In June 1978 Gordon Pearce from Bristol founded football’s ’92 Club’. I recall my school friend, Simon Westwood proudly joining their ranks having visited every ground in the football league with his enthusiastic father.
Such an achievement was certainly not common and still isn’t. Travelling the length and breadth of the country is expensive and requires devoted friends or family to accompany you or simply believe in your dream.
A little known rival to this select group (and one which I am founding now) is ‘The Sixteen Club’. This represents the number of venues which exist across all five Bolton Table Tennis winter divisions (2013/14).
There are fifty-seven teams this coming season, twenty-five clubs, approximately 200 players but only sixteen ‘stadia’.
I have visited and played in exactly half of these. And that is the great conundrum. It may seem like an easy club to join but examining each division’s forthcoming travels reveals anything from heavy-duty monotony (a slow canter to ‘The Sixteen Club’) to a wonderland of variety.
Division One’s teams are the unfortunates. A mere three venues (Heaton Cricket Club, Hilton Table Tennis Centre & Little Lever Cricket Club) await them. Should any players claim to have got lost en-route to an away match then an immediate enquiry will no doubt be set up.
Compare this to Division Four’s Kerouacian ‘road trip’: Eight venues for the league’s minnows – a gluttony of halls, gymnasiums, basements, churches and sheds. It is as if the gods wish to take their petrol or simply test their skills thus improving them.
A slight rotation of the map reveals the league’s ‘outreach’ clubs or pioneers to be Ramsbottom to the north, Radcliffe east, Flixton south and Albany -Chorley’s new boys – west.
Two of these – Flixton and Radcliffe – only have teams in the Premier Division, so unless you’re a top side or happen to meet them in the cup, the chances of you joining ‘The Sixteen Club’ are remote.
Likewise, the top teams would need to lose their memory muscles over consecutive seasons and generally implode in order to play the bottom-rung sides unless the cup affords them a trip to Spa Road (home of the dauntingly noisy Bolton Lads and Girls Club).
It is an interesting concept then. Excelling as a player will bring you more cup matches but the luck of the draw will ultimately decide your ‘TSC’ eligibility.
By Jeff Weston