John Prince

World Croquet Federation

Hall of Fame

John Prince

Born: 1945

Inducted: 2007

John Graham Prince commenced playing Croquet at the NaeNae Croquet Club situated in the Lower Hutt Hospital grounds in 1959 by sheer chance.  As a 14-year old schoolboy, he had seen the game being played from the local swimming baths that overlooked the Lower Hutt Croquet Club in Riddiford Gardens.  He was intrigued and, after borrowing "Croquet Today" by Maurice Reckitt from the local library, became even more fascinated.  He visited the NaeNae Club near his home and was fortunate to be invited to have a game by members Melba Miller and Muriel Palmer.  Shortly afterwards, Ashley Heenan was approached and agreed to coach John.

John’s croquet career took off when, aged 17 and with practically no tournament experience, he made a late debut into the 1963 New Zealand MacRobertson Shield team after winning his singles and doubles matches for a North Island team against the Australian visitors.  He caused something of a sensation during the third Test Match between England and New Zealand when he defeated John Solomon, then universally regarded as the best player in the world.  Interestingly, Solomon had himself been selected to play in the 1950/51 MacRobertson Shield against New Zealand when aged only 18 and with a similar lack of tournament experience!

John went on to reach the semi-finals of the 1963 New Zealand Open Championship where Solomon gained his revenge but, nonetheless gained his first national title when he won the New Zealand Men's Championship, in the process of which he defeated the English Test Match players Humphrey Hicks in the semi-finals and Bryan Lloyd-Pratt in the final.

Over the following years, John amassed an impressive number of national titles, including eight New Zealand Open Championships, ten New Zealand Men’s Championships and eight victories in the senior invitation event for the “Best Ten” or “Best Eight” players.  He also won eleven New Zealand Doubles Championships and the British Open Doubles Championship in 1974.

In 1969, he was appointed captain of the New Zealand MacRobertson Shield for the first time and went on to do so on four further occasions including two Shield victories in 1979 and 1986.  He holds three MacRobertson Shield records, namely by being the youngest player ever to compete, by playing in nine series and the first player to play 100 matches in the event.

On 30 March 1970, at Hastings during the final of the Hawkes Bay Easter Invitation John became the first player to complete a sextuple peel in a competition.

John’s contribution to croquet was not confined to playing and winning major events.  He was involved in attempts to publicize Croquet, including an early television demonstration in the days of black and white TV, and wrote several newspaper articles about the national Croquet scene.  He served on the New Zealand Croquet Council for several years and was involved especially with international matters, selection for international and domestic events and tournament formats and conditions.  He provided illustrations for the CNZ publications "Approaching Croquet", and later wrote and illustrated "Practice with a Purpose", followed by a set of supplementary booklets.  He was always keen to see that younger players and those who work were given as much opportunity to compete and so ensured the major events in New Zealand Croquet Council tournaments were played over weekends wherever possible.

Winning the MacRobertson Shield has always been John’s top priority.  Throughout his career, he has been constantly on the lookout for potential team members and has provided encouragement and support to many up and coming New Zealand players.  One of his most significant contributions in this regard was his skilful mentoring of a very shy youngster called Paddy Chapman who is now one of the world’s top ranked players.

John Solomon

World Croquet Federation

Hall of Fame

John Solomon

Born: 1931

Died: 2014

Inducted: 2006

John Solomon was born in Wandsworth, South London and emerged onto the tournament croquet scene in 1948 when Croquet could be said to be hanging by a thread.  Affected by the social changes brought about by the war, the restrictions of rationing and the loss of many clubs and about half of the Croquet Association’s membership, it seemed to be a game almost exclusively for old people and doomed to fizzle out in the next decade or so.  Fortunately for Croquet, John appeared and, aided by youth and exceptional ability, did much to keep the flame alive for the next fifteen years.

John made such rapid progress in his first two seasons and gave such a clear indication of his potential that, when a vacancy arose, the selectors were inspired to ask him to join the England team for the 1950/51 Test series in New Zealand.  This was despite the fact that he was only 18 at the time and had never played in a championship or won a major event.  However, the decision proved to be a resounding success and John not only played extremely well in the Test Matches but won the New Zealand Open Championship and Doubles Championship for good measure.

He returned home to begin a croquet career that, spurred on by his rivalry with Patrick Cotter and Humphrey Hicks, dominated the English game for over twenty years.  He amassed ten Open Championships, ten Men’s Championships, ten Doubles Championships, nine President’s Cups, four Champion of Champions victories, a Mixed Doubles Championship and two New Zealand Open and Doubles Championships, a total of 48 championship titles.  It was an extraordinary tally which remained unequalled until 2012.

John also represented England or Great Britain in the MacRobertson Shield on five occasions from 1950 to 1974.  However, it is not for just for his many successes that croquet players should be indebted to him.  Instead, what mattered more was the manner in which he achieved his success and how he was willing to use the legendary status that his success brought him to promote Croquet.

Top sportsmen in any discipline are frequently idiosyncratic.  Not all play their sport in a way that catches the eye and persuades the casual onlooker to stay and watch.  John Solomon’s special talent was to make croquet look easy, rhythmic and elegant.  He was really good to watch and it was clear that some came to the major events to watch John Solomon play croquet rather than to watch croquet as such.  When the media could be persuaded to take an interest in croquet and see John in action, they could not fail to be impressed by the sheer quality of the man and his performance.  Croquet might not be able to avoid the impression that it was a game suitable for the elderly but, with John Solomon on court, it was obvious that it was also a game of great skill and precision and one for all ages.  He was not content just to reel off the wins.  He particularly enjoyed pushing the boundaries by trying new openings and tactics.  Some of his feats still reverberate today – the three-ball triple against Cotter in 1964, the jump over rover to hit the peg and beat Aspinall in 1969 and, perhaps most remarkable of all, his single-handed win in the 1972 Open Doubles Championship where he peeled the absent Cotter’s ball through all 12 hoops – twice.

John Prince, another croquet legend who met John in New Zealand in 1963, said that the Solomon effect was to give the spectator the impression that they were watching a virtuoso playing a favourite piece of music and that John was to croquet what Roger Federer is to tennis.  The resemblance to Federer is particularly apt in another important aspect of competition – demeanour on court and sportsmanship.  In play, John never lost his self-control, let alone his temper, and always treated the twin impostors of defeat and victory just the same.  Like Dudley Hamilton-Miller, a slight pursing of the lips or, in extremis, half-raising an eyebrow would be the only visible reaction to some misfortune.  It was tellingly said of John that if you observed him walking off the court with his opponent you would have no inkling of the result.  He was simply the consummate sportsman.

English croquet has always been fortunate that its best players generally feel an obligation to put something back into the game.  John was no exception and threw himself into croquet administration and promotion.  He became Chairman of Council at the age of 30 and, later in life, served as President of the Croquet Association for 22 years from 1982 to 2004.  His legendary status drew many invitations from outside the UK and his visits to croquet clubs in the Channel Islands, France, Ireland, Italy, South Africa, Switzerland and the USA were greatly appreciated and played an important part in encouraging the game and sometimes in assisting the birth of organised croquet.

In particular, he led the Hurlingham team that travelled to the USA in 1967 to play the Westhampton Mallet Club.  He met the late Jack Osborn, the founder of the US Croquet Association, and Jack expressly acknowledged the impact of John’s strong advice that the most important first step in establishing a national croquet body was to develop a single, agreed set of rules.  From that flowed the formation of the USCA in 1981, the involvement of American players in international croquet, the first Test between the USA and Great Britain at Nottingham in 1985, the establishment in 1988 of the Solomon Trophy for annual competition between Great Britain and the USA and the admission of the USA to the MacRobertson Shield in 1993.  As the senior international croquet statesman, John made a truly great contribution which fully complemented his illustrious playing career.

His legacy is a game established in almost 30 countries throughout the world and a succession of champions who have followed in John’s footsteps over the last 50 years.  Nigel Aspinall, Keith Wylie, Robert Fulford, Reg Bamford and Robert Fletcher are the names that spring immediately to mind.  But it is very uncertain what the present position would have been and whether any of them would have become players and champions had the young John Solomon not taken up the game almost 70 years ago and played it so expertly and beautifully.


John Solomon's championship record

English Championships

Open Championship (10):                                  1953 1956 1959 1961 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968

Men’s Championship (10):                                 1951 1953 1958 1959 1960 1962 1964 1965 1971 1972

President’s Cup: (9)                                            1955 1957 1958 1959 1962 1963 1964 1968 1971

Doubles Championship (10):                             1954 1955 1958 1959 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1969

Champion of Champions (4)                              1967 1968 1969 1970

Mixed Doubles Championship (1):                   1954

Other Championships

New Zealand Championship (2):                      1951 1963

New Zealand Doubles Championship (2):       1951 1963

MacRobertson Shield record


Matches:  25   Won:  19          Lost:  6

Games: 57       Won:  41          Lost  16


Matches:  25   Won:  24          Lost:  1

Games:  57      Won:  49          Lost:  8


Updated August 2017

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