George Yates Trophy: Hilton ‘G’ 359 Heaton ‘E’ 399.5
A curious crowd converges on the Hilton Table Tennis Centre for this clash between 8th placed Division Two side, Hilton and 4th placed Division Three side, Heaton.
This is television to whisker-faced Dave Parker, worth more than the bus fare to Barry Walsh and a chance for Steve Hunt to glimpse numerous rivals.
Entering the green-curtained den are Heaton’s no-nonsense crew: Dave Jones Jnr – affable but deadly; Phil Beales – self-deprecating cruise ship king; Dave Jones Snr – 71-years-old yet with the footwork of a ballerina.
The handicap of 72.5 looks generous to a team of this standard – the equivalent of two points per game – but then I have only previously witnessed Alan Bradshaw from the Hilton camp. Gary Hilton and Tony Eardley remain a mystery.
It is Bradshaw versus Beales first – the tallest players here. Both have experience in abundance. Both are rangy and lethal when an opportunity presents itself. 8-11: a stumbling start for Bradshaw – timing off a little, a tap of his gold watch signalling the need to improve.
Up in the clouds where these fellas gaze at the 9 feet by 5 feet table with its intersecting 6 inch net, play must seem slower, the opponent slightly mechanical at times. Bradshaw, snapped reverse-lollypop backhands when on fire, when in his element, manages to salvage the second set (13-11) – find his way back to earth.
Two 11-9s follow – the traditional four-set cup match showcasing Beales’s impressive rolling forehands and cross-table backhands but ultimately bowing to the Bradshaw combinations.
Gary Hilton next – bright eyes, a tiny Mohican forged by his receding hairline. He is up against Jones Snr, Phoenix Knights of Harmony barbershop singer. It appears grim for the ‘A cappella’ maestro: 6-11 and 0-5 down in the second.
A quitter he is not though. An intense expression hammers across his face like a rivet on a high-rise development. Early backhand top spins level matters for Jones Snr (11-9). Hilton fights back – timely forehands picking out the corners (9-11) – but it’s the Phoenix man with his patient strokes who grabs the fourth (12-10).
Eardley now – momentarily tucked up in bob hat, glasses and large-collared coat. If there was a table tennis hell, he would be there chopping a burning ball back at you. He has a tough, ugly game but also a sixth sense. Jones Jnr contains him (9-11, 12-10, 6-11, 11-7) and is immense on the night.