Finals Night. The last competitive run-out before September. Not quite the significance of a Warburton Cup Final or Closed Championship, but important to many players – a useful gauge as to their standing across all five winter divisions; an empirical assertion that one’s form curve is either upward or downward.
Truly committed table tennis connoisseurs stick it out until now – book their holidays in late July or August. They understand the need to extend the seven-month season to nine, sacrifice pleasure for an often greater feeling – that of pulling off new shots and defeating someone two divisions above you.
There are characters galore at the Hilton Centre tonight. It is an intensely hot evening. Too hot. It feels like a mountaineers’ base camp though such is the camaraderie and good humour.
I examine a few of the faces: Barry Walsh – in his seventies but with a knowing twinkle in his eye; Malcolm Rose – known as ‘Magic’, a fighter extraordinare; Alan Bradshaw – always ready with the chocolate after a match as if marooned; Brian Young – keen to regale those around him with a famous tale; Richard Reading – Bolton’s answer to Father Christmas.
It feels like an extended family. The warmth of these individuals is quite affecting. There isn’t an obvious hunger about them when it comes to the game, but once in the table tennis cauldron, the pit – beware!
The best four teams in this 20-team tournament have been Dynamo, Hilton B, Coburg and Barcroft – steered admirably by Wilson Parker, Annie Hudson, Jim Hewitt and John Scowcroft. Dynamo – magical in many ways – remain the only undefeated side (W 8 D 1 L 0). It has been a round-robin master class. And their knockout clash against fellow divisional winners, Hilton B proves to be comfortable: 13-5. Champions, Dynamo!
It is one half of this summer crew that I wish to mention and pay homage to in closing: 18-year-old Mathew Fishwick. Just the one ‘T’ in Mathew which is a shame as this boy deserves two. The obvious acronym (TT) would have been quite fateful given Fishwick’s transformation into an extremely competent player.
His name, in the same company as Lindsey Thornton and Andrew Rushton courtesy of The Ralph Palmer Memorial Trophy for ‘Most Promising Junior’ (2011/12), will be spoken of much more in the coming years I suspect. He has “worked patiently and tirelessly”. Expect a 75% win record 2013/14.
By Jeff Weston