Roy Armson, a true bowling legend

Roy Armson

On Wednesday of last week, we gathered to pay our respects to a man who became one of the most important and influential people to be involved in crown green bowls.

Roy Armson was one of the greatest players to play the game, one of the greatest to commentate on it, one of the best and most influential people to administer it, one of the best historians and one of the best people to get involved in the development of bowls.

He was a fantastic player who used his Engineering background and encyclopaedic mind to understand biomechanics, tactics, and control of a bowl as good as anyone to ever play the game and was the winner of over a hundred competitions. Above all Roy was a Gentle Man and a Gentleman and was known throughout the bowling world as Uncle Roy.

Roy passed away peacefully on the 11th April in Wythenshawe Hospital, he would have seen his 96th birthday this month.

The following is based on the lovely tributes Charlie Bebbington and Chris Morrison gave at the service to their long-time friend.

Roy John Victor Armson was born on 25th May 1928 in an area that is now the Liverpool One shopping centre, overlooking the docks in Liverpool City Centre. Obviously on a path to greatness and after moving a few times, the family settled in Eccles in Greater Manchester and here Roy developed his love for Manchester United.

In the late 1940s Roy received his call up for National Service. After joining the Army, Roy was first stationed in Hampshire before being posted to Germany and Austria. After demob Roy was a sales representative selling Grinding Tools and equipment across Yorkshire and Lancashire for years.

On the dancefloor of the Ritz Roy met Doris, the love of his life and they married in 1951 and settled in Sale in 1956. As husband-and-wife Roy and Doris were blissfully happy for nearly 60 years and were proud parents to Stuart and Keith. They were delighted when Keith met Pat and they married and had two beautiful daughters Lauren and Megan.

Roy and Doris absolutely adored their granddaughters. Lauren met Rob and they set up home together and two years ago Roy became a Great Grandad with the birth of Elodie.

Although Roy’s contribution to the game was outstanding and immense, he started playing quite late at the age of 28 in 1956. He started at Sale Park under the guidance and mentorship of Arthur West and then moving for improvement to the Sale Excelsior Club where he remained a very loyal and valued member. He contributed at the club, holding various roles in the bowling section – Secretary, Captain, and President to name just a few.

He was a driving force, with others, behind the many successes of the Sale Excelsior club and steering them to becoming one of, if not the best, team in the country in their hay day.

He was clearly proud of his bowling achievements, keeping immaculately detailed records, which have helped in producing this report.

Roy won his first open tournament in 1966 at Bredbury Steel, now known as Woodley Sports, in Stockport and from there he went on to win over a hundred individual tournaments.

In 1973 Roy came over to the Wirral, to be precise to the Albany Bowling Club in Rock Ferry, where he met a teenager called Chris Morrison which was the start of their 51-year friendship, when he came to play in their inaugural 41-up tournament, played under professional rules and sponsored by The Liverpool Echo and Whitbread Brewery. Of course, Roy won it.

Roy’s list of competitions successes is too long to list here but include British Parks, News of The World, Stamford Van Hire, Bryant and May, well trust me  the list goes on for quite a while. He won seventeen tournaments twice and four tournaments three times. He also won twenty-one major pairs tournaments with various partners but most those were with Noel Burrows and Norman Heslop.

I think the first time he became really well known was when he won the televised BBC Masters Tournament in 1969 at The Waterloo in Blackpool and there are scores of major tournament successes on his CV, any one of which, most bowlers would be proud to have won.

Doris and Roy Armson – as usual surrounded by silverware

Chris and Charlie were regular visitors to Roy over the course of their long friendships and when asked about which tournament success he would single out that he was particularly proud of winning. Without hesitation he said the Isle of Man. Why because “My Doris and I are the only husband and wife to have won those individual titles.”

But surely, when you won the televised Greenall County Classic from 19-9 behind in the final that was your greatest victory? “Well, you did say proudest and not greatest.”

“If I was to reflect on my greatest win then there’s one that I would look back on fondly and that was at The Albany BC in 1974. Having given a two start in all games as a result of my win in the previous year, I managed to get to the final again. Playing Brian Duncan in the final and giving him a start that was my greatest individual victory.”

For those wanting to know, Doris was the Isle of Man Festival Ladies Champion in 1969 and Roy matched her achievement with the men’s title in 1975. Doris got the bragging rights with another title in 1979 (Editor’s note – thanks to Phil Kerruish for this information)

Roy made 121 County Appearances, mostly with Cheshire but also with Lancashire and Greater Manchester. He was also Captain of the county teams; he became President of the Cheshire County Bowling Association and was also a BCGBA Delegate for 12 years. He was actively involved in the formation of The Greater Manchester County Bowling Association and The Manchester Premier League. He was fundamentally involved at national level in getting some of the Rules of the Game changed for the better.

Roy gave an interview to the late Mel Evans MBE about his life and career and that, and the final of the Greenall’s County Classic, are available at the end.

It may not be widely known but he was banned for twelve months from playing bowls, by The British Crown Green Amateur Bowling Association, I stress the word Amateur, and this was for the heinous crime of playing in a Professional Bowling Tournament.

In his contributions to the World of Crown Green Bowling, one of the most important and long lasting would be his involvement with The Lancashire Professional Bowling Association, known as The Panel.

Roy adored the Panel, not only because they allowed him to play when the Amateurs banned him for twelve months but also because in those days this was elite bowling at its very best. He revelled in that environment and had a thirst for improving his game. He was a Panel player for many years, winning several professional tournaments, and also contributed as an active committee member becoming its President and also a Life Member. He often said that all he ever wanted was for the Panel to continue and to be successful.

Roy used his Engineering and Sales Representative skills to great effect with Bowls Manufacturers and Renovators. In the 1960’s and 1970’s at Clare’s and later AF Ayers in Liverpool he had his own bowls manufacturing template that he had produced, whereby the old lignum vitae bowls were made slightly narrower for easier handling. Hundreds of sets of bowls were made off that template.

He was later subsequently contracted in the mid 1980’s to Drakes Pride, to develop and promote composition bowls, which were becoming more prominent.

He loved life on the road, and things were about to get even better in 1992 when his dream job was just around the corner. It was at a chance meeting with Alec Heron the Managing Director at Taylor Bowls, who are based in Glasgow. Roy impressed Alec so much with his bowling knowledge that he was appointed Sales Consultant at Taylors with immediate effect.

Of course, Roy had impeccable bowling credentials and employing him was too good an opportunity for Taylor Bowls to miss They never had a single regret in all the years he worked there Roy loved every minute working at Taylors he could not believe his luck when he was appointed.

He participated in the development and promotion of their Crown Green Bowls, some of which are still available today. He recommended the positioning of logos on the sides of the Taylor Bowls which he believed, with his Sales Rep hat on, would be free advertising for Taylors when the bowls were used in Television tournaments.

He provided, again with his Reps hat on, sales guidance to Bowls retail outlets all over the crown green world, on how to sell the right Taylor bowl to prospective customers.

In recognition and respect of 17 years outstanding service, the Directors of Taylors presented Roy with an inscribed Longines Grande Equipe wristwatch, which he treasured and was extremely proud of, on his retirement in 2009. It was in this same year that his lovely wife Doris and eldest son Stuart passed away within a few weeks of each other. This continued at the service as a delegation from Taylor’s made the long journey from Glasgow to pay their respects.

In the middle of his personal and playing success Roy also turned his hand to something new. After his victory at Carr Mill in St Helens in the previously aforementioned televised Greenall’s County Classic. As Roy progressed through the Tournament rounds, during an interview with Granada TV they recognised that he was quite adept at public speaking, had a good voice and was extremely knowledgeable about the game of bowls.

They offered him and he seized with both hands, the opportunity to become a contracted Television Bowls Commentator. He teamed up and became great friends with Elton Welsby and with commentator the late, great Hugh Johns.

The three of them commentated on all their televised tournaments for the next decade or so. Roy’s last commentary work was for the BCGBA on a BT Sport production of the All Britain at Llay Miners in 2016.

Roy thoroughly enjoyed his TV commentary work and attending the Granada Sports TV Christmas parties where he networked with all sorts of sporting celebrities. He attended Paul Docherty’s funeral, Paul was one of Granada Sports TV Directors, and he sat next to and chatted with Sir Alex Ferguson, a memory that he really treasured as an ardent and loyal Manchester United fan. Roy also delighted in a meeting arranged in a coffee shop with his hero Dennis Law.

Finally, in terms of other contributions, Roy became qualified as a BCGBA referee. How ironic that was considering his earlier ban.

This qualification came in useful on the bowling holidays that he and Doris helped to organise and run for several years in Blackpool and further afield in Sarasota, USA, and Cyprus.

Following Doris’s death Roy moved into Whitebrook Court Residential Home but was a regular at bowling games, events, and meetings. Particularly at Sale Excelsior Working Men’s Club and the Panel until Roy’s health started to fail.

On Wednesday Roy Armson’s journey, which started on the Liverpool banks of the river Mersey, ended in Altrincham Crematorium, in the rolling fields of the peaceful Cheshire countryside. It is the kind of a place where a soul can rest.

The videos below are from the Bowls Observer and the Andy Cairns YouTube channels.

About Steve Davies 170 Articles
Throughout his bowling career Steve has always supported the admin side of the game as well as a keen player of the game. As a club secretary, association secretary, county delegate on the BCGBA (National Governing Body) Management Committee, Media Officer for the BCGBA, Merseyside champion in 2002 and Merseyside County President (2014-15) Steve has always been keen to promote the game especially through the broadcast of the game on TV or Internet. Steve set up the LIVE BOWLS YouTube channel which became the Bowls Observer channel and, through the LDBA, runs national competitions. Seeing an avenue to report on and promote the game Steve set up the Bowls Observer on-line magazine.