Two communities settle dispute over how to pronounce river - with game of CROQUET

·4-min read

Two communities will today (Sun) settle a centuries-old dispute over the correct way to pronounce a river which runs through them - with a match of CROQUET. 

The River Nene originates in Northamptonshire and runs for 100 miles through Cambridgeshire and Norfolk before flowing into The Wash.

But for generations there has been controversy over the way it is pronounced - locals in Northampton say "Nen" while 40 miles away in Peterborough they say "Neen". 

When a long-awaited local croquet derby was planned the two sides decided to up the stakes by making it a decider on the pronunciation.

The first side to win five games in today's (Sun) match will claim the right for the river to be pronounced their way. 

Paul Hetherington, 56, Peterborough club secretary, said: "The dispute has been going on a long, long time, it must be centuries-old. 

"I've always been interested in the pronunciation because the towns are only 40 miles apart and we are just downstream of Northampton. 

"I was joking about it with the Northampton club when I thought it would be a good idea to have a game to settle once and for all the name of the river."

The origin of the Nene - the UK's 10th longest river - is unknown but its name has changed over the years;  it has been called 'Nenn' or 'Nyn' during the course of history.

Paul Chard, 61, chairman of Northampton Croquet Club, said: "It is quite odd why there's a difference. 

"I looked on Wikipedia and they pronounced it the 'Nenny' but no one calls it that. 

"I know that in villages in the middle of us like Oundle and Thrapston one person at one end of the village will say 'Nen' and a person at the other end will say 'Neen'.

"I don't think anyone knows why. 

"With Peterborough and Northampton deeply divided north and south of the river you can sometimes hear people who live in the middle oscillating between the two pronunciations. 

"When I moved here 20 years ago I picked up what local people said to me and it wasn't until I played with people like Paul that I heard the other pronunciation. 

"The river itself has been important for the development of both towns, with the leather trade in Northampton and industry in Peterborough. 

"It has a lot of history."

Despite being so close, the two towns play in different croquet leagues and so rarely meet for a derby.

It was therefore decided that such a momentous tie should carry a significant prize for the winning team.

Mr Chard, a retired IT professional, explained:  "I think like with most things I started as a discussion. 

"The two wanted to try to arrange a game because we don't normally play against the other one in our different leagues despite being an hour's drive away. 

"It was Paul from Peterborough who came up with the idea to theme the game along the river and if we win it will be called the 'Nen' and if they win it will be called the 'Nene'."

The five-person mixed ability teams will play nine games, three of the longer-form association croquet and six of the shorter version of golf croquet. 

Mr Chard explained: "In golf croquet you get one shot a turn, but in association croquet, like snooker, if you hit another ball you get an extra shot. 

"In that way you can stay on the court in 25 minutes maybe. 

"It can be quite a long game and last two and a half to three hours whereas golf croquet might take 45 minutes. 

"The five players on each team will play both doubles and singles, with three playing golf croquet and two playing association. 

"In an ideal world one team will win decisively and that will settle the pronunciation. 

"Paul from Peterborough has made a trophy from an OS map of both towns. He will move the River Nene name towards which side is winning at the time."

The losing team has agreed that their town will pronounce river's name in the winning team's way in all correspondence and public interviews.

However, they have plans to make it an annual tie - so the pronunciation could shift on a yearly basis.

Peterborough secretary Mr Hetherington explained how, in his role as marketing director for the Croquet Association, he gave rivals Northampton advice on how to keep their ground. 

He added: "That is how we started chatting and had some banter about how to say the river. 

"That joke turned into this competition which has been about a year in the making."

The Nene/Nene derby will start at 10.30am and may not conclude until 5pm if the nine matches go the distance. 

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