You’re the next Griff Sanders … who is Griff Sanders?

If you came to our indoor bocce open house, you got to watch the movie Blackball – a comedy starring Vince Vaughn and James Cromwell based on the true story of a bocce player who received the longest ban in sports history.

Bryan Mullane receives his triple crown award with the opening scene of Blackball on in the background.

If you’ve never seen Blackball I suggest watching it on Amazon now. You’ll see a lot of things you recognize, including the main character, Cliff Starkey, playing bocce on a crappy field littered with beer cans (where a used condom serves as the pallino).You’ll also see him using a plastic bag to carry his bocce balls because he doesn’t have a proper carrying case, and eventually you’ll see him beating established bocce players who are used to playing on nice courts.

You don’t need me to tell you that these are all hallmarks of the Turbo Bocce experience.

Essentially, Mel Smith the director of the movie Blackball took the real story of the most penalized sportsman of all time and exaggerated his life to make a comedic movie. Then, without even knowing of this movie’s (or this man’s) existence, we took that exaggerated depiction of a bocce player, and brought that into the real world. Imagine our surprise when George Christou found the movie in Blockbuster (yes the movie and our league is that old) and we watched it and saw ourselves!

Since we are essentially the real life incarnation of Cliff Starkey,who himself is a fictional adaption of a real person named Griff Sanders, it only seems appropriate that we take a look into the flesh and blood man who is Griff Sanders.

A picture of the real Griff Sanders

First of all he’s English so he doesn’t technically play bocce. The English call their version of bocce lawn bowling or “bowls.” Lawn Bowling is similar to Turbo Bocce in many ways, most especially the fact that they play on grass, and they shoot off a mat. But in other ways its different, like the fact that their balls are not perfect circles but slightly oblong, and the fact that a trough surrounds their grass field, and your ball is out of bounds if it rolls or gets knocked in. Even with the differences, I’d say lawn bowling is the closest thing to Turbo Bocce there is, on balance.

The real Griff Sanders and his girlfriend Dina

No matter what country you’re in or what version of bocce you happen to be playing, there seems to be one universal truth – the sport is dominated by old guys who hate change. For us the old guys who run the Italian fest hated us for being younger, not speaking Italian, and if I’m being honest, also for being obnoxious and drunk (read memory #7). Griff Sanders was hated for wearing “non-regulation socks”, rolling cigarettes, drinking lager, and playing while eating a bag of chips.

Then Griff crossed a line when he called fellow player John Smerdon (the county secretary) a “tosser” on his scorecard.  For this transgression he was hit with a 10 year ban from the sport.

Side note, tosser is a pretty cleaver insult because a bowls player is a tosser of balls as a matter of course, but tosser also happens to be English slang for masterbater. (check the Turbo Bocce trophy and you’ll see a two time championship team named the Tipp Hill Tossers whose name was inspired by Griff Sanders).

The actors who portrayed Griff and Dina in the film. Their character names were Cliff Starkey and Kerry Spaite. In real life they are Paul Kaye (who you might recognize as Thoros of Myr) and Alice Evans.

Griff quite obviously considered his punishment disproportionate compared to the punishments given to other sportsmen such as John McEnroe and Eric Cantona and he said so – only to be told that a 10 year ban is only about a sixth of a bowl’s player’s average career (a line they kept for the movie!).

So what did Griff Sanders think of the movie based on his life?  Here’s a quote from one of his interviewers …

Not that Sanders will be too concerned if critics find the film a little formulaic. He just wants his mates to like it, and he should have no worries on that score. Like him, the film is a crowdpleaser, and includes some appealing comic turns from the likes of Johnny Vegas – the only member of the cast who bowls in real life – who plays Sanders’ mate, and especially Vince “Swingers” Vaughn, who is terrific as a ruthless, fast-talking sports agent who takes control of the bad boy’s career, and thrusts him into the world of Coke ads and MTV awards.

This clearly has not happened in real life, as Sanders’ agent turns out to be a nice lady in Newton Abbot called Hannah, who asks me rather tentatively if there is a fee involved for interviewing her boy. When I explain that this is the Guardian so it is somewhat unlikely, she replies: “Oh, well, that’s all right then. Just thought I’d ask.”

Cliff Starkey and his agent (Vince Vaughn) in the movie Blackball.

I’ll leave you with a question. If Griff Sanders can have a major motion picture made about his life, why not you? The film industry is booming in Syracuse, and our sponsor the Ukrainian Home just had a Christmas movie filmed there, so anything is possible! I say we write a script!

My pic from the Second Chance Christmas release party at the Ukrainian Home, where you can see the movie deer head next to the actual deer head hanging on the wall!

If you’re interested here is some further reading you can do on Griff Sanders …

The Bad Boy of British Bowls

My favorite quote from this article:

“Was Sanders concerned, I ask him, about the liberties the film takes with his real life? In the film, for instance, the bad boy goes to bed with the county secretary’s daughter, whereas Sanders lives with his girlfriend Dina, a 30-year-old care assistant, in Dina’s parents’ house in Brixham, and has done for the past few years.

“I told them lots of stuff and they wrote it down,” says Sanders. “What they do with it after that is up to them. They paid me some money to be something on the film, they gave it a posh name…”

“Consultant?” I suggest.

“Yeah, that’s it, consultant.”

Bowls: Bad Boy Sanders Shoots From Hip

My favorite quote:

“The biggest compliment anyone can ever pay me,” Sanders smirks over crisps and Guinness, “is that I don’t look like a bowler.”

Pretender to the Crown

My favorite quote:

“His pre-ban crimes included swearing in front of ladies, running unnecessarily, not wearing a tie, wearing the wrong coloured socks, pretending to be drunk, telling a senior player that he was “crap” and eating fish and chips during a game.”