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.
He is unorthodox, accurate, quick and powerful, and clearly owes many of his skills to tennis; his two-handed backhand alone surprising many purists. Why has he languished in Bolton’s bottom division? Because – despite the individual, match-playing nature of table tennis – each team consists of three players. If one of these cogs isn’t performing, the emphasis on the other two to regularly ‘treble’ becomes burdensome.
After finishing 3rd (outside the promotion places) for this very reason in 2011/12, Lostock strengthened last summer via the consistent services of 89% man, Adam Francis. Having now comfortably won the 2012/13 Division 4 title, they are finally set for life outside the bottom tier. Will Nuttall, the Lostock Lasher cope? Will his near-perfect record disintegrate when subjected to the wily manoeuvres of Division 3’s finest? I suspect he will destroy most of those who face him. And his single defeat at the hands of Heaton’s Dave Jones Snr will be avenged (both home and away for good measure).
I rarely ‘talk up’ sportsmen, but John Nuttall’s game consists of certain ingredients it is hard to ignore. His supple, elastic-like wrist has the habit of bending seemingly implausible shots back at the opposition. And such forehands are not only deep but fast. Stretching the ‘enemy’ represents the nucleus of his game. If you are not nimble, if you cannot move with sufficient speed, then you are done for.
I had the privilege of playing against The Lasher for the first time eighteen months ago. And I knew immediately – from the pounding rallies, the constant pushing and probing – that this was someone I had to ‘spar’ with. For a moment I felt like Muhammad Ali needing the jabs and muscle of the young Larry Holmes in order to improve his defences.
Nuttall is relentless. He can break you. Small talk, when practising/sparring, is often sacrificed at the altar of sweat. For this, as a means of balancing the humiliation, I am grateful.
* This piece was published in The Bolton News Sports Supplement on Tues, 4th June 2013