World Exclusive – England’s Steve Thornton

Very difficult to criticise the BTBA as nearly all the people trying to turn things around are volunteers. We should all back the BTBA right now, no excuses, starting with all unsanctioned leagues becoming sanctioned !!!

Why would a bowler not pay £20 membership for the year when they probably pay between £10-£15 / week in league lineage that baffles me. Anyone saying what do they get for the £20 well I’ll tell you what you get – ‘THE SURVIVAL OF OUR SPORT’ is that not enough!!!

Steve Thornton is proof that hard work can pay off, As you will learn, he was rubbish, bowling with a back up and a hop. Sheer determination took him to national and international titles and medals. Learn more about this rather exceptional Englishman.

420704_10151496826184864_2043983952_n.jpgWe met back in the 90’s on the YAC tour, It was pretty strong and a lot of good players, How did this help turn you into the player you later became?

I really wasn’t that good as a YAC player. I was moody and one bad shot away from being a miserable sh**. However I really enjoyed the YACS. Back then I really didn’t appreciate how good the YAC circuit was and how good the players were. But looking back so many of those players could have been amazing international / world players if they had made that choice. To me the YACs was an important stepping stone and gave me a yard stick as to how I was improving or not as the case was sometimes. Getting beat up by the players back then as many were a lot better than me made me a much tougher player to beat as I got older!!!

I remember you sticking a 279 my way in the finals at Wigan, Who from that era could have gone on to more had they continued?

There were a lot of great players in the YACs in the 90s when I bowled and if they continued could have become world class players.

Colin grose Paul Loberman Paul Evans jnr Bradley Jerram Gavin Wood, Scott Banks Alex Thompson, the Seymour brothers, Dave Woods Rob Tanner. Plus two players I bowled alongside in my youth and early YAC days Richard Flower and Matt Gator

I am sure there were others and I apologise if I didn’t mention you but the above really stick in my mind all of which had they devoted more time to the sport could have accomplished many great wins. Some did go on to represent their country and win events both YAC and adult but if they had trained as hard as me and we’re still playing now they may still be beating me on the lanes. Where is everyone now I feel like the only one left from when I grew up a few still bowl a little bit.

You know if they put their bowling shoes back on and trained 4/5 times a week they could still become that player!!!!!!!!

394311_10151496815219864_1272180400_n.jpgFor people unaware of your career from the junior and YAC days, can you remember the wins?

The wins haha well as a junior I only won one meaningful event and that was my last ever junior event the NAYBC masters at bush bury in Wolverhampton. I never represented England at Ybc level. YACS i did start to win a few events 3 singles events that I remember one at Burton, Rotherham and airport bowl. I never played for England at YAC level either. To be fair to the selectors I was probably not good enough until my last year in YACs anyway. However our YAC county team was a fantastic unit back then and we won the counties three times. Plus during my YAC years I won my first adult county championships. Plus my break through win the London international in 1995 and 2nd the following year in 1996.

I can vouch a little for the moody, We all were at that age, I remember you going out in two rounds at the YAC Matchplay at Burton, You had booked for two nights so Gavin Wood, Alex Thompson and I got your room for free, Thanks again for that. A player at that time was Jason “Cocky” Cockerall, What did you make of him?

Note to viewers, Cocky Cockerall was a bowler who wore a pink shirt and beige Chinos, had a blond streaked Richard Marx haircut.

Hahahaha Cocky Cockerall wow that brings back memories he was definitely a character and he had his moments on the lanes. He won a couple of YAC events and was a gritty competitor but if I remember rightly he was only around for a couple of years. At that time in the YACs Colin grose and Paul Loberman were winning nearly everything. I felt Colin was the most complete player on the YAC tour fantastic player!!

The one thing about the YAC TOUR back when we played there were many great characters and that’s lacking a bit now. Players back then showed emotion were really vocal and the skill level was higher as the numbers of players were greater and the versatility in the players was much better!! It was fun to watch!! Cocky Cockerall like him or hate him had great character !!!! Alex Thompson, Gavin wood, yourself , Colin, lobbers , Scott banks, the Miller brothers from tolworth, Paul Evans brad Jerram fantastic characters players that all wanted to win and that made that era so good to Bowl in!!!!!

71660_482933869082_853623_n.jpgHaha, I was not fishing for a compliment or mention, I could play a little and wanted to be good but just did not put the work in to reach that next level. If we lived those YAC days now with the sport today, how different do you think things would be?

Somehow we need to recreate our YAC environment today. There really is no YAC tour anymore not really or none that provides a platform for that age group to progress. Massively different we had a great tour with great characters and it flourished for about 3-4 years. We would lose the players in a year in today’s game. So much needs changing now we could still get the sport back where we want it but massive decisions need making quickly.

You are right about recreating the YAC environment. So much needs to be done with the UK sport, things appear to have gone backwards in recent years, What do you see as the problem and how would you improve things?

Wow, this is the million dollar question right everyone wants to know the answer!! Well I could write a thesis on this but currently our sports future resides with our governing body the BTBA. Like you Dom I have not seen anything in the last few years that tells me the sport is on the up. I believe the BTBA are running out of time now to turn things around however I still believe they can but brave decisions now need to be made and better communication between them and their members is a must.

If action is not apparent soon the only way forward would be another governing body being formed. Very difficult to criticise the BTBA as nearly all the people trying to turn things around are volunteers. We should all back the BTBA right now no excuses starting with all unsanctioned leagues becoming sanctioned !!!

Why would a bowler not pay £20 membership for the year when they probably pay between £10-£15 / week in league lineage that baffles me. Anyone saying what do they get for the £20 well I’ll tell you what you get – ‘THE SURVIVAL OF OUR SPORT’ is that not enough!!!

Now I realise some centres lanes are not sanctioned there really is no excuse for this even if it’s just for the maintenance and longer life of the lanes themselves. Surely It does not make business sense for them not to be sanctioned!!! Come on BTBA make me believe our sport has a future in the UK!!!!!!

946972_10152824109735324_1549354276_n.jpgBack to the very beginning Steve, Where was that and what made you want to play more?

Right at the very beginning I went to Bretton bowl in Peterborough where I used to live with my parents when I was 12 and I was hooked after the first game. I just always wanted one more go!! A week later I moved to Bournemouth probably didn’t bowl again for about 6 months and as a 12 year old didn’t know if there was a bowl in the area and obviously moving schools bowling was not high up on my parents priorities haha.

Anyway few months later, I went bowling at Bournemouth Super Bowl and joined the YBC a few weeks later. I was absolutely rubbish had no clue what I was doing, there was no coaching available. I didn’t join the club with anyone and I found it hard to fit in to the crowd that was already there. Wow I was a crap back up with a hop at the foul line for 2 years!!!!

So funny when I think back. At the time I was there that the YBC had only a handful of players but they just happened to be some of the best in the country – Richard Flower , Matt Gator , Leon O’Hanlon, Peter Bye to name but a few. But I was hooked nonetheless after a long while the lads started to help me and through sheer determination I got better. I probably nearly quit at least 3 times the first few years. I could barely hit the headpin. If I was them watching I would have been on the floor in stitches!!!!! I have to tell this story as when I look back it’s the funniest thing everTongue out

Ok my first YBC event I bowled at Acocks Green, I reckon late 80s, it was a wood centre then and due to throwing the ball at about 10mph I felt that they hadn’t dressed the lanes. I’d just learnt to the hook the ball, not back up, the right way still conventional tho.

I’d been bowling 4 yrs by now let’s not rush things eh, I started that event ditch, ditch, ditch, 3 count , foul spare, ditch 9 ok so that put me on 21 in the fourth before I went 3 spare and at that point i felt pretty sh** however by the end of the event I managed a 204 last game and Paul Loberman came up to me and said, I can’t remember the exact words, something like f*** me well battled that’s a hard fought 200. I don’t think I broke a 100 maybe twice that event. I didn’t have a clue who Lobbers was then I just can’t stop laughing when I look back on that event. Needless to say it was a few months before I played another event 😂😂😂😂

Why did I keep bowling because I was always told when I was younger you will never make a bowler your rubbish. The only person at that time who believed in me was my mum. And although I was terrible I was on a mission to prove many people wrong !!!! I was hooked and still am.

1238299_10153121665135332_869648756_n.jpgYou did get better though Steve, Quite a lot better, from the junior and YAC days, can you remember the wins?

The wins haha well as a junior I only won one meaningful event and that was my last ever junior event the NAYBC masters at Bush bury in Wolverhampton. I never represented England at YBC level. YACS i did start to win a few events 3 singles events that I remember one at Burton, Rotherham and Airport bowl. I never played for England at YAC level either. To be fair to the selectors I was probably not good enough until my last year in YACs anyway. However our YAC county team was a fantastic unit back then and we won the counties three times. Plus during my YAC years I won my first adult county championships. Plus my break through win the London international in 1995 and 2nd the following year in 1996.

By the 90’s you were a useful player, solid and accurate in urethane days but now with reactive in your hands. How did that change you?

You see I don’t believe I was any good until 1995 when I won the London international for the first time against Chris Buck in the final. It didn’t change me really as I felt I was really only starting to get pretty good during the urethane / reactive transition. I had very slow ball speed when I was younger and I’m not particularly speed dominant now haha. But I was brought up in a centre that was generally very dry and only dressed their lanes probably 2/3 times a week so I learnt to use reactive on very dry lanes. I don’t believe at that point I was any better with urethane or reactive!! Remember I used to go to tournaments with 2 blue dots and a pearl red hammer what an idiot haha

936747_10151496829894864_1889229877_n.jpgYou mentioned the London International win, Which other wins mean the most to you now you look back at them?

Internationally – my gold medal in 2001 at World Games in Japan (mixed doubles with Kirsten Penny) that was the only time I felt I was treated like an athlete, like bowling was a sport like I’d achieved something amazing. Nationally : – 2011 English open where I averaged 256 for 11 games and won the last officially televised event in the UK Plus winning the rankings 3 years in a row from 2012-2014. I won loads before 2011 but coming back after a couple of years of not competing due to the birth of my daughter and bowling even better felt so good!!

I asked Jamie Bottomley in his interview about Dorset, Team play and the need for it’s return. You probably will not like me saying this but that Dorset team centres around you. It reminds me a little of the bond we had in Yorkshire back in the 90’s that believed we could win anything. Is county bowling as close as we now get to Pure Bowling in the UK?

YES county bowling is the closest thing!! The finals are great fun, it just needs to be made bigger, you know no matter what anyone says national team finals is probably the best tournament, with all the best players bar a few, in the country. I believe all the best players should play and it’s such a shame that certain players choose to bowl other events. SSL, MSL and NSL are also good team events for progressing players these leagues need to be made bigger too they could be so good. Nationals this year was 4 man team – such a big step back very disappointing, shocking, I actually got upset over it!!!

305419_10150467205040189_456665694_n.jpgBack to the days there was money in events, Where do you think it all went wrong?

I’ve thought about this a lot and there are many reasons for this. But I believe the main reason is because when the membership to the BTBA started to decline in early 2000’s not enough was done about it. There was no plan so the sport went into decline and this was accelerated by the recession. A lack of members means smaller tournaments and no sponsors.

You know late 90s I remember bowling the World Cup qualifier Friday night because Saturday qualifying was full with over 100 players. It was a sport culture in the bowls then but now players don’t wanna bowl against the best players, they don’t want to practice to get better, they want to score with no effort.

The introduction of modern lane machines and easy patterns changed everything. There are very few sport centres left now which makes true competitive tournaments with good prize fund hard to come by. The culture in centres has changed and somehow needs addressing.

Having a family and work obviously limits time to bowl, Being that you are a pro shop driller do you find time for a cheeky practice?

I am what I call ‘a lifer’ which means I cannot ever see me not bowling unless I am physically unable. I still bowl 5 times a week, I still bowl A LOT. I still have goals which I intend to chase!! I still believe in and love to practice. I have a very supportive family and am truly lucky they still allow me to chase my dreams.

530963_10151174768712099_771088288_n.jpgOn the subject of drilling, Do you get a buzz still when someone bowls well with your work?

DEFINITELY, I am still always learning about the equipment and what works for certain players. I love drilling bowling balls and seeing one of my players win with them!! It’s an ongoing learning curve and one I will never get bored of. It’s important to get the equipment right as each player is different it also keeps them hooked on the sport that look on their face when they realise they have a look that will strike all day is unreal!!!!!

A tough question now Steve, Of all the players you bowled with and against, which did you leave feeling wow that person is great?

Easy one Walter Ray Williams jnr !!! In 2013 I bowled for England in world championships in Thailand and watched the American team practice and chris buck pointed out that’s Walter Ray HE CAN REALLY BOWL!! I sat and watched their whole team bowl for about an hour, for the first 5 mins what stood out (was even though I’d seen Walter Ray bowl on tv many times before never in the flesh) I thought he looked very ordinary maybe even out of place on their star studded team.

He was 50 then so maybe I thought he was in decline. As the tournament progressed Walter was under the cosh just to make the masters or win anything, then with one day to go in the tournament and his back against the wall He WON GOLD IN SINGLES, TEAM, qualified for masters in last place and then went onto WIN GOLD IN THAT TOO.

Walter turned every chance into a win and every time he needed to strike he split the 8/9 every single time!!! I understood why he was called dead-eye and I also learnt that despite not throwing the ball like Barnes or Tommy or Bill O’Neil he craved the win more than anyone else and he found a way to get it done !!!! I left that event understanding why he is the best ever. It also inspired me to be better even if I only got to be that good once that’s what I would aspire too!!!!

There are calls already to have you inducted in the UK Tenpin Hall of Fame in the next few years, Maybe it is the grey hair haha, Who do you think should be inducted?

I think the UK HALL OF FAME is an excellent concept. Although last year when Paul and Lisa were inducted I was very disappointed, angry might be a better word to see that no one saw them get inducted at the Weber cup like it was not important. Maybe the Weber cup is not the right place for it the national county finals where they were reinducted was much more fitting and they got more acclaim for their achievements.

Two people for definite have so far been overlooked Phil Scammell, and Wayne Greenall they dominated an era of bowling!!! I believe some players get overlooked just because they haven’t had the opportunity to travel and bowl around the World because of family/work commitments or lack of money. Who actually chooses the players to get inducted? What are the requirements for an induction? As it seems very vague!!!!!!!!

What is still on your hit list in terms of achievements playing the sport?

The dream is still to bowl for a living whether that be on the PBA Tour, World tour or in Europe. Maybe I will have to be patient and wait for PBA 50, only time will tell. Currently financially I just cannot afford to travel to compete at those events. Years ago domestic/national events when prize money was good opportunities to compete internationally was easier now not so much. I would love to see the domestic scene grow again. Loved chatters (Lee Chatfield) interview and liked his vision. Currently I am trying to grow a fantastic group of players at Poole. They are the future.

So you saw Lee Chatfield’s interview on talktenpin this week, are we at a stage now where it is time to draw a line under the past and work to lay some solid foundations? plus What do you think of the “Club bowling” concept and trying to follow the Swedes?

Yes it is definitely time to draw a line under the past and start building toward a successful future. As I said in one of my previous answers I still believe the BTBA can turn things around but it needs doing now. Club bowling concept of the Swedes is fantastic but the culture in the centres is more sport orientated and the current culture in England is vastly different and would need to change for that concept to be successful. Counties, southern scratch league are potential avenues where this philosophy could be developed. It would be a great step forward if this was embraced by a big chain of centres.

A final question Stevie as I could ask so many more, What does bowling mean to you, what has it given you and can you put into words that love?

I believe I was lucky to find a sport I truly love. It has given me an escape from reality, it’s like your favourite arcade game but with unlimited levels and skills to acquire, it’s a tease where You continually strive to get better but always feel there is more. The wins instead of easing your appetite make you want it more. It’s like a drug I’m addicted to and sometimes find it hard to back off even for a couple of weeks!!! Let’s just say I like bowling.

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