Knuckle down at England’s World Marble Championships
Former American National Marbles Champion Debra Stanley-Lapic plays a shot at the 2010 World Marbles Championship in Tinsley Green. (Peter Macdiarmid/Getty)
To “knuckle down” is a way of life in southeast England, where the game of marbles has been played for more than 200 years.
Referring to how the hand is positioned when playing the game – with the thumb behind the index finger on the ground – knuckling down properly is just one of the many rules enforced during the World Marble Championships, held in Tinsley Green, an area within the town of Crawley, every year since 1932. Played in front of the Greyhound Pub (Radford Road; 01-293-884-220) on Good Friday (29 March this year), the championship brings together marbles players from around the world to play a version of the game known as “Ring Taw” or “Ringers”.
The game is played with 49 glass or ceramic marbles grouped together on a 2m-diameter concrete cylinder raised 7cm off the ground and covered in sand. Two teams of six players take turns "shooting" the grouping using a slightly larger glass sphere (about half a centimetre larger than the 1.25cm marbles), known as a "tolley”, in hopes of knocking as many marbles as possible off the ring. The first team to remove 25 marbles wins the match and moves on to the next bracket. The champion is determined in tournament-style elimination.
People of any age and nationality are allowed to play. In 2000, Team USA won with a group of players aging from 14 to 35. For the past 10 years, Swiss and German teams have ended up in the championship final, with the German team 1st MC Erzgebirge taking home the title last year. The captain of the one of the UK teams, the Handcross Rebels, played his first tournament in 1952 and received special acknowledgement for his continued play during last year’s event.
"What other sport could boast of a tournament incorporating a team who have played for over 50 years, playing alongside new teams entered for the first time, and players including men, women and children, aged from 8 to 80, all on a level playing field?” said Sam McCarthy-Fox, the secretary of the British Marbles Board of Control that runs the event.
While pre-registration is recommended, visitors can still enter to play on the day of the tournament for the individual or team competition, but arrive before 10 am for the best chance of scoring a spot on the schedule. The games start at 10:30 am and run until 5:30 pm, and spectators are welcome.