Division Two: Ladybridge ‘B’ 2 – 7 Ramsbottom ‘D’
Ladybridge Community Centre: kids’ plastic chairs – red, blue, green – are stacked in the corner. The place doubles as a nursery and one gets the sense of an invisible, miniature crowd.
I notice the table, a Tibhar Smash 28/R – named after its founder Tibor Harangozo. It is of good quality. No problem there.
Home player, John Cole is first out against Ramsbottom’s precocious 15-year-old, Dominic Siddall. Nerves often blight Siddall’s early play. I witnessed his first two sets of the season and he went from stuttering Lada to revved-up Subaru.
It is a similar story now. Cole – wiry, glasses, red top – hits him out of the initial set courtesy of his deep, wrist-accentuated forehands (11-4). The second set also goes his way (11-9); his ability in keeping the ball in-play quite unparalleled.
But then the Subaru fires up. Siddall shows incredible maturity in the third, retaining faith in his forehand top spins and examining – really examining – the approaching ball. 11-8.
Cole seems to speed up – lose a little focus. 11-7 to Siddall and we’re now into the fifth; the sodden prison sentence which no player enjoys.
A lovely rally: short, long, long. Siddall takes the lead (5-2) but then loses the next six points (5-8). It is perilous. 57-year-old Cole – instinctive returns when faced with smashes – is somehow in front.
It appears to be man versus boy until…more resistance from Siddall – the streak of his orange, grey, black and white top haunting his opponent (10-9). Cole serves long. Siddall bridges the 42 years of nous and wisdom (11-9).
No such pain for Rambottom’s Timothy Fields versus Ladybridge’s Andrew Scully. He is in a hurry; occasionally to his detriment, but not tonight. 11-4. 11-8. 11-8.
The hand drier starts up in the gents. Seconds later, Ram’s no.3, David Cain makes his entrance. I am not expecting much. He has been out of the game for twelve years bar a few matches.
Brian Greenhalgh, quiet authority, stands opposite – uncanny resemblance to Paddington Bear’s Mr Brown underneath the six strip lights which give this place its glow.
3-2 down, Cain seems shattered already. The perspiration glistens. He is a grafter though, albeit with anti-rubbers: 11-8, 11-6, 4-11, 11-4.
The absence of John Birchall is a big miss for Ladybridge. More pain (Scully 0-3 Siddall, Cole 0-3 Cain, Greenhalgh 0-3 Fields) before salvaging some pride: Scully 3-2 Cain, Greenhalgh 3-0 Siddall, Cole 2-3 Fields.