Torquay's Emma Cooper ready to 'bring bowls to the people' this summer

·4-min read
Bowls' Big Weekend will encourage newcomers to take up the sport (Picture: Matt Bristow)
Bowls' Big Weekend will encourage newcomers to take up the sport (Picture: Matt Bristow)

By Rachel Steinberg, Sportsbeat

BOWLS, insists Emma Cooper, isn’t solely a pastime for pensioners.

Perhaps, in fact, if you’re among those who perpetuate that stereotype it’s you, rather than the sport, who needs to catch up.

Torquay-based Cooper, 25, is one of Bowls England’s ‘NxGen’ stars, and one of 10 English bowlers bound for July’s European Championships in Ayr, Scotland.

And if anyone knows about who’s bowling these days it’s Cooper, whose day job title is Club Development Officer at Bowls Development Alliance.

“It’s definitely something that’s beginning to change,” said Cooper, speaking ahead of Bowls’ Big Weekend on May 27-29.

“And I think especially with the Commonwealth Games coming up this year, and being a home games as well, I think it will help to show that it’s one of those sports that’s not just for old people.

“It’s for anybody, it’s for anyone regardless of their age, ability, there’s no sort of barrier to participation in our sport, really, which I think makes it quite unique in that sense.”

You only need look to London’s hipster rooftops to see the cool factor bowls could boast, with Stratford’s Roof East hosting the sport this summer season.

“It’s a really good way of allowing people to have a go,” agreed Cooper. “It’s taking bowls out of the typical environment and bringing it to the people.”

Getting to the elite level, however, is a different story, and Cooper’s started age 12, when, after years of watching her grandad, she was finally old enough to give it a go herself.

She said: “The rest is history. I really got hooked on it. And here we are.”

By 2017, Cooper was a four-time national junior pairs winner – her favourite event – and was part of the national triples-winning squad in 2021.

But before most of those accolades of her own, Cooper was a 13-year-old watching Devon’s own Natalie Chestney, who is Commonwealth Games-bound this summer, win singles gold in Delhi.

Cooper said: “From that moment I always saw her as my inspiration, when I first started out in the sport. It’s nice now to actually consider her a friend, and we’ve played together as well.”

Chestney and Cooper are now clubmates at Torquay’s Kings Bowling Club, and the younger bowler admits it took a bit of time to adjust to watching her hero on telly to swapping strategy on the green.

“It’s a strange one!” she acknowledged. “Because, it’s kind of naturally evolved through involvement at various sorts of competitions and levels in the international setup.

“And then I moved down [to Devon] through university and work, then we ended up playing at the same club.

“But no, if you’d asked my 13-year-old self, I probably would never have thought that I’d even competing at this level.”

It’s hard to say if teenaged Cooper or the present-day iteration is more thrilled about the European squad call-up, which will see her squad compete in a revised format that replicates the Commonwealth Games and World Bowls Championships.

For the girl who grew up dreaming of one day competing at a Commonwealth Games of her own, this is the first foot forward on the path to following in Chestney’s footsteps, if even a bit earlier than she expected.

“I’d been hoping that one day I’d be getting to play in [the European squad],” she said.

“But to actually get the call-up this year I was over the moon.”

And while Cooper may still have to wait for her own Commonwealth Games call, she reckons England’s top squad will make the most of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“It’s everyone’s dream to play at a home Games,” she added.

“I’m sure they’ll come back with medals around their necks and they’ve got every chance, I think.”

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