D Unwin bt L Balaam 11-8,11-5,11-0
S Balaam bt S Talbot 11-7,5-11,7-11,11-9,11-5
A Dosher bt M Collins 11-7,6-11,11-8,11-7
J Davies-Stokes bt A Fallows 11-9,11-7,5-11,11-3
J Davies-Stokes bt H McGerty 11-7,10-12,11-5,11-1
J Davies-Stokes bt P Sinclair 11-5,11-4,9-11,7-11,12-10
Division Two Singles
M Collins bt J Davies-Stokes 11-13,11-2,11-6,11-6
Two Player Division Singles
H McGerty bt L Davies-Stokes 11-8,13-11,11-6
J Davies-Stokes bt R Kumar 21-16
R Harman/M James bt A Dosher/M Chamberlain 11-8,11-7,8-11,12-10
S Balaam/M Bollen bt S Talbot/L Allen 12-10,11-7,11-4
L Balaam/S Balaam bt S Gridley/S Talbot 11-7,11-8,9-11,11-6
If you missed the gig and are hoping to read a trad match report based purely on the day’s results, then please look elsewhere – you can check the roll of honour on the day which should be easily within reach of this report. I make no apologies in stating that this report is really for the players themselves, all 47 of them, who made the effort to participate on the day - and for anyone else who might perhaps stumble across it on a random Google search and has a few minutes to waste as you do when surfing the net.
If this were a general election, the pollsters & pundits would have been frothing at the mouth, as it was indeed a very good turn-out, said by those who know these things, to be a record one, and a very enjoyable day was had too, especially by the various winners, and hopefully by the losers too.
In trying to convey a flavour of the day’s play, it is important to start with food and drink – which as we all know, is an essential part of daily life, and on tournament days in the world of ping, it’s a vital ingredient in most players’ preparations - a few sandwiches, a bacon butty in your back pocket, a Twix here, a Mars bar there, along with a sprinkle of good nature and plenty of patience as the minutes and seemingly hours tick by between games, especially given the inevitable sea of matches that naturally flow from a record haul of entries.
Oh and of course a few bottles of your favourite tipple, non-alcoholic hopefully, to allay any fears of dehydration and the dreaded onset of cramp as exhaustion sets in as day becomes night. Lunchboxes to the ready (we’ll come back to one of those in particular again later), your best vantage point to cheer on your mates, spare towel placed carefully on the chair to secure it for the day and we’re off and running!
A quick disclaimer at this point might be a good idea, given I was a player myself on the day, I can only comment on what I actually saw with my little eye, my beady little eye, and what was discussed by a few other players/officials on the day, pint in hand Farage-style of course, in a Bury boozer just the other night. So with as much research done as humanly possible, we move on to matters that matter, or mattered, depending on the timeline.
With this in mind, may I introduce you to Will ‘The Flash’ Hall, from the Div 1 winning side the Bury Sugar Boys. The above rules on good preparation clearly don’t apply to ‘The Flash’, who after playing his first couple of games in the handicap event around lunchtime, flew outside in a famished fever, and was soon back in the Dome after a swift visit to the nearby Domino’s Pizza joint, proudly clutching a steaming hot 12 incher - a boxed Texan Barbecue Special no less - which was soon to meet its maker as 'The Flash', in true salmon style, kept faith with his tried and tested tradition at this annual event and downed the vast majority of his prized purchase in no time at all as we all sat agog - it was frightening, like watching a shoal of piranha devouring its prey in seconds.
To be fair, The Flash must have had the nod that he wouldn’t be playing for a little while, which gave him the chance to cheer on his Ipswich League team mates, Sonja Talbot & Sean Gridley, who were contesting one of the earliest finals played on a very busy day. Up against old rivals Lee and Sandra Balaam in the mixed doubles, the two S’s found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-1 defeat, but it looked like Sean in particular was as ever having plenty to laugh about anyway.
Anyone who consents to wear a pair of Dayglow lime green trainers has to have a serious sense of humour and Sean certainly has that in spades. One of the good guys playing in the League, he’s a pleasure to play against, but is probably equally infuriating to play doubles with, as a sloth with his feet tied together would still move at twice the rate of Sean - you could set his feet in a block of concrete and he would be equally effective...
On the plus side, Sean did gain a victory of sorts on the day as he just about managed to edge the battle of sporting the gaudiest trainers, with young Stowmarket buck Luke Davies- Stokes running him a close second with one of the vilest pair of trainers you could ever clap eyes on, even the soles of which were designed to replicate the surface of both a rubbish-tip and the Moon. But Lucky Luke loves them, and that’s all that matters - I know this because he told me...
Back to matters Balaam, the reigning Queen of the mixed doubles Sandra landed the ladies equivalent with promising junior Megan Bollen, a first senior title for Megan locally, a result which drew a comment afterwards in jest: ‘It’s nice to see Nick Samson’s coaching of Megan is finally paying off.’ I’m sure Nick will be very proud of Megan’s achievement as we all are, she has a great attitude to playing the game - win or lose - and is another who is always smiling on and off the court.
Sandra landed the treble gaining yet another victory over Sonja in the final of the Ladies’ Singles, beating her main rival from a 2-1 deficit to edge out a closely-fought affair. She will have the bragging rights for sure over husband Lee, who went home empty- handed in both the veteran’s & men’s singles events, despite winning some very close encounters along the way which clearly took their toll on him physically, as he was forced to retire in the final match of the day against David Unwin in the third set of the Men’s Singles final, which meant David took the trophy in straight sets.
Wrapping up the men’s results, there were some tremendous matches towards the final stages of the veteran’s event which saw top seed David Unwin put firmly in his place in straight sets by Div. 2 singles winner Malcolm Collins, who goes by the name of ‘Big Daddy’ emblazoned on the back of his t-shirt. I think Malc must have trimmed down a fair bit in recent years as he really doesn’t match up in size to the late wrestling hero of the North’s vast girth. But he can certainly hammer a table tennis ball into submission and proved his worth a number of times on the day before falling twice at the hands of his nemesis Andy Dosher, who fully deserved a win in a well-contested veteran’s event.
The men’s doubles was won by tournament organiser Mark James (take a bow Mark, you did a great job running the show, and very ably assisted by Kenny Rogers aka Phil Sinclair) and Bob Harman who took out Bury Sugar team-mates Dom Melero and The Flash in four sets, before repeating the dose in the final against Andy Dosher and Martin Chamberlain, who played really well together throughout their doubles campaign leading up to the final, beating more fancied pairings along the way.
The three other events open to adults and juniors alike saw the talented 13 year old James Stokes-Davies win a tremendous battle with Chairman Phil in the Restricted Singles final, with James coming from behind to snatch victory 12-10 in the fifth set. James had an easier task seeing off the promising Riya Kumar to win the final of the Handicap Singles, but the Rougham junior played extremely well on the day, showing a lot of potential for the future.
Another young junior girl very much going the right way is Holly McGerty who beat the pocket rocket Luke Davies-Stokes in the final of the 2 Player Singles. Holly’s younger sister Izzy deserves a mention for her efforts both on and off the court, showing maturity beyond her tender age, Izzy was always willing to score matches and showed a keen interest in the running of the tournament itself, speeding up the results process, checking the sheets and being a great help to both Mark & Phil through the day - well done Izzy!
The Cadet title as well as the Junior Singles title perhaps predictably also went the way of James Davies-Stokes, making it four titles on the day for James, beating Holly in the final of the Cadet event and the towering figure of Aston Fallows in the Junior equivalent.
Not surprisingly, both Davies-Stokes boys are rated by many good judges as potentially better prospects at this stage of their table tennis development than even Malcolm Collins’ boys Jake and Ryan were at the same age, and those two have dominated the Suffolk table tennis scene for the past decade or so.
Both the Rougham and Stowmarket Clubs proved on the day that they have a very strong hand locally, particularly in the junior ranks and it is all credit to octogenarian Maurice Fearn that the sterling efforts he has put in over many years, linking in with Rougham schools to help provide a constant supply of talent which has been a great asset to the overall strength of the League over the past few decades. I think Maurice will have derived much pleasure watching his protégés from courtside, in his quiet unassuming way, do him proud on the day.
Finally, I must end on the mystery of the enormous lunchbox I touched on earlier that was left behind in the Dome right by the main doors after all had been cleared up and moved out at around 10.15pm.
Assuming it was mostly empty, forgotten or had been simply discarded (one thing was certain we knew it didn’t belong to The Flash), the school caretaker offered to put it in the table tennis store cupboard next to the Lower Hall. When Phil arrived in the hall on Tuesday evening for the Handicap Cup sessions the box was on a chair where it must have lain for two school days. At the end of the evening the box was examined & lo and behold, sitting at the bottom of a pile of discarded Waitrose deli wrappers, an empty champagne bottle and a few half-eaten truffles, was a bulging wallet crammed with credit/debit/store cards, driving licence, gun licence, TV licence, the whole shebang…plus the small matter of a chunky roll of notes any self-respecting Great Train Robber would have been proud of. Maybe some Bury-based jetsetter had slipped in unnoticed to catch a bit of the action?
The bank cards revealed that the owner of the rather obese lunchbox was local farmer and Bury Table Tennis Club Chairman Tim Jolly, who on being told of the ‘find’, announced that he hadn’t realised his wallet was even missing, let alone sitting amongst the debris of the forgotten lunchbox big enough to fit a whole pig in!
Tim, I have no hesitation in giving you the title of ‘absent-minded’ player of the day, beating Thurston's Ian Freeman by a very wide margin, which some might regard as a clear injustice on all previous known form…