John Prince

Hall of Fame
John Prince

Born: 1945
Inducted: 2007

John Graham Prince commenced playing Croquet at the NaeNae Croquet Club situated in the Lower Hutt Hospital grounds in 1959 by sheer chance.  As a 14-year old schoolboy, he had seen the game being played from the local swimming baths that overlooked the Lower Hutt Croquet Club in Riddiford Gardens.  He was intrigued and, after borrowing "Croquet Today" by Maurice Reckitt from the local library, became even more fascinated.  He visited the NaeNae Club near his home and was fortunate to be invited to have a game by members Melba Miller and Muriel Palmer.  Shortly afterwards, Ashley Heenan was approached and agreed to coach John.

John’s croquet career took off when, aged 17 and with practically no tournament experience, he made a late debut into the 1963 New Zealand MacRobertson Shield team after winning his singles and doubles matches for a North Island team against the Australian visitors.  He caused something of a sensation during the third Test Match between England and New Zealand when he defeated John Solomon, then universally regarded as the best player in the world.  Interestingly, Solomon had himself been selected to play in the 1950/51 MacRobertson Shield against New Zealand when aged only 18 and with a similar lack of tournament experience!

John went on to reach the semi-finals of the 1963 New Zealand Open Championship where Solomon gained his revenge but, nonetheless gained his first national title when he won the New Zealand Men's Championship, in the process of which he defeated the English Test Match players Humphrey Hicks in the semi-finals and Bryan Lloyd-Pratt in the final.

Over the following years, John amassed an impressive number of national titles, including eight New Zealand Open Championships, ten New Zealand Men’s Championships and eight victories in the senior invitation event for the “Best Ten” or “Best Eight” players.  He also won eleven New Zealand Doubles Championships and the British Open Doubles Championship in 1974.

In 1969, he was appointed captain of the New Zealand MacRobertson Shield for the first time and went on to do so on four further occasions including two Shield victories in 1979 and 1986.  He holds three MacRobertson Shield records, namely by being the youngest player ever to compete, by playing in nine series and the first player to play 100 matches in the event.

On 30 March 1970, at Hastings during the final of the Hawkes Bay Easter Invitation John became the first player to complete a sextuple peel in a competition.

John’s contribution to croquet was not confined to playing and winning major events.  He was involved in attempts to publicize Croquet, including an early television demonstration in the days of black and white TV, and wrote several newspaper articles about the national Croquet scene.  He served on the New Zealand Croquet Council for several years and was involved especially with international matters, selection for international and domestic events and tournament formats and conditions.  He provided illustrations for the CNZ publications "Approaching Croquet", and later wrote and illustrated "Practice with a Purpose", followed by a set of supplementary booklets.  He was always keen to see that younger players and those who work were given as much opportunity to compete and so ensured the major events in New Zealand Croquet Council tournaments were played over weekends wherever possible.

Winning the MacRobertson Shield has always been John’s top priority.  Throughout his career, he has been constantly on the lookout for potential team members and has provided encouragement and support to many up and coming New Zealand players.  One of his most significant contributions in this regard was his skilful mentoring of a very shy youngster called Paddy Chapman who is now one of the world’s top ranked players.

John Jaques II

Hall of Fame
John Jaques II

Born: 1820
Died: 1890
Inducted: 2007

John Jaques II was the grandson of Thomas Jaques who founded a company in 1795 that can claim to be the oldest manufacturer of games in the world.  Thomas was a farmer’s son of French Huguenot descent whose recent forebears had found refuge in England sometime after 1685 when the Edict of Nantes forbade Protestantism in France.

Thomas’ son John went into partnership with him and so began a long family tradition which survives to today.  Originally, the firm described itself as aManufacturer of Ivory, Hardwoods, Bone, and Tunbridge Ware” but John’s son, John Jaques II, built a reputation for Jaques & Son as a publisher of games.

John Jaques II enjoyed considerable success in promoting croquet and it speedily became the vogue, not only in England but also in Europe and throughout the British Empire.  Croquet became especially popular in India, reportedly played by The Viceroy himself with a solid ivory mallet, which was probably made by Jaques as part of their finest set of croquet equipment.

The attractions of croquet were obvious with the benefit of hindsight.  It allowed fashionable people to step outside the claustrophobic Victorian parlour and "take exercise" and enjoy the fresh air without any risk of breaking into a sweat.  It provided an opportunity to show off their finery which is probably why the term "crinoline croquet" entered the lexicon.  It also provided young men and women a legitimate reason for mingling and sometimes wandering off into the proverbial rhododendron bushes, momentarily out of sight of the ever-present chaperones!

"Nothing but tobacco smoke has ever spread as rapidly" commented Dr. Prior, an early enthusiast of the game.  Certainly, Jaques and Son, as the modern firm of Jaques of London was then called, had no trouble selling large quantities of croquet equipment.  By the early 1860s, John Jaques II was regarded as the greatest authority on the game and, in 1864, wrote and published Croquet; the Laws and Regulations of the Game which is recognizably the foundation of the modern laws of Association Croquet.

Nigel Aspinall

Hall of Fame
Nigel Aspinall

Born: 1946
Inducted: 2007

Nigel's rise to the top of the sport was nothing short of spectacular.  Studying as an undergraduate at Bristol University, he arriving as a new member at the local Bristol club in 1965 at the age of 19 or so and was immediately given a handicap of six.  He had, he later explained, played a bit at home from the age of 12 or so.  His father had bought a second-hand croquet set and the family had played on a former grass tennis court - despite two Victoria plum trees.  They made up their own rules.

In Bristol, he discovered the real game.  "I could," he says, "hit one ball on to another, at, say, 10 or 15 yards, and I think I had a basic idea of tactics.  But I was playing roll shots inaccurately, and I think I was still playing the sequence game."

A few weeks after arriving at Bristol his handicap was reduced to 3.  He had time before the end of the season for a weekend tournament at Cheltenham and a visit to Parkstone in September.  Next season, with a handicap of 1, he played in the Open Championship at the suggestion of a fellow club member, John Simon.  Together, they won the Open Doubles Championship.  Both were then selected for the President's Cup and Aspinall came joint second to William Ormerod.

Nigel had gone from his first tournament to selection for the President's Cup in just 10 months!  What is all the more remarkable is that there were no lessons on the way.  All he did was to ask a few questions.  As he said: "You pick it up like that, really."  Neither did he ever enjoy the luxury of fistfuls of bisques.

The record books show that, having risen to the top so effortlessly, he stayed there for over 20 years.  In that time, he won the Men's Championship twice, the Open Championship eight times and the President's Cup 11 times, a record that was equalled in 2012 (by Robert Fulford) but has yet to be surpassed.  He won the Open Championship three times in a row twice (1974 to 1976 and 1982 to 1984) and he won four President's Cups back to back (1973 to 1976).  He played in the MacRobertson Shield four times, from 1969 to 1986.  It is worth remembering that when he wasn't actually winning championships, he was usually the runner-up.

Prichard in his The History of Croquet described Nigel as a "practical, match-winning machine," and he was considered by some to be more or less unbeatable for some years.  "No," he says, "not quite unbeatable. No. There were all sorts of people who would occasionally beat me, and equally there were one or two people who found me - um - difficult."

"I think I had the ability to concentrate very well.  If you are concentrating 100%, it takes wild horses to drag you off your stride."  Another quality he had was self-belief.

However, the player who gains the greatest praise from Aspinall himself is John Solomon who, with himself, had a quality of "naturalness" of swing, shown often to perfection.

Aspinall always felt he was at his peak round about 1975, when from the end of 1974 to 1976 he won 24 consecutive games in the President's. "I'd won some in '74, all in '75 and the first five or six in '76. It was Colin Prichard who broke my run."

He believes in practising "a little", and he offers this advice on the subject: "Try to make it exciting.  For example, I have a routine of six-yard roquets, where you put four balls in a line and another four parallel six yards away, and the idea is that you hit as many consecutive shots as possible.  Say you hit three in a row and then miss.  You then have to zero your counter and start again.  But this time - say a week later - you have to improve on three.  As soon as you do, stop.  Don't let it become boring.  In other words, give yourself a target and improve on it."

Aspinall eventually gave up top-level play in 1995 when he learned he was diagnosed as having dangerously high blood pressure.  Commenting he said, " I reckoned it wasn't a good idea to increase the stress levels."

Nigel Aspinall was one of the supreme technicians of the game with his famed touch and control.  His incisiveness and fluency may have been "machine-like", but, unlike any machine, he sought to extend the notions of the possible.  To see Nigel in full flow in his hey-day, usually playing with a battered old mallet - one from his father's second-hand set, was to see croquet perfection.

Nigel is a modest man who claimed to only one significant contribution to the sport, namely that of introducing International Rules to the East Coast of the USA in 1974 on his first visit there.  However, those who saw him in action in the 1970s and 1980s do not accept such a limited account of his influence on the game.  He was the natural successor to John Solomon as the best player in the world and maintained that reputation until almost the dawn of the youthful revolution in English croquet in the late 1980s.

Jack Osborn

Hall of Fame
Jack Osborn

Born: 1929
Died: 1997
Inducted: 2007

Jack was the founder and inaugural President of the United States Croquet Association.  Having founded the USCA in 1977, he stated that his ambition was to be able to go from city to city in every week of the year and play croquet.   He lived to see the USCA grow to have 3,500 individual members and over 80 sanctioned tournaments played annually around America.

When the USCA was founded, the croquet most Americans were familiar with was the nine-wicket, short mallet, two-stake game which had been popularised in the 19th century and played in millions of backyards since.  Jack’s first mission was to convince the American public of the merits of the USCA six wicket game played on a closely-mown court with the same substantial cast iron hoops and heavy balls and mallets used in tournament croquet in other croquet-playing countries.  Initially, he was convinced that this was the only game to promote in America but later he came to recognise the merits of the more aggressive and dynamic “International Rules” game, as Association Croquet is usually called in the USA, and was delighted to see the USA admitted to the historic MacRobertson Shield competition in 1993 where it meets teams from Australia, England and New Zealand every four years.

Jack was an excellent and tireless ambassador and for the sport of Croquet, both in the United States and overseas.  As USCA President, he implemented the advice of John Solomon, the doyen of English croquet, that the first essential step for a new national croquet association was to agree a single set of rules.  He also co-wrote two books on the game, including From Backyard to Greensward.

In a speech not long before his death, Mr. Osborn said:

"The game of croquet, to which I have given such a large portion of my life, fuses so many different elements: competition, a fine eye, a sharp mind, a firm stroke, a large amount of patience, ability to plan ahead and, by no means the least, a control of one's temper.  Few of us have had all these qualities in hand in every game.  But they are there to strive for in all games.  Yet beyond all of these, our game provides that finest of outcomes: comradeship.  It is that which brings us together.  And it is that which I have always enjoyed, wicket by wicket."

 

Andrew Hope

Hall of Fame
Andrew Hope

Born: 1946
Inducted: 2006

The birth of a World Croquet Federation had been mooted several times but, in 1985, it was Andrew Hope who, as Chairman of the Croquet Association Council, decided that the time was right for a thorough exploration of the possibilities.

He took the initiative in contacting the Australian and New Zealand Croquet Councils and suggested that a meeting between representatives should take place at the end of the 1986 MacRobertson Shield Tour which would be held in England.

The meeting took place on 17 July 1986 and Andrew took the chair.  Representatives from Scotland, Ireland, Japan, South Africa, Switzerland and the United States also attended by invitation.

Andrew had prepared a draft constitution assisted by Stephen Mulliner.  This was discussed in detail and a number of issues raised, including the stated objectives, eligibility for joining the WCF, voting rights, officers and committees, subscription and frequency of meetings.

It was agreed that a steering committee should be formed with the responsibility of producing further drafts of the constitution and preparing the way for the formal establishment of the WCF.

The WCF came into formal existence at its inaugural general meeting at the Hurlingham Club in London on 15 July 1989.  It owes much to vision and foresight of Andrew Hope, whose steadfastness and patience overcame all the difficulties that were encountered.

Andrew continued his work for the WCF by acting as its Treasurer from 2001 to 2010.