The Ultimate Banana Skin

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 strength lies in playing against choppers or attack-minded individuals; lastly, whether they love the big scalps, the big wins – an underdog’s paradise.

Singh’s Division 3 Win Record reads: 1 out of 45 (2011/12) and 5 out of 40 (2012/13). There is progress – 400% one might say – but in many ways he is the ultimate banana skin. Players fear getting caught up in his cycle of carefully sculpted shots, the slowed-down grace of his ‘utilising the skills I have’. The psychological damage of losing to Singh can be immense, career-threatening even. Speak to Garvin Yim (his first conquest), Diane Moss and Danni Taylor (his only ‘double’ – that famous night on 13th September 2012). All have since quit the league, walked away.

And yet, just as Floyd Patterson’s defeat to Sonny Liston in 1962 did not make him a loser, so too must the indefatigable Singh not be labelled or tarnished. He may not have had the highs of Patterson but he is an example to us all in perseverance and refusing to let his love of the game be dampened. “I have rarely felt humiliated even though humbled by my scores…I observe the good points of others in style, skill and temperament.”

Still keeping fit, “eschewing large meals and regularly walking around [his] village”, Neville Singh is not a celebrity. He is much more – a gallant battler, soon to be 75, still standing amidst the wasteland of his match scores. “My victories are indeed few…but I love the game.” When he says it, you want to nod your head, put your arm around his shoulders. Singh is a talisman for us all. There is something extraordinary and unassuming in his manner.

From the tropical climate of British Guiana in the 1950s, to the storm-laden Atlantic Ocean in 1963 (courtesy of a rolling and pitching ship), on to bitter Scotland (1986-2007), Singh’s table tennis evolution has ended in Bolton. Glory be.

* This piece was published in The Bolton News on Tues, 11th June 2013


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