Croquet is the quintessential upper-class English summer sport. It is the reserve of the well-spoken, wealthy gentlemen of London and the Home Counties. And it needs to remain so.
Don't get me wrong, Croquet is a fantastic game. It looks beautiful, strictly laid out on an immaculate lawn, coloured balls dancing through elegant white hoops, white trousers and collared shirts betraying its ancient English heritage. It goes so well with sunshine, barbeques and Pimm's summer cocktails. There is a handicapping system, like in golf, so that good players can play pleasantly and competitively with beginners. While its basic rules are easy to pick up, its extended, complicated and convoluted laws together with reams written on tactics can satisfy the most ardent and enthusiastic player, umpire, or spectator. A nice gentile game, one would suppose. We might be led to think that this great game, like cricket, tennis and golf, should break out from its ultra-posh home and become democratised such that anyone can and does play. We might start lobbying for inner-city Croquet lawns: Astroturfed permanent installations so that fourteen-year-olds can have a game on a Friday night instead of littering the steps of Debenhams. But we would be very wrong to do so.
When John Prescott was photographed playing the game in his country retreat when officially stepping in as PM while Tony was on holiday, there was an uproar. This man, elected as the peoples champion in the northern Labour heartlands, was betraying his roots, his party and the ordinary working folk of this great country. Croquet is not for working men. It is part of the aristocratic culture that a Labour leader ought to oppose or at least avoid. Croquet must retain these associations: it must be seen as an exclusive and snobby pastime, relic of the empire and everything bad. To make it popular would be a disaster.
The reason is that Croquet causes ones blood to boil. You can miss a ball or hoop you are right next to, surrendering your turn and the chance to get into a leading position. And in missing, you have also put your balls right next to those of your opponent, who gleefully steps up to whack your balls fifty metres apart and impossibly distant from the hoop you had been a foot away from and so far from the other balls that they are a mere dot on the horizon. He then goes on a break and leaves his balls next to each other so that he can wreak havoc when he returns. Recovery is then impossible. If you get your balls close together, your opponent sends them apart again. If you get close to a hoop, you will spend half an hour hitting the rim and having to start again.
There is no other game in which a small mistake or an opponents fluke will cost you so dear. There is no other game that will frustrate every sinew in your body. There is no other game in which your misfortune is transferred so readily to your opponents smug glee. There is no other game which is so directly and personally vindictive. There is no other game that generates quite as much hate for the opponent. There is no other game in which a three stone mallet is given to you. And therefore it is no small mercy that there is no other game quite so restrained by social graces. Without the strict gentlemanly code of conduct, backed up by a close-knit and exclusive society that knows you and your family; without the need to keep up a good reputation and behave in the way expected by your peers in front of powerful men and impressionable ladies, the Croquet lawn would be a bloodbath. This game must be handled with extreme caution.