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What is the hockey-like game of choule that is played in Normandy?

The sport originated in the 1400s but virtually disappeared after World War Two. It is now making a comeback with the help of locals and enthusiastic foreigners 

Choule à crosse is known to have been played in Normandy since at least the 1400s Pic: Fédération des Sports et Jeux Normands

Reader question: I have been told about a game called choule in Normandy that seemed similar to hockey. What is this and is it played elsewhere? D.N. 

There are two versions of choule: one played without sticks and one with, the latter known as choule à crosse (crosse meaning ‘stick’).

Choule à crosse is known to have been played in Normandy since at least the 1400s and it continued until before World War Two, said Jean-Phi­lippe Joly, president of the Fédération des Sports et Jeux Normands. Choule is also played in Picardy.

After the war, it died out, due perhaps to cultural influences from American troops and then rural exodus, with the loss of old traditions. It was revived in 2001 and there are now seven teams, all in Normandy, with two more being set up, plus a team of Norman ‘expatriates’ in Paris. It has been listed on France’s official inventory of cultural heritage. 

The team at Cherbourg is very international, added Mr Joly, including Australians and Indians, who enjoy it because it reminds them of cricket or hockey.

Mr Joly said they hope to invite players from Jersey and Guernsey, where the game is occasionally played at festivals, as well as to organise exchanges with Scottish people for twinning with shinty players.

They make their own balls and sticks, he said, as they cannot be bought in commercial shops.

“It’s a bit like hurling or shinty, on a smaller pitch, with the big difference being that it’s the only sport where you can score from behind the goal. And you can break the goal by knocking off a bar from the top, like in cricket, for extra points.”

The rules also allow for a combination of hitting with the stick or hands and feet, so it is very varied, and players with previous experience of sports such as hockey, handball or football find familiar elements.

It appeals especially to those who prefer not to play their sport weekly but to meet up around half a dozen times a year, on occasions which are family-friendly, with a shared meal, Mr Joly said. 

It is also played in teams of mixed gender and ages, with people aged eight to 80 taking part.

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