‘Lawn bowls is not an old man’s game2 min read
Pharaoh herself took up the sport because her parents played. As a family they were constantly at the green; she and her mum Chris won the national doubles championship. Indeed, Chris and Amy’s dad Bernard, are sitting on a bench watching their daughter in action.
“She won the national under-25s competition when she was 12,” says Bernard, showing a picture on his phone of a young Amy holding up her trophy, dressed in what was the required female bowls uniform back then of white skirt, brown shoes and, oddly, a brown trilby.
“When she was 19 she became the youngest player ever to bowl for the full England side. She was that good, they had to change the rules for her. Because up ’til that point you could only play for your country if you were over 25. She’ll tell you that’s not true, but it was.”
Pharaoh smiles when told of her father’s enthusiastic endorsement of her part in the sport’s development. “It’s not quite right,” she says. “I think they were changing the rules anyway.”
Whatever the case this is a sport that has come a long way. Cleethorpes, for instance, was for generations an exclusively male-only bowls club.
“When the members’ wives came to pick up their husbands, they had to stand outside,” recalls Chris. “Women weren’t allowed so much as to set foot in the clubhouse.”
This was not 1850. This was the 1980s. And how things have changed since then. When she won gold in Delhi in 2010 Pharaoh, then known by her maiden name of Gowshall, became the poster girl for bowls. Young, athletic, female: she was everything the sport was thought not to be. But when her son was born in 2013, she walked away from international competition.
“Time was the thing. When I had Harry I couldn’t commit to being away all weekend and working full time as well,” says Pharoah, who earns her living as a PE teacher at Tollcross Academy in Grimsby. “I still played when I could. And I’ve never lost that drive, never once thought this isn’t for me. When I wasn’t playing and the World Championship was on, I was sat at home thinking I want to be playing.”