I am sat here tonight in one of the less silky venues – Ramsbottom. Great history (Australia’s Michael Clarke played for Ramsbottom Cricket Club in 2002), but the table tennis room within the ground is, for a craftsman, an artist, quite hellish and imposing – in need of lottery funding.
Superstition is defined as “Belief in supernatural causality: one event leading to the cause of another without any natural process linking the two. It contradicts natural science.” Opposition to it (omens, astrology, religion, witchcraft) was particularly strengthened during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century.
They stroke the tables at this level – make sure there are no damp spots or rogue bits of dust. I am sat next to the 1980 European Champion, John Hilton now representing Flixton. He is knowledgeable – the Lovejoy of table tennis, his voice a little gruff.
Division Four: Harper Brass ‘C’ 4 Meadow Ben ‘C’ 5
The fifth tier in the Bolton Table Tennis League is hotting up – starting to take shape. Meadow Ben – in pole position – arrive at Harper Brass’s blossoming Mecca like VIPs in a Vegas restaurant: Alan Weall, their 75% man – a cross between the Dalai Lama and Bobby Charlton; Alan Hibbert, 74-years-old yet still formidable; John Parker, tall, well-spoken – a hint of Julian Assange about him.
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.
There was a moment tonight around the start of the penultimate match (Mike McKend Vs Brian Young) when Lostock’s John Nuttall and Arfat Khan burst down the clubhouse stairs to be with a couple of adoring female fans. In many ways it was timely – a micro-VE Day; not quite the capitulation of Nazi Germany, but more to do with an unfortunate Safron Newhouse foot injury.
Little Lever’s Phil Riley has an intense, stone-like face. He resembles a camper with his grey, baggy shorts and sky-blue top but there will be no polite frying of bacon and eggs tonight. He is a bear catcher – a grizzled human with few smiles and little diplomacy. A late entrant to the Individual Divisional Championships, Riley wishes to cut through the shaking of hands and traditional pre-match warm ups and just make a grab for the trophy.
The Shed: home of Meadow Hill – a mighty place, an intimidating place, an orange-walled palace with the odd loose plank beneath your feet. This is not a venue for the cowardly nor the complacent, nor the capricious. Big players have fallen here – Adele Spibey, David Yates, Graham Wilson, Dave Bevitt, Dave Jones Snr. I could go on.
This was a meeting of the grey-haired crews; each player sporting a debonair mane of sorts. Hilton, after two narrow 5-4 defeats were glad to welcome new signing, Alan Ingerson plus stalwarts, David Scowcroft and Steve Hathaway. Heaton, yet to register a point following promotion trooped in with Paul ‘Mad Dog’ McCormick, Stephen Woods and Dave Hall.
I did not go to the Hilton Centre on Thursday. I went to the Octagon Theatre. Or at least, that is how it felt. From the undulating sarcasm of Lostock’s Arfat Khan (“Yes – go for a winner every time”) to the newfound poise and control of Irlam Steel’s Neville Singh, this was a delight, a pain au chocolat wrapped in almonds.
This was supposed to be the Wilson Parker Show. Hilton’s young gun didn’t disappoint and neither did his teammate, Roy Alty, but in terms of upping one’s game and playing at a new level no.3, Jean Smart firmly stole the show. One point only to the red, Stiga-attired table tennis queen yet the fight and resurgent play behind this seemingly meagre number was immense.
Honour can be a rare attribute in this modern age of sport. We think of it as decency, doing the right thing, conceding a little ground, or craving glory with the approval of those around you. Dr Samuel Johnson’s 1755 dictionary defined it as: “Nobility of the soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness.”
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.
I think I first picked up a table tennis bat in May 1981 at the age of ten. It wasn’t at the obligatory Silverwell Street or Horwich Leisure Centre – they came after – but in the forests of Yugoslavia. I was instantly mesmerised. What a simple, eloquent sport – how could anyone not enjoy this titanic game?
There are typically 22 match nights during the September to April winter season. Survival (not finishing in the bottom two) tends to mean having to accumulate about 70 points from a possible 198. A close inspection of the statistics over the last two seasons suggests this golden number is actually 65.5 – in other words three points (3/9 wins) per evening.
The process of digging and researching for a column each week can unexpectedly enrich the subject you have in mind. Sometimes I need good sources, inside knowledge, ‘the beef’ from more experienced players. The narrative will always be mine but they inadvertently hone it with their reactions, responses and behaviour.
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.
Coburg’s Bob Bent (Div 1 / 55%) is an enigma. He has the appearance and manner of an uncompromising and offhand army sergeant and yet his serves have something of a 1920s jazz-injection about them; highballs with plenty of sophistication and liquor. It is the cutting prowess of the play which deceives lesser opponents – has them spellbound and fumbling.
Rarely will there be a more attacking pair than Hilton B’s Annie Hudson (Div 1 – 75%) and stand in, Wilson Parker (Div 3 – 96%). Serendipity has led us here with the withdrawal of regular player, Chris Naylor and we must now feast our eyes on the magnificence about to unfold.
The text arrived at 1.14pm on 4 June 2013. 60-year-old Alan Ingerson, rejuvenated through his brief spell with Division Three, BRASS announced to me that he had signed for Ladybridge ‘B’ in Division One.
Rivalry can demoralise, panic or excite a table tennis player. To know that there is one specific person out there who is your nemesis can be disheartening or revelatory. The relationship is usually borne out of a lingering stare, a reluctant acknowledgement of your opponent’s skills or mutual respect. Wilson Parker/Roger Bertrand, a McEnroe/Borg-type ...
Sometimes you get lucky. You sit down for a match not expecting much, but are then wowed and taken to a heavenly place. Tonight’s clash between Barcroft and Arabian Nights showcased the exquisite talents of Division Two’s John Scowcroft, the 77% man from ‘across the tracks’ – a lower-tiered player compared to teammate, Steve Barber (Premier – 27%) and ‘Arabian’ opponents Dave Holden and Jim Hewitt (Division One – 50% & 58% respectively).
Everybody’s got a shot – a good shot. Irlam Steel’s Neville Singh included. His looping forehand might surface as often as a sleepy judge striking his sounding block, but it’s there. Ready to put you off balance. Ready to demonstrate that nothing is a foregone conclusion in table tennis.
Conscientious players check the form guide before meeting the opposition. They run through their opponents’ typical points per game, whether four and five-setters are a common occurrence, whether their .....
There are only three players across all five divisions of the Bolton Table Tennis League with a 95% win average over the past two seasons. A couple of them stand out: Premiership stalwarts, Michael Moir (Ramsbottom A) and John Hilton (Flixton CC). Down in the depths of Division 4, however (and rarely talked about) is Lostock A’s John Nuttall with the somewhat incredible record of 113 wins out of 114.
The Bolton Table Tennis Summer League is less intense than the winter season. There is an air of gaiety inside the Hilton Centre which hosts the 20-team tournament. Mirth seems to breathe easy in this Mecca which often bears witness to fraught encounters. Losing is treated with a shrug rather than mental torment.
The peculiarities of the Summer League handicap system were exposed tonight. Based on a team’s ranking across all five winter divisions, rather than an individual’s win percentage, they pitted same-division players’ John Barker and Alan Bradshaw against each other with Barker, the stronger player incredulously getting a 2-point start.
Roy Caswell via Bolton Table Tennis League ::
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