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.
To some teams this is achievable – no doubt an insult to their talents, psychological strength and general fitness. Mid-table stalwarts and those going for promotion or titles will rarely be swamped by such concerns. For the rest, it is the equivalent to football’s Premier League target of 40 points – the cradle by which the club’s prestige and status is secured.
There have been wacky seasons – Division Three’s Irlam Steel in 2011/12 losing all 22 team matches, yet finishing 10th thus surviving. This was down to the heroics of David Yates who won all but twenty of their 68 points. Some teams don’t have the luxury of a big fish in their small pond. It speaks well of Yates that he has hung around and not deserted his less gifted teammates.
Loyalty is quite a common attribute in table tennis. There are the multi-team set-ups like Hilton who shift squad members around each season in harmony with the progress of their young players, but mainly clubs consist of friends – alliances unlikely to be broken up because one player excels.
The ‘hacks’ this season (2012/13) – teams with less than three victories to their name – have been Heaton ‘A’ (Premier Division: won 0), Farnworth SC ‘A’ (Division Two: won 1), Farnworth TTC ‘B’ (Division Three: won 2), Meadow Hill (Division Three: won 2) and Hilton ‘L’ (Division Four: won 1).
Inside each team, of course, is a fuller story which transcends the harshness of a league table. Roy Caswell – general secretary and Meadow Hill’s respectable 46% man – has crucially been without the full-time services of no.1 player, Roy Platt. Farnworth TTC ‘B’ lost the services of star man, Malcolm Ferrier at the turn of the year.
These things matter, but there can be no hiding from the remaining squad members’ inability to ‘read’ the division – understand its foibles and styles. Tactics – the need to adapt one’s game to the opponent – become more important the higher you climb. Not grasping this or at least half-studying the form can be fatal.