The Players Who Stare at Goats

Division Two: Meadow Ben ‘B’ 8 – 1 Harper Brass ‘A’

The road sign ‘Elderly people crossing’ I now realise is not just a polite request to slow down, but a taunting, mocking generational laugh aimed at the young. The post-60 brigades wish to draw you in, have you think that they are decrepit and foolish, when in fact their strength, power and alertness are quite astonishing.

Meadow’s Mike Audsley, Jim Bollard and Ian Wheeldon are a case in point. Sure, they play on questionable home turf where the ball travels faster and the table appears shorter, but their collective ages belie the doom mongers. They may dodder, yet once ‘in the zone’ they are transformed into gladiators.

We have travelled here tonight – Dave Brookes, Ray Isherwood and I – into the unknown. Meadow is a curious mix of the dominant (Audsley – 82% win percentage in 2012/13), the unpredictable (Bollard – 54%) and the steady (Wheeldon – 31%). Looking at their play versus Dave Brookes – who needs to shoot off early – I think I see those very numbers tattooed to their bats.

Bollard is aggressive, direct and has sufficient spin on his serve to weed out Division Two impostors. Brookes, lover of rallies, grinder of the opposition, unfortunately goes long with numerous smashes. It is Bollard’s: 11-5, 11-6, 8-11, 11-5.

Audsley next for the Bolton joiner. 7-11, 11-9, 6-11. Brookes is frustrating him. Audsley is a little rusty but reluctant to de-couple his pure game. The old technique surfaces just in time: 12-10, 11-7.

One more chance for Brookes, otherwise it’ll be a contemplative drive to Preston to pick up his son. It is tight, but Wheeldon takes him in straight sets: 12-10, 11-6, 15-13.

It is my turn now. Ray has yet to arrive, so it’ll be consecutive matches. Not ideal – too much sweat. I take the first set off Audsley (7-11) but then the old lion tears into me: 11-4, 12-10, 11-7.

My next opponent is Bollard. He talks too much – describes each point. You feel like gagging him, throwing him in a cellar. If he wasn’t so worthy of his place on the table tennis circuit, you probably would. Too much for me: 11-5, 11-3, 10-12, 11-8.

Wheeldon cuts me down (11-7, 10-12, 11-2, 11-7) and the already torturous evening gets worse.

Isherwood finally arrives, panting like a bloodhound. Some of the old magic – please! Bollard 3-0 Isherwood.  Audsley 3-0 Isherwood. Wheeldon 2-3 Isherwood. Whitewash avoided!

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