Greyhound Marbles


The question of women playing was to the forefront again in February 1970. The Board of Control had rejected an application from a team of women from Brighton who wished to take part. Their captain, Mrs Irene Poole said it was nonsense to suggest that the sight of women crouching in mini-skirts or trousers to flick the marbles would put the men players off. “Most women wear tights, so there would be no question of us revealing stocking tops and suspenders," she said. “In any case, the men should be concentrating on the game, not looking at our knees or bottoms!”


The team was made up of Mrs Poole and her daughter Beverley, Mrs Bravery, Mrs Leonard, Mrs Mansell, Mrs Havell and Miss Whitethread.


A Worthing women’s marbles team has described the ban on women players is ‘ridiculous.’ They were the Williams’ girls a team sponsored by the Worthing branch of the Royal Air Forces Association.


Mr Les Greenfield who has organised matches for them for five years, said “Our girls have played men’s teams and there has never been any embarrassment. They often wear mini-skirts, but no one has ever complained.”


It was bitterly cold this year, there was a north wind blowing across the marbles ring, but even this could not stop several hundred people watching the entertainment. The Local paper had the headline “Marbles wenches” the story was about the Brighton ladies, but the expected demonstration from them did not materials on the day. Ten teams played including the Town Hall Mad Hatter, Jaspers, Jets, Durrington (Typhoons) and the Terribles.


Playing like real champion the Terribles beat the Jets 25 – 10 it was the fourth time they had met in the finals. It seems this year 21 marbles were used in the individuals and not the usual 13 as other years, the result was Len Smith won 13 marbles to 8 winning his 9th title.


The organisers had received inquiries from Australia and Mexico, Len Smith said he would welcome an international challenge, but thought marble skills were an inborn talent. There were 200 red glass marbles sent from the Citroen car firm for the championship, but they were not used, as they did not arrive in time. They were flown into Heathrow at 1.30 p.m. on the day.


Seven teams played in 1971 including the Blue Beats, Johnson Jets and the Toucan Terribles. It was a very close final and for the fifth time a match between the Terribles and the Jets. The score line was 22 – 21 to the Terribles, the Jets missed and the Terribles then scored the three they needed to win – giving them their thirteen championship.


Len Smith beat Frank Butler from the Jets to win the individuals title for the tenth time. He also played a friendly match against Ben Gaynes an American from Connecticut beating him 23 marbles to 3. Ben said after the game that he had been used to using a bigger shooter than those used at Tinsley Green. Ben was then persuaded to present the prizes to the winning teams.


1972 was the first year that teams of women were allowed to play. The Board of control voted by one vote to let them play, it was said by some of the male players that it was publicity stunt by the Round Table, but this was denied by the organisers. Of the nine teams two were all female, the Prima Donnas from Crawley and the Kernockers who were the wives of the Blue Beats – policemen from London. It was said that the ladies took to long to take their shots, even the referee had to apply the time limit to the games they played.


In the semi-finals the Johnson Jets beat the Town Hall Mad Hatters and the Terribles beat Findon. The final saw the Terribles beat the Johnson Jets 25-12. There was a father and son final for the individuals Len Smith had an easy victory over his son Alan.


Mr Saunders chairman of the marbles board presented the prizes.


After the board let women play for the first time last years there had been uproar in the men’s marbles world. There were many complaints about their lack of skill and experience, which held up play. After a meeting of the board before the 1973 championships it was stated that the women’s claims were fully discussed by the board, but a majority rejected equal play. The reasons given were:


1. Marbles has historically been a game for male participation.

2. The game requires players to assume postures that are unbecoming to the female form, and distracting to both other competitors and spectators.

3. The 1972 Championship indicated that women were unable to make a competitive challenge and their continued presence might bring the skills of the game into disrepute.


The board did make a concession to both women and children that they could play on a side ring and have their own prize, if there was sufficient team entered before April 15th. Only one member of the board Mr Rajinder Sagoo was in favour of allowing women to play, he said there should be equal opportunities for both men and women.


Len Smith welcomed the ban on women and said, “Marbles was essentially a man’s game and women just could not have master it. If any woman could have played marbles it would have been my own daughter, but even she has never been any good at the game.”


BBC TV’s ‘Nationwide’ programme visited Len Smith to show him practising for the Good Friday championships. He was also interviewed by radio Brighton, talking about the event. On the Sunday before the championships he and his son Alan were on hand with members of the Round Table showing how the game should be played. He had a break of 43 marbles from the 49 in the ring, and then Alan achieved the near impossible knocking all 49 marbles from the ring in a single break.


On the day there were twelve teams including Shrubland Sharpshooter, the Mad Hatters, the Fudgers, Flickers. After the second round there were three teams in the semi-finals. The Terribles were given a bye to the final and the only semi-final was played between the Johnson Jets and the Rams, the Rams winning the match by 25 marbles to 20. In the final they lost to the Terribles 25 marbles to 16, this gave the Terribles their 17th Championship win.


For the individual championships the highest scorers in each team played off to see who would challenge Len Smith. The winner was J. Fairman of the Johnson Jets, who was beaten 13 marbles to nil by Len.


Les Greenfield organiser of the South of England Marbles Championship was the main tournament referee and Rodney Saunders chairman of the Crawley Round Table presented the prizes.


The 1974 championships should have been the biggest and the best ever, sponsored by Yellow Pages, with many teams playing. This year saw some controversy as to weather Tricia Ingrams of the Capital Radio teams Hot Pants should be allowed. In the end after an inspection by Board Members Paul Sagoo, Chris Ireland and Tony Dick she was given the OK as they were deemed to be short trousers and not a skirt. The game between the Toucan Terribles and Capital went out live on Air, with Toucan’s winning 25 marbles to 3.


 All was going well until the rain got heaver and heaver, which left the rings as sticky as glue and completely unplayable. The man who made the decision to call off the matches was Les Greenfield, after a large cloudburst all the players unanimously accepted his decision.


The remaining games of the Championship were played on Sunday April 28. The Crawley Observer said “There were no surprises in the team championship at the resumed World Marbles Championships at the Greyhound, Tinsley Green on Sunday with the Toucan Terribles notching up their 18th consecutive win.”


This year it was Alan Smith who decided that he would show how to play the game. In the final against the Rams he went in to the ring and knocked out the required amount of 25 to win the game on his own. He also went on to win the individuals beating his father 13 marbles to nil. Alan said, “I have beaten the best player in the world, and he is still the best player in the world. There is nobody that can touch him.”


President of Crawley Round Table Dr Ian Nisbit presented the trophies and prizes.


In July there was an international match at the Greyhound. A four-man team the ‘Enquirer USA marbles team’ challenged the Toucan Terribels to a game. It was a hot sunny day the players from America were the current and the last three years National Champions from Wildwood New Jersey. It was the first ever defeat for the Terribles as the Enquirer team beat them, in three straight games. Miss Yellow Pages and Dr Ian Nisbit presented the prizes. Len Smith said that it was disappointing that there were so few people to watch such a skilful contest. The America team was Rick Mawhinney (1971), Ray Jarrell (1972), Doug Hager (1973) and Larry Kokos (1974). The Terribles were Len, Alan and Graham Smith, Jack and Charily Dempsey with Paddy Petticrew.

An overall view of the International competition July 1974


In 1975 there was a clash even before the championships were held; some players had formed the British Isles Marbles Association and were issuing Press releases referring to the contest on Good Friday. The World Marbles Board of Control, a body set up by the Crawley Round Table, said that it is still completely in charge of the Yellow Pages World Championships.

There has been some confusion as to what roles BIMA and Crawley Round Table will be playing in all this. Chris Morris said that BIMA is still in process of being formed. Although discussions had been taking place between the organisers of the body, players and Crawley Round Table, it had yet to finalise its constitution.


In any case, said Mr Morris the Round Table would continue to be the controlling body of the Yellow Pages World Marbles Championships, and would have representation on the board of BIMA.


Before the matches could begin this year the referee had to sweep snow from off the rings. Crawley Observer said “It was, however a day of misfortunes for the nimble-fingered ‘flickers’ who had travelled from all over the globe to take part in this popular but somewhat bizarre sporting event.


Local heroes the Toucan Terribles fought well against strong opposition to retain their British Marbles Title, and gave a truly spectacular show against the strongly fancied Johnson Jets in the final match.”  After the championship the Toucan’s declared: “We don’t know how much longer we can do it.” This statement came after four hours of knock-out contests in icy winds and freezing temperatures.


In the international the English team – which had three of the winning Toucan Terribles – easily won through to the final match against the team from the USA but in the final match it was victory for the Americans.


This year also saw a team of ‘Penthouse Pets’ playing as there was snow on the ring, and it was also very very cold and the girls being rather scantily dressed did not stay long, only long enough of some publicity shots.


The Argus said ‘A very attractive team of Penthouse Pets brightened up the cold morning but were quickly eliminated’.


The local Observer said ‘Undoubtedly the highlight of the British championships was a glamorous team of Penthouse Pets, dressed in a revealing but slightly impractical manner.’


Dave Allen the Irish comedian was at the Copthorne Hotel in March 1976 to watch the Terribles play three games against an Anglo-American team. It was for his TV programme about ‘Eccentric Britain’, which was shown later in the year. After the demonstrations games Dave had ago and soon discovered that the toucans’ sophisticated approach was not to be mistaken for a school playground shambles.


1976 saw a joint effort between the Round Table and British Isles Marbles Association in running the event. It was announced that the ‘Marbles tourney is international’ With BIMA Belgian twin under the mind-boggling name of the ‘Belgische Knikkersport Federatie entering two teams plus teams from Australia, South Africa, the West Indies and United States as well as teams from France, Scotland Ireland and Wales. On top of this there were local teams D. Fuzz (Crawley Police), Handcross Rebels, the Rams, Flicking City Slickers and the Redifon Ratpack.


On the day the British Club Championships saw the end of an unbeaten run for the Toucan Terribles they lost at their 20th appearance. They lost to the Pernod Rams in a very close three game final. The Rams easily won the first game and looked like winning the second. But the Toucans fought back from being 19 – 1 down to win the second game 25 - 19. In the last game the Rams beat them 25 – 9 winning the “British Open Team Championship”.


There was a statement issued by them that it was to be the Terribles last world competition, as team captain Len Smith is retiring to devote more time to his role as president of the British Isles Marbles Association.


In the International the Gulf Oil team from Pittsburgh retained the title. One British player said “Its only fair really they had flown over 3000 miles to compete and the English team they beat in the final all live within a marble’s throw of the Greyhound.”


In the American team there was a girl player Susan Reagan who showed that women could play she shot from a position down on her knees, bent low across the ring she was very accurate and a pleasure to watch.


After the retirement of the Toucan Terribles, Len and Alan Smith took their respective roles as president and chairman of BIMA seriously enough to break with the Round Table and go it alone. In March 1977 it was announced that BIMA was moving the Marbles championship to the Crawley Sports Centre.  





BIMA held many meeting after they were formed in 1974; I attended many as a representative of the Bow Street Fudgers marble team. These meetings were aimed at giving some of the players more say in how the events were run. I was therefore not really surprised when the announcement came that the championship was to be moved to the Crawley Sports Centre. As a follower of tradition I was saddened that this was to happen and popped in to the Greyhound to see if there was a problem with having a match between two teams of local Morris men as a token just to keep the tradition alive. It seemed to me that the Greyhound at Tinsley Green was the rightful home of marbles and that a year could not be missed with out marbles being played there. I was glad the landlord, Gordon Cantwell agreed and even funded the event out of his own pocket.

Sam with George Burbridge outside

The Greyhound just be for the 1977 championships


When the local press got hold of the story it all got out of hand, it was turned into a fight between the two factions and about who should run the championships. (WELL, AS THEY SAY IN THE PRESS ‘NEVER LET THE FACT GET IN THE WAY OF A GOOD STORY’. PERHAPS I AM BEING A LITTLE UNFAIR, BUT OVER THE YEARS WHAT WITH MISQUOTES AND STORIES ABOUT RIVALRIES BETWEEN GROUPS ARE SEIZED UPON BY THE PRESS TO CAUSE A STIR. I HAVE BECOME A BIT CYNICAL).


 I was quite happy to keep the ‘Marbles’ at Tinsley Green as a traditional event, which in fact is what it always had been. Local press coverage this year was enormous and on the day we had 9 teams to play. Headlines in the Crawley Observer read ‘No doubt about it the Greyhound is a better home for marbles’.


The teams at Tinsley were of the traditional six players each as there always had been, while over at the Sports Centre there were teams of four. They had two competitions, a team event and an international; many of the international teams were made up with local players with only the Belgian team coming from overseas. The Pernod Rams beat the Liquidators to win the British open team championships and in the World championships England ‘A’ beat England ‘B’ by three strait games. The England ‘A’ team was an all Smith team; Len, Alan, Graham and Paul were presented with their trophy amidst mixed cheers and booing.

The Rams, winning team at Crawley Sports Centre 1977


The Handcross Rebels beat the Wessex Wotsits in the final at Tinsley, with Jim Lay of the Wotsits being crowned individual champion.


In 1977 I had limited access to any quantity of target marbles and I had no idea where to get red glass marbles. As this was my first year I used a clear glass marble that was brown in colour. They were a little larger than usual but still most welcome, as I needed quite a large amount. It was some years later whilst talking to the guy who produced the marbles at the Marble King factory in West Virginia about the glass they use that I found that these marbles were made from old beer bottles, in the event I thought most appropriate.  


BIMA took some players over to Belgium in September 1977 to play in the European Championships. The move to the Crawley Sports Centre seamed not to be the success that it was expected to be and the following year was not repeated. BIMA’s main tournament was moved to September and another venue, the White Horse at Rottingdean.  


The ‘Marbles’ continued and were held each Good Friday and still has many players and teams from this time. Each year the championships seem to have grown in both stature and press attention, with coverage from the Worlds media.

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