Archdales in Worcester because he felt that the insurance company wasn’t keeping pace with the advancement in computing. He moved to Kays around 1972 until the millennium, when Kays began to make people redundant. Immediately after John was made redundant, he did what John described as odds and ends – a series of jobs including working in a day care centre, working for a Malvern inventor who developed and marketed reusable toaster bags and two spells in the civil service.

I, for one, had always viewed John’s command of all things administrative in the club to be impeccable, but there was once a chink in his infallibility. One of his civil service roles was related to agriculture and he was responsible for re-mapping farms with regard to their eligibility for farm subsidies. One day, John discovered that two neighbouring farms were claiming subsidies for the same piece of land. John asked both farm owners to submit a response to his findings.  One farmer immediately responded, while there was a long delay from the other. The latter blamed his tardy response for a flood caused by burst pipes. The famer said his paperwork had been ruined. John remapped the farms from aerial photographs and wrote to the farmer expressing his sympathy for the flood, adding that to help the farmer respond to his request he was enclosing a new mop. Give John a break though. Maybe typing just isn’t his forte.

In 2013, John won the Winter Dash trophy – only ever competed for once! Later, John and Jackie won the Summer Stroll trophy

After his introduction to GC in 2008, John practiced as much as he possibly could – even playing with other members through the winter. On 30th June, 2009, John ceased work altogether, enabling him to improve in Association Croquet, which was held at the club on Wednesday afternoons. Just one year later, John joined a team of six which included Janet Bedford and Josie Watson for a three-day AC event at Cheltenham – and won it.

John also recalled that he was in a Broadwas team which won the South West Federation’s Golf Croquet tournament in 2009. I’m often impressed by John’s recall of places and dates, which, during my conversation with him, he was instantly able to confirm by referring to his collection of diaries and notebooks dedicated to croquet and Broadwas Croquet Club.   

When I put it to John that he is the one of the most organised people  I have ever met, he dismissed it with an “I just love croquet so much.” Pointing to one of his many books he said “I just have to fill them in.” John  even keeps score cards from past matches, as well as every handicap card he’s ever had.

I asked John how long it took him “to get good” at croquet. In my previous chat to Janet Barber, she had remarked at how enthusiastic John was when he first joined the club. John said that he did get some coaching from John Barber when he joined the club but recalled “In those years, the winters were different and quite a lot of the winters we would play through. Most Tuesdays between 2008 and 2009 during the winter I would be at the club all the time it was light.” He often played then-members of the club, John Edwards, an experienced player and John Evans, who joined the club roughly the same time as John. John said “Because we could play over winter, I got a lot of one-on-one coaching throughout the year. “Once the frost had gone you could play.” There  was even once a winter tournament set up a the club called the Winter Dash, based on the same rules as the Ryland Trophy.  It was intended to be played for on the first Tuesday in January. “We haven’t been able to play for the cup since 8th Jan 2013.  We managed to play it once.”

In 2009 and 2010, Broadwas only played in the South West Federation at GC and AC. GC was handicapped, while the AC league was split into three sections depending on handicap. John started in the B-level team which then progressed to the intermediate level. In 2014 the club won the South West Intermediate League at AC and then progressed to the top league, known as the Federation League.

In 2011, Broadwas joined the West Midlands league because the club then wanted to play in level play Golf Croquet tournaments. Although the South West had just started a level play competition, there were only six teams in it and some were as far afield as Cornwall. John reckoned John Barber ‘chatted someone up’ who he knew in the West Midlands league that he met through friendly games and they let us join it. John said that even today “Very few clubs are in two Federations.” 

From John’s collection of newspaper cuttings. Worcester News story when Broadwas won the West Midlands Federation Level Play Golf Croquet League in 2016. From left, Stuart Smith, Janet Bedford, John Guy. (Not pictured, Roger Wood)

John suspects that the West Midlands league possibly wished they hadn’t let us in, “Because from the first eight years we entered, we won it seven times.” We won and won and won.” At that point, Stuart Smith, who joined the club just a month after John, was club captain.

When Stuart became chairman, around 2012-2013,  John took over the role of club captain. The only thing that John hadn’t remarked on in his extensive diaries was when he took over as club captain, although he had noted that in 2010 and 2011, the club first won the national Murphy Shield for Golf Croquet.

“As a club we’ve expanded hugely since I started,” said John. We had about fifty members then. “Once people come in  and try  croquet, they love it. The problem is  getting them there. I think we’re a very friendly club. We don’t have any cliques – and a lot of the shuffling around that goes on in rollups on Tuesdays and Fridays helps tremendously.” John recalled that in the early days, members would turn up in a group of four on a Tuesday and play together all afternoon without mixing. He feels that the mixing up of players on rollup days has helped develop the friendly atmosphere the club has today.  

Early success for John as a winner in the High Bisque Tournament held at Cheltenham in 2010

John recalled that he played his first league match in 2009 against Dyffryn, at home.  John had been playing off a nine but a week before the match, John Barber  changed him to a seven. The match was  at home. John asked the captain John Barber who he was playing first. He pointed to the player – Kevin Ham – “He’s a Welsh international!” Noting the look on John’s face, his captain said “It’s alright, play off your marbles.” Kevin Ham was playing off a one handicap. “I beat him,” said John. 

When John came off the lawns and told his non-playing captain  “I won and I’ve still got a marble in my pocket.”  John Barber replied “You can come in here with a marble left and tell me you’ve won, but come in here with a marble left and tell me you’ve lost and I’ll chop your @$*% off.”

In the early days of the club there wasn’t a booking system and through the summer John recalled “On a Tuesday we’d be at the club from 10.00am till about seven, playing singles in the morning.” 

John attributed his early rapid progress to practice and said “To get better, you’ve GOT to play singles.” “You have to do your thinking yourself.”

In the early days of the club, not every member had a handicap card, only those who played in competitive matches against other clubs. John still has all of his handicap cards from the beginning of his competitive career. The handicapping system wasn’t as rigid and there were no blocks, but there were a lot of knockout competitions at the club, including a handicap singles open men’s handicap, ladies handicap and level play. “People would keep an eye on handicapping – a little bit.”

In the news again – John pictured in the Worcester News when he won the Ryland Trophy for the fifth time in seven years, in 2019

The club’s current official handicappers are Jeff Faulkner, Stuart and John. The cards are taken in regularly to check people are filling them in properly and Croquet England strongly recommend that the procedure is done annually at the very least.  In the early days, John was TOLD by John Barber that his handicap was nine and had dropped to seven in June 2009, but within 12 months John had gone down to three.

John currently has a handicap of one at GC and five at AC. John explained that the index system for handicapping has changed over time. When John started, the highest handicap possible was 12 while the lowest handicap was zero. Nowadays the highest handicap is 20. 

I asked John if he felt he was a croquet ‘natural.’  John said “There are people who don’t look idiotic straight away – I think I’m one of them. John said he used to play ‘a fair amount’ of golf when he was younger. John felt that initially, his golf experience helped a lot – in particular with keeping his head down during a stroke. In golf that’s the first thing you are taught. ‘Keep your head still.’ It’s all about hand-eye coordination.”  If people aren’t playing well, John said that he will stand behind them and watch and often picks up that they aren’t aiming where they think they are. In the past, I have been a victim of John’s beady eye. “Some have an innate ability to see the line – you can’t teach that,” said John.

The technique of ‘casting’ is something that John doesn’t get on with. He doesn’t like it. “It either suits or doesn’t,” he said.” John admits that he  will vary his grip, depending on whether he is taking short or long shots.

Broadwas were West Midlands AC League winners in 2015. From left, John Evans, Janet Bedford, John Guy, Ian Dampney
Broadwas were West Midlands AC League winners in 2015. From left, John Evans, Janet Bedford, John Guy, Ian Dampney

John said that he was pleased when he  qualified as a GC referee in 2015. He was one of only two of the twelve candidates who passed at that sitting. He qualified as a GC coach later. Jeff Faulkner is the club’s other qualified coach.

John said “Jeff does more coaching, but if you’re captain and have to look at handicapping, coaching helps.”  John takes a look at  all  new club members in order to assess their coaching requirements. “Some other clubs insist on new members undergoing a course of coaching when they join.”

Knowing John is keen to see Association Croquet expand at the Broadwas I asked him “Which do you prefer – AC or GC.” There was no hesitation. “AC,” John replied. “In AC there is so much more to think about. “It’s like chess to draughts.” “Some people like draughts, others prefer to play chess. “Some people prefer to be involved every second – if you want that, play GC.”

One thing that John would like to see at Broadwas is an increase in the rate of play at rollups.  Perhaps that’s the computer program analyst side in him coming out.

John says he prefers to play singles. “You need to play at your rate.” John says the average time he takes for a GC  singles game is 25 minutes.

Nowadays,  the only GC tournaments he plays in is the blocks.  John believes it is important for players with higher handicaps to play better players, so they can learn from them. As a result, John admits he isn’t a fan of the handicap system and ‘extra turns’ and refuses to play in games that use the system. He feels that the system  teaches players a totally different game. He believes that if you have, say, eight extra turns, you SHOULD really win every time. John said “That’s why We joined the West Midlands Federation because there’s one GC league and no handicap restrictions.”

Since John’s passion is for Association Croquet, he pointed out that Broadwas has won the AC West Midlands league a couple of times. “We’ve won the top league in the South West once, the middle league once, he said.

Second time winners of the Murphy Shield (GC), Broadwas team members Janet Bedford, John Guy, Stuart Smith, John Edwards

The Broadwas AC team  generally has  Stuart, John , Roger Wood, Ian Dampney, Ian Lambert and Janet Bedford to call on as its base squad, with Gill Brooks joining the West Midlands side. John said “The club’s  only got seven to eight AC players, so finding a team can sometimes become a struggle.”

John says that although he likes to play games quickly, he’s much more laid-back than people think. He’s prepared to sit and wait – on an AC lawn. “I love AC.”

John said, somewhat ruefully, that he plays fewer AC games per season “Because we don’t have competitive AC games at the club.”

John would really like to encourage more people to take up AC. Having had a couple of introductory AC sessions, I would agree with John that there’s much more to think about in AC. I confess that I’d forgotten quite a lot between the two sessions. John said that he and John Evans were in the same boat. He said “It must have been five or six sessions ‘before the light went on’ and we realised what you are trying to do.”  As a result, John has dropped the GC captaincy in the West Midlands Federation GC league and now Jon Carrington will take over the  level-play golf croquet captaincy.  John will only play in  the league if Jon is short of players.

John received a diploma from the Croquet Association for Services to Croquet, in 2020

John keeps ALL the Broadwas results in a series of books, heavily illustrated with photographs and newspaper cuttings from over a decade. As he pored over one of the books, John said he now feels  he wants to “slow down a bit.” He went on “Because I prefer AC, the thing I’ll chop is the GC.”  John feels that he’s found many players don’t have the patience or tenacity to stick long enough to learn what’s going on.

Perhaps it’s understandable that John feels he may need to cut down a little. Besides the work involved in being club captain, John was captain of both of the West Midlands Teams last year – the level play GC and the AC. He is also the league organiser for the West Midlands Association and is on the West Midlands Federation Committee. On top of that, John and Jackie have seven grandchildren between them, spread all over the country – AND he has a strange and obsessive desire to visit the Hawthorns every home game to watch The Baggies – a ritual he has followed for 69 years.

John’s prized brick, declaring his love for Albion, in his back garden

I felt slightly uneasy when John said he wanted to slow down. I’ve heard it said from almost everyone I’ve spoken to about him, that John is indispensable.

I asked John “Where do you get your energy from and keep on top of everything?”

John replied “It’s down to organisation.” As a career computer program analyst, he was once in a team that had to write six million lines of code. He feels that the work you do does influence you. The job moulds you in a certain way. You HAVE to be accurate (in computing). “It’s made me logical. All the things you have got to do – write them down.” He went on “Go to the list every day, then drop them out of your head.”  John said he does one thing at a time. “Focus is important,’ he said. It’s why he hates mobile phones as a source of distraction. Most people who have ever emailed John will have been impressed at the rate he replies and acts on them.

I asked John, “Would you say you are inherently competitive?” His reply was an instantaneous “Yes.” He added “Not at work because I joined an industry which was fledgling. People get promoted to their level of incompetence.” Of the club captaincy, he said “When I accepted the  job, I wanted to do the best  I could.”

Although John is trying to reduce some of his workload (he used to be club secretary), he’s happy to greet new members who want to apply for membership as well as assess  their handicapping and coaching needs. John admits that some of his captaincy responsibilities keep him out of Jackie’s hair.

I asked John if  there was anything he would like to improve at Broadwas Croquet club.

John replied “Speed of play, and more people to get involved.  I would like to see more younger people play.  We need to get young blood in and people who will do jobs.”

“To paraphrase JFK,” John said, “Think not of what Broadwas Croquet Club can do for you, think of what you can do for Broadwas Croquet Club.”

Paul Felton