Division Two: Harper Brass ‘C’ 6 Ladybridge ‘B’ 3
The real hero tonight was not the winning team, Harper Brass C. Nor was it the players inside it – captain Faizan Bhura, Kirit Chauhan and treble terminator John Nuttall. It was instead Ladybridge’s stand-in player from Division Three, Ellis Longworth.
The 15-year-old lad with the wedge haircut and lanky legs lost all three of his matches, but one must look inside that raw number just as a humanist studies the bereft GDP figure that is an economist’s Holy Grail.
Versus Bhura: 11-5, 7-11, 8-11, 11-7, 9-11 (46 points to 45 but still the loser). Against Nuttall: 8-11, 11-13, 11-6, 9-11 (savage). When entertaining Chauhan: 4-11, 8-11, 4-11 (head understandably gone).
You play twelve games, you usually deserve something. You rock Nuttall 11-6, people sit up. To look at Longworth, you do not initially spot the majestic player. There are the private pet talks muttered serenely: ‘Come on, Ellis’ (like a whining call to the gods). There are the occasional, soft-trickled shots into the net.
He could be a six-foot rake in the corner of a garage, a Pale Rider but what he probably is is Keir Hardie walking into Parliament as an MP for the first time in August 1892; unperturbed, courageous, a fighting man not dragooned by protocol and reputations.
How ironic that hours before this exalted performance Longworth was grounded from school for wearing “unacceptable” shoes. The world of table tennis has no such piffy rules – merely that playing shirts and shorts are “of a uniform colour other than white”.
Given that Longworth had to borrow a bat for this clash (his preferred blade locked in the house of his usual teammate) and was of course ‘playing up’, his exploits were remarkable. Ask Xu Xin to use the bat of Ma Long. There would be a look of disgust, the clear recognition that one’s normal game would be compromised.
Longworth did not tangibly assist his temporary teammates, Brian Greenhalgh and John Cole in their annual quest for survival, but his hard-hitting, accurate forays surprised many. Greenhalgh’s range of expressions on the court and self-criticism (“Fingers …Oh, you plonker...Frilly underwear”) – despite his double - could be said to embody this. And Cole’s renewed impetus was arguably due to the gee-up of the younger competitor and colleague.
As for Harper Brass – this was a good win, but they must start talking between games. Bhura’s two losses could have been avoided with a canny word or two from his elders.
* This article will appear in The Bolton News on Tues, 22nd September 2015