Le Gang de Petanque

By Mr.Bordsenius at 2004-07-12

A few years ago on a previous visit to Marseille, I found a copy of a book Les fadas de le pétanque (“Crazy about petanque”) which tells the purportedly true story of a gang of con artists who swindled players out of millions of ancient francs, playing fixed games for money. The story is also told in volume 2 of Otello’s classic book Les Histoires Humoristiques de la Pétanque.

It wasn’t simply a case of allowing players to win the first couple of games before upping the stakes. Instead, there was a much more elaborate ‘sting’ in which members of the gang would pose as property developers, looking to build new projects and seeking greedy but gullible partners for their schemes with the promise of easy riches. The boss was an old man who loved playing boules and didn’t mind the fact that he lost money hand over fist playing. Players would be invited to play with the boss and suddenly find they’ve somehow lost!

I’d often wondered if it all really did happen or if it was just fiction. I asked one of the elderly spectators and he assured me it was true and that if I searched the archives of the local press from the 1960s, I’d find the stories. I went to the largest regional paper, La Provence, thinking it would take me all week searching to find anything. I was amazed that one of the archivists knew the story and took me straight to a folder with all the cuttings! The story was true. Otello’s book gives the dates of the gang’s eventual trial and we also found these editions with the newspaper’s court reports.

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