Eric’s epic stories bowl you over!

Eric Wallace

Eric Wallace

First published in Sport Lancashire Telegraph: Photograph of the Author by , Sports reporter

ERIC Wallace has hustled with The Hurricane, watched England win the World Cup for 50p and was once whitewashed in a badminton match by an opponent wearing ballet shoes!

All amusing and interesting anecdotes of a man whose enjoyment of sport is matched by his success.

Today, Eric is a seven-days-week bowls man but he says his experiences in a wide range of sports have helped him succeed in later life.

As a schoolboy footballer, Eric played in the same Blackburn town team as Ian Gillibrand – a former Arsenal and Wigan player who tragically died at the crease playing cricket.

The pair were part of a town team that reached the last eight of the England Schoolboys Cup, a feat that hasn’t been repeated.

And it was while studying at QEGS that he got to watch England lift the World Cup, not to mention seeing the great Pele and Eusebio in action.

“I went to school with a boy called Andrew Kitson who suggested we try and get some tickets,” recalls Eric.

“I didn’t think we stood a chance but we ended up getting what was basically a World Cup season ticket.

“We got all the North West games and saw Pele and Brazil in action, the semi finals and third/fourth place play-off and the final.

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“I still have the ticket and it cost me 50p to see England win the World Cup final!”

It cost Wallace the same amount to take on Alex Higgins, who between his two World Championship wins in 1972 and 1982, would play for beer money in pubs and clubs in Blackburn where he once lived.

“He was incredible,” recalls Eric. “Alex was the reason why the likes of Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan took up the game and made so much money.

“We would queue up to play him. You never had a chance but it was just a case of being able to say you had played the great Hurricane Higgins.

“I once remember him making a break of a hundred in two minutes 20 seconds. He had a stop watch and some one on each pocket to take out the balls!” Badminton too was a sport that Eric excelled in while studying at Coventry University.

However there was one match he would rather wipe from the memory banks.

“I was on court and this chap walked on wearing ballet shoes,” said Eric who gained England standard coaching qualifications. “I thought he didn’t stand a chance the way he was dressed. I spent the whole game picking the shuttlecock off the ground and lost 15-0!”

But while Eric has been a talented snooker, football and badminton player in his time, it was in bowls that he found his true calling.

And he has Aunty Edith and Uncle Earnie and his understanding wife Christine to thank.

As is often the case, he stumbled across the sport by chance.

It was on a visit to Christine’s bowls-mad relatives in Surrey that he was roped in and he was hooked.

“We were visiting my wife’s relatives Aunty Edith and Uncle Earnie who were heavily involved in their bowls.

“We went to watch them play and they were short of a player and asked me to play.

“I loved it, so much do that on my return, I went and joined up a local club.”

That was back in 1970 and it was in the flat green bowls.

And Eric proved to be pretty useful, playing over in Bolton he went on to play and county level and, memorably, reached the All England finals in Worthing in 1984.

“I always thought that if you have that hand-eye coordination then you should be able to turn you hand to most sports,” added Eric. “I found that when I first took up bowls. It was a sport I found I could quickly adapt to because of my interest in other sports.”

An adapt he did, playing in an All England final and earning his county badge which he received off John Bell, the England number one at the time.

“Getting my county badge was a big thing for me,” he said. “To receive it from John Bell, who had the time, was the main man, made it even more special.”

Family commitments meant that Wallace swapped the flat green bowls for crown green bowls – the version played exclusively at clubs across East Lancashire.

Again, it was a version he found very easy to adapt to with notably success coming in the Ribblesdale Wanderers Floodlit Pairs where he and his son Adam became the first local bowlers to win the event in 2010.

He has won the Sabden Open which attracts bowlers from across the North West in 2011 and was runner-up the following year.

Indoor bowls or ‘thinking man’s bowls’ as Eric calls it has also been a big passion of his. He first took up the game in the 80s then put it on the back burner until he retired.

Now aged 65, Eric has shown he has lost none of his skills or desire for the game.

He has won notably singles and doubles competitions, has again played at county standard and, alongside Accrington’s John Schofield, is on the verge of reaching the national finals.

Eric’s latest venture is helping to set up and run the Dorothy Southworth Indoor Bowling League at Roefield Leisure Centre – and he is loving every minute of it.

“I have never run a league before but I was approached by the centre to help set it up and oversees things and I am really enjoying it,” said Eric.

“Considering this is the first time we have run it, all the teams have really taken to it and are enjoying the challenge.

“Indoor bowls is a lot different to the crown green bowls this players are usually used to and it does take time to adapt to the indoor game.”

With Eric also due to run a junior course at the centre, it takes his bowls up to seven days a week – not that he is complaining.

“The good thing is my wife can’t really say anything as she got me playing in the first place!” he said.

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