They are one of Pembrokeshire’s most successful county sides, and yet recognition hasn’t always been easy to come by, writes Fraser Watson.

But having won eight consecutive Welsh titles, and a total of 18 in 28 years, not to mention becoming the first ever Welsh team to be crowned British inter-county champions in 2019, it’s fair to say the Pembrokeshire Short Mat Bowls squad deserve some belated praise.

The structure beneath the county side is also strong. Two affiliated leagues and 20 club sides, with matches taking place around the county on a weekly basis. Sides involved have produced numerous British and World champions in decades gone by, the Tavernspite quartet of Mikey John, Jamie Stiles, Rhydian Rees and Chris John were recently crowned Welsh Rinks champions, while father and son Paul and Andrew Hudson (PSMBA President) have represented their country at international level for over 20 years.

And yet, like numerous other sports in our county, short mat bowls is enduring a fight against the tide. The game is predominantly run by an older generation, with enthusiastic youngsters difficult to come by. Sound familiar?

“We need to get more players involved,” admitted Pembrokeshire captain Rhydian Rees.

“We do have a mix of ages playing and females as well, but numbers have dwindled. Youngsters often start up but then finish once they go to University.”

Rhydian was speaking to me at the hall in East Williamston, where he had invited me to attend an open session to players within the county. Upon arrival, the camaraderie between those present was evident.

Indeed, the bar was open for starters.

And Rhydian explained how that British inter-counties win, achieved following a nail biting win over Mid Tyrone, was so significant.

“The Irish are amazing at the way they market the game.

“For context, their national federation has 40,000 affiliated number. In Wales we have 3000.

“The game here doesn’t receive any funding, so all trips are self-funded. All money goes to outdoor and long mate bowls as those are more popular formats and outdoors is played at the Commonwealth Games.”

Of course, this is where the likes of myself must take partial responsibility. Short mat bowls is undoubtedly considered a minority sport – and minority sports don’t always enjoy adequate press coverage.

In a day and age where results are easily accessible, albeit via social media, there is little excuse for not publicising excellence.

And the league’s junior organiser, Clive Law, accepts the internet is now an important tool.

“We have to help ourselves now and have a PSMBA Facebook page. Things like promotional videos can encourage youngsters.

“We had three under 16s in the county squad, but numbers have dropped. It’s a game that is hard to market as other sports get more exposure.

“But we have been invited to a Welsh Youth team get together in Carmarthen and from there a squad will be picked to play England Youth. It’s encouraging to see that we do have players to have started young with us and eventually joined an adult team.

“Obviously we lose some dependent on University and careers but those who get involved realise this can be a great family pastime.”

And Clive added for those looking to start up, experience is irrelevant.

“We have world champions mixed with novices in this hall tonight.

Anyone who wants to try the game we can arrange something and direct them to their nearest club. Not everyone plays football, or cricket, or netball and so on.”

Indeed, I’d earlier pulled up in the car park to see a familiar face walk by me. Mark Rees, an old friend, explained he had taken the game up a few years ago – and loved it ever since.

Nor is short mat bowls a game that discriminates. As Clive pointed out, the sport is disability friendly and caters for wheelchair users or those with visual impairments.

Indeed, one individual success story to come from the system is Milford Haven’s Raymond Lillicrop, who in 2018 represented Wales in the Para Triples event at the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Throughout this discussion, practice matches were ongoing. Players were joking and having a drink together, and yet the competitive element was obvious.

I had earlier rolled down a few looseners under the guidance of Andrew Evans, one of the county’s and Wales’ leading players.

Sure enough, after a pep talk about weighted sides and angles I’d managed to leave a couple of woods within spitting distance of the jack.

However, when it came to performing for a team of three in a pressure situation, my first attempt rocketed into the backboard. My second barely stayed on the mat. My third was just about acceptable.

“It’s an addictive game,” explained Andrew.

“Different tactics come into it all the time and you have to adapt to singles, doubles, triples and rinks. It can get tense, when we won the inter-counties there was big noise and celebrations.”

He showed me the mobile phone video of the finale. He wasn’t lying.

Watching intently throughout had been John Munt, the League Chairman who had also served as President from 2000-2016.

He almost stumbled into the game by accident after agreeing to sponsor the shirts of the Tabernacle team. Feeling obliged to go along and watch, one thing led to another and he ended up playing, captaining, and serving on the committee at the club before being nominated for a county position.

“The success is there to see it’s the numbers which are the sad thing,” he explained.

“It was so pleasing to see us retain the Welsh Championship and then win the UK title. But although we play seriously the county side and league matches is about camaraderie. After games players will sit around and eat together and that is all part of the evening.

“Short mat bowls in as accessible game. It doesn’t take all day and in terms of facilities you just need a decent sized hall and the relevant mats.

“The halls make for a great atmosphere when people are playing.”

He isn’t wrong. The scene from the side-line was a colourful one.

A mid-session break was accompanied by a raffle and pit stop at the bar. In few other sports in the county do you see teams train and mix together so willingly.

And in few others can we boast such an unprecedented run of success either. Short mat bowls may not be up there in terms of marketing and publicity, but the results from our top teams and players speak for themselves.

It’s time many of us stood up and took notice…….

  • Anyone wanting to know more about the Pembrokeshire Short Mat Bowls Association can visit the website on Both the league and the county side are also in desperate need of sponsorship in order to continue to function and be successful at national level. Any companies or individuals willing to help can contact PSMBA Secretary Lesley McKenzie on, or via the contacts page on the PSMBA website.