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Battle of the Secs-Gen

Selected and edited by Bob Alman
from recent postings on the Nottingham Board
and photos mostly via Google
layout by Reuben Edwards
Posted August 9, 2014

Related Links
The Ballot Box for recording your vote
Goodbye, Martin, Hello Stephen: The French exit interview, Croquet World
New Zealand's Quadway Hoop tops the chart in CA testing, Croquet World
Interview with the creator of the Nottingham Board, Croquet World
Golf Croquet World Teams in Johannesburg, a polished 30-minute video
Williams & Clarke: Croquet's first couple, Croquet World from 2007
Golf Croquet: Benefit or Bane? Croquet World

Stephen Mulliner was voted into office last year as Secretary General of the World Croquet Federation after Martin French resigned following his four-year tenure. Martin had taken over from Chris Clarke, who served about half a year in the position. Mulliner and Clarke are both extremely capable men, excellent croquet players, and experts in the British style of debate, as they have amply demonstrated to the worldwide audience of the Nottingham Board, croquet's main email newsgroup. The Secretary-General is the main (and indispensable) officer of the Federation, organizing the Management Committee, scheduling events, interpreting and applying official policies, and managing day-to-day administration. It's a difficult and demanding job which pays very little for the "part-time" it is advertised to occupy. Clarke moved to New Zealand from England several years ago to be with his wife, Jenny Clarke, and has become an important figure in New Zealand croquet, advising on innovative developments in hoops and court settings, as demonstrated in the recent MacRobertson Shield world teams played in the United Croquet Club in Christchurch and two other Kiwi venues.

The email debate emulates the British parliament

The exceedingly positional rhetoric on the Nottingham Board reminds one of the debates in the British parliament and of the "debating societies" at Cambridge and Oxford from which many students there "graduate" into partisan politics in Britain. Non-Brits are typically puzzled by the training future politicians get in obscuring "justice" and "the truth" by delivering facts from the podium in a skewed fashion. In fact, "winning the debate" appears to be more important than discovering the truth or arriving at a just solution for some issue or another that may transcend the factual truth. The following excerpts represent only a small portion of the sniping between Chris Clarke (now resident in New Zealand and the strongest player in that country) and Stephen Mulliner, the new Secretary-General of the WCF.

Stephen Mulliner is one of a handful of players whose kinetic energy is a gift to shutter-bugs. Photographer Brigitte Breznik of Austria noticed that he finds it necessary quite often to get on the ground, for various types of measurements and sightings.

Clarke was in top form helping New Zealand on its own home turf beat England in the 2014 MacRobertson Shield series.
The issue being argued with great heat and some acrimony below between these two formidable debaters is simply that the English Croquet Association did not select Chris Clarke to play in the Golf Croquet World Teams which debuted in Johannesburg in November of 2012. Clarke contends that this was unreasonable, unfair, and unsupported by WCF policy. Mulliner argues back that the issue of Clarke's back problems was not sufficiently taken into account. As usual in such debates, both sides score points, both sides are right, both sides are wrong, both sides are justified in saying what they say, and both sides are decidedly and publicly bitchy.

How does everyone else in the world benefit from this? To be fair, the exchange does include some education about the mores of the British (and formerly British) and the exchange also provides some solid data on the relative merits of Golf Croquet and Association Croquet and croquet's top-ranked competitors in both codes, Golf Croquet and Association Croquet; but for the most part and to most people, putting this conversation on the Nottingham Board appears as an unseemly exercise in the airing of dirty laundry.

If they were really gentlemen, you may ask yourself, wouldn't they have undertaken this debate in a more private matter? No, they wouldn't, because they both really believe they are right and they both believe they can make the other wrong. And in fact, they both ARE right, because each of them chooses the facts that supports his hypothesis, and ignores the facts that do not--just as the politicians do in the parliamentary debates, which are finally "won" by the voices which get the most votes at the ballot box.

Dear reader: We invite you to vote on the winner!

It is in that spirit that we invite you, the reader, to plow through the following emails (slightly edited only for clarity) and for once, help us actually choose a winner. Surely the obvious conclusion of such a debate must be a vote! CROQUET WORLD hereby conducts an informal poll that allows you to CHOOSE the winner. It's only sporting that the poll includes two questions--and we ask you to treat them as two different questions, not one question phrased in two different ways:

* Who won the debate? Clarke or Mulliner?
* Should Clarke have been selected for the team, or not?

We predict that both contenders will assert--accurately!--that this selection from a very lengthy exchange is insufficient and presents a biased version of their case. Too bad! Isn't that the way politics always works?

The year 2008 was also a good one for Chris Clarke, 43, who won the World Championship in New Zealand in that year, which he now calls home with his wife Jenny Clarke, the highest-ranked female player in the world. Mulliner has the means to travel often to play croquet and to promote the game. Here here he obligingly touts the main sponsor's message after winning the fifth Austrian Open in 2008.

Dear reader, it's all up to you, now, to render a verdict on this debate. Don't forget to send in your vote, from the BALLOT BOX at the end. This time, we can, we shall, and we must produce one winner and one loser in this confrontation! And may the best debater win!

In a message dated 7/30/2014 10:29:22 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
[Chris Clarke's email] writes:


Whenever something goes badly wrong, I always hope that good will comes of it. When you failed to select me two years ago, as well as receiving apologies from various members of Council, I was assured that lessons would be learnt and things would improve.

I was prepared to accept that and I am confident that I would have let the matter die a natural death if :

* England had not failed to reach the final of World Teams
* England had managed to get a player into the last 16 of the last Worlds
* The strength of English Golf Croquet events hadn’t deteriorated so badly.
* Promising English croquet players were not saying that they didn’t want to play Golf Croquet because the quality of events was so poor.
* The Golf Croquet Selection Committee had actually done something in the past two years to provide coaching to English Golf Croquet players.

However, since these multiple failures have occurred, I do feel annoyed and frustrated (bitter if you really insist), that no lessons seem to have been learnt from the failure that occurred two years ago. You were Chairman [of the English Croquet Association Selection Committee] at the time of the original decision, you are still the Chairman now, in my opinion you shoulder a very large degree of personal responsibility for these failures.

When I played in and won the most important Golf Croquet event in the [New Zealand] South Island, it was insufficiently relevant because it was a single game event. So Croquet New Zealand's decision to play it as a double round robin rather than best of 3 was held against me. The other event, the New Zealand Open Doubles, involved both single games and match play. Both events had at least as many games per day as World Championships. I should at this stage note that no game data for doubles events was provided to the Selection Committee despite its key role in the World Teams.

I believe that your main comment was " “If you want any advice, get yourself over to the UK and play successfully in the strongest Golf Croquet events including the British Open".

[Mulliner said...] We did not make a final selection decision until after the British Open in June 2012 and you could have played just in that event to prove both your current strength in top-class best-of-three matches and the ability to play without physical risk for more than two days at a time.

[Clarke]: So, you want me travel 12000 miles to play in a 3 day event when I had played in (and won) three 2 day events and one 3 day event in the two months prior to the advertised selection date. That speaks volumes. Perhaps at this stage, I should mention that you selected James Goodbun who had never played in the British Open. I had won two New Zealand Opens and two NZ Open Doubles, won a medal in the World's before last and had the following game record in the selection period compared to others.

I hope that the [English] Croquet Association’s Selection Policy isn’t going to be changed to state “Players who play a lot and get a lot of average results will be regarded as more likely to win than players who play less and constantly win”, but that’s what you chose to do.

The fact that you regard winning the New Zealand Golf Croquet Open Doubles, the New Zealand Association Croquet Open Doubles and the New Zealand South Island Golf Croquet Champs all immediately prior to the stated selection date insufficient reflects very badly on the Croquet Association. As John Prince said, “I do hope he (Chris) is not being discriminated against because he lives and plays in New Zealand. That would to my mind smack of "colonialism" and that would be very sad.”

I could also add that you told some player/s that they had been selected in May – weeks before the selection was due to be made. Indeed, the selection process was appalling – wrong dates advertised, final meeting when one of the selectors was abroad, not passing information to selectors when promised, the only ranking list provided missing one of the players (me), no doubles data, data from 4 years ago excluded which would have been included based on the advertised selection date.

Then there were the comments from a member of your committee;

“things have moved on and young guys dominate the sport”.

Let’s see how accurate this is. By my reckoning, the average age of the semi-finalists in the British Golf Croquet Open this year was about 50. The average age of the finalists was over 55 and has been over 50 for the past 5 years.

“you couldn't be part of a team including Mulliner”.

Well, I accept that most people know this isn’t easy :-). However, I have been a member of many teams which included you, albeit they have been less successful than teams that excluded you :-). But, seriously, just an appalling comment for a selector to make when choosing the team most likely to win.

Indeed I regard your comments as a shocking indictment of the Croquet Associations GC Selection Committee.

SM [Mulliner]:Yes, I am sure you found it shocking that the Golf Croquet Selectors actually applied the official Croquet Association Selection Policy.

[CLARKE] The appeal did not find that you applied the Selection Policy nor did they find that you ran a full and fair selection process. The only thing that they were prepared to say was that you did not “wilfully” fail to apply it. In fact, with their multiple criticisms of the Selection Committee and subsequent changes to the Selection Policy, the Appeal went as far as they could do without actually finding that you wilfully failed in various areas. Indeed, one of their recommendations was that in future, they should be able to review selections without the requirement to prove “wilful” failures.

Perhaps the most damning statement is that Robert Fulford felt forced to advise me to represent New Zealand in future because he believed I had no chance of receiving a fair hearing by the Croquet Association Golf Croquet Selectors.

I actually care quite a lot about the strength of English croquet and seeing a Committee fail it as badly as you are currently, saddens me. I will now cease from any further communication for another 5 months and urge you to change the culture of continuing failure that your committee is responsible for. It isn't my problem any more--I've just enjoyed winning the Mac for New Zealand. However, I do still care about English croquet - let’s see England’s set of talented youngsters helped to achieve their full potential with some coaching and mentoring.

- Chris


I’m sorry to see that your non-selection for the England team for the first Golf Croquet World Team Championship in 2012 is still such a source of bitterness. You really should get over it and move on. While you are entitled to your opinion that you should have been selected and that you were still playing at the 2,700 grade you earned in 2009, you should at least be able to accept that others were entitled to different opinions, especially when taking into account your lack of relevant play and medical condition at the time of selection. I add comments rebutting your other remarks below.



[CLARK]: If you could provide evidence that you did not state that winning two of Croquet New Zealand's major Golf Croquet events immediately before the advertised selection date was "insufficiently relevant" that would be interesting.

SM [Mulliner]:They were indeed insufficiently relevant. Why didn’t you say outright which two events were “two of Croquet New Zealand’s major Golf Criqyet events”? Were they not the 2011 New Zealand Open Doubles consisting of single games played with a partner over a weekend and the 2011 South Island Golf Croquet, also consisting of single games over a weekend, which attracted a small and not over-strong field? It would have been relevant and helpful to the English Golf Croquet Selectors if you had played in the New Zealand Open in December 2011, played just after the New Zealand Doubles, or the Yvonne Yeates in February 2012. But you didn’t play in either. I think you told me that you avoided the New Zealand Open on medical advice because of your back and the YY because the lawns were too heavy. This is also why, as we understood at the time, you were asking to play as part of a squad and maintained that view right up until the selection decision.

[CLARKE] I believe that your main comment was " “If you want any advice, get yourself over to the UK and play successfully in the strongest GC events including the British Open"

SM: Quite so. Having decided not to play in the NZ Opens and the Yvonne Yeates, you had no recent top-class Golf Croquet best-of-three singles play to your name since January 2010. I could have done nothing but, in an effort to help you, I pointed this out and my advice to you to compete in the UK was serious. We did not make a final selection decision until after the British Open in June 2012 and you could have played just in that event to prove both your current strength in top-class best-of-3 matches and the ability to play without physical risk for more than two days at a time. Considering that the Golf Croquet World Teams Championship was to be a seven day event, this was a material consideration.

[CLARKE] Given that we have seen that no UK event has had 3 players in the top 50 this season, it is surprising that you feel I should need to travel 12000 miles when I had just won an event with 5 of the worlds top 30 in it.

SM: How is it relevant to refer to the 2014 season is this discussion? In 2011/12, the event you refer to was presumably either the New Zealand Golf Croquet Doubles or the New Zealand Association Croquet Doubles. The point of competing in the 2012 British Open is that you would have been competing against other candidates for places in the England team. It also featured no fewer than 8 of the world top 50 in terms of the end-2011 ranking list (Bamford, Mulliner, Cheyne H, Carr, Andersson, Cabble, Beaudry and Rowe). Is that not enough for you?

[CLARKE] Indeed I regard your comments as a shocking indictment of the Croquet Associations Golf Croquet Selection Committee.

SM: Yes, I am sure you found it shocking that the Golf Croquet Selectors actually applied the official Croquet Association Selection Policy and didn’t treat you as the special case that you were obviously convinced that you were. You had made your medical history relevant and I believe that if anyone is injured to such an extent that they are compelled to either suspend or reduce serious competitive play for a significant time, it is inappropriate for them to seek team selection until they have proved that they have recovered fitness by competing in one or more individual events first. If they break down in an individual event, they are the only one to suffer. If they break down in a team event, the team suffers. The fact that you wanted to play as a member of a squad to protect your back right up until selection was a material consideration.

[CLARKE] My wife (a lecturer in sports coaching) is currently trying to recover her composure after reading that the English Chairman of Golf Croquet Selectors does not believe that group coaching has any substantive role in the sport.

She's murmuring things about "game sense" and how group coaching she has received has helped her improve technically.

I'm amazed to be told that I still apparently have misconceptions about Golf Croquet despite having been England's most successful player over the past 6 years. But since I was told that I wouldn't understand the tactics 7 years ago, I guess this shouldn't come as a surprise. :-)

So, it looks like there won't be any coaching for England's Worlds hopefuls. This is a shame. One of the positive things about English Golf Croquet is the large number of younger players with good natural ability that just needs to be better channeled by some decent coaching.

Oh well, I have tried.



In the spirit of participatory reality TV and the cheesy tabloid print press, please email your vote to the editor: If you don't want to copy the form below, just email the NAME of the winner and a Yes or No.


____ Clarke ____ Mulliner


____ Yes ____ No



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