Desperate and Without the Gods

Division Two: Ramsbottom ‘D’ 7 Harper Brass ‘A’ 2

I am sat here tonight in one of the less silky venues – Ramsbottom. Great history (Australia’s Michael Clarke played for Ramsbottom Cricket Club in 2002), but the table tennis room within the ground is, for a craftsman, an artist, quite hellish and imposing – in need of lottery funding.

The wooden ram horns mounted on the far wall curse all visitors should they look up at them and the painting (signed ‘R.F.’) above the umpire’s chair seems to be from the Napoleonic era; a hint of war despite the sporting scene.

I hand Josh Sandford his 50p win bonus for turning over Hilton E’s Roy Alty the previous week. He looks slightly perplexed, yet I firmly believe such an arbitrary and jocular system helps to galvanize the squad. No additional £1 as Wilson Parker smashed him, but a financially stable week nonetheless.

Ramsbottom are not what we expect. Tim Fields is working and Dominic Siddall studying hard. Their experienced replacements, David Cain and Neil Booth appear iron-like and insouciant next to the chipper face of no.1, Martin Ormsby.

It is Ormsby versus Harper Brass’s Allan Auxilly first. Auxilly is like a surgeon, a mechanic – each move thought through; a refined and unruffled match player with a cool head. His backhand topspins arrive from nowhere and are too much for Ormsby (11-6, 11-5, 11-6).

Raymond Isherwood is next – ‘playing up’ from Division Four against the man with anti-spin rubbers, Cain. Cain’s eyes have a luminous quality to them – an optimism that has hung around despite his ageing years. He wears an Oldham Athletic top, has white socks and tanned ‘holiday’ legs.

Isherwood is a 97% man but such lower league stats mean nothing here. It is like a little boy asking out Marilyn Monroe. Cain ravages and torments him: 11-7, 11-3, 11-4.

2011 Warburton Cup winner, Sandford steps forward. I have every faith in the 20-year-old, Bolton-born looper. His opponent is Ormsby; granite-chinned ‘ringer’, Booth unfortunately delayed. 11-9. Sandford’s forehand topspin is working. A 5-2 lead in the 2nd suggests an imminent win – the Harper player, when not attacking, having the meticulous push/vision of a man staring through a submarine periscope.

6-5. But, oh no – what is this? Sandford’s bat has broken mid-shot having got trapped in the rear curtain – the blade flying over Auxilly in the umpire seat. He borrows a bat, but his soft rubbers are now a distant memory and it is a cruel slide to defeat: 9-11,13-11,5-11,9-11.

Auxilly loses to Booth (9-11,8-11,10-12), yet turns over Cain (11-6,11-9,11-9). The rest of the evening, however, is a horrible blur, a turkey shoot, a mauling.

I stand in a large puddle returning to the car. It has not been a good night. Bah! Humbug!

Division Two Table                               P          W        L          F          A         Pts

  1. Hilton E                                              11        7          4          67        32        67
  2. Little Lever Cricket Club C            11        11        0          65        34        65
  3. Hilton F                                              10        9          1          64        26        64
  4. RamsbottomTown TTC D              11        6          5          59        40        59
  5. Meadow Ben B                                 11        7          4          56        43        56
  6. Meadow Ben A                                 11        5          6          51        48        51
  7. Farnworth Social Circle A              11        4          7          41        58        41
  8. Hilton G                                             11        3          8          40        59        40
  9. Ladybridge B                                   11        3          8          35        64        35
  10. Bolton University B                         11        3          8          32        67        32
  11. Harper Brass A                                11        2          9          30        69        30

Half Way There

Going into Christmas, we have a good idea of who the likely promotion and relegation teams will be. Division Three, however, lays bare such pontificating.

Last season was a five-horse race right up to the tense, final evening. This season’s two promotion berths are, somewhat incredibly, still open to nine of the eleven teams – a mere six points separating them.

The crucial question in weighing up the prospective candidates is: Do we have a team strongly anchored by one individual or are there solid performers across the board?

I don’t believe it is possible to get out of a division with just one star player and for that reason I am writing off Hilton ‘J’ / John Barker and Lostock / John Nuttall. Apologies!

My money has to go on Hilton ‘I’ (Brian Hall, Graham Wilson, Rovimil Dato) provided Dato continues to play and Farnworth Social Club ‘B’ (Carl Bennett, John Rothwell, John Ainley) on the condition that Rothwell plays to the level I know he is capable of.

Dark horse, Heaton ‘D’ (David Bevitt, Greeny Greenhalgh, Melvyn Brooks, John Hilton) can get in amongst it only if Brooks stays off the Raki and avoids jetlag.

Boyzone (Jeremy Grimwood, Matthew Brown) remain one player short of consolidating their place in Division Three and so will have to endure another miserable season in Four, and Irlam Steel (David Yates, Matt Hood, Neville Singh) look to have finally bowed to relegation following a mediocre season from Yates, their usual saviour.

The Premier Division is dominated once more by Flixton and Ramsbottom ‘A’. One gets the impression that the form of Ram’s no.3, Andrew Jackson will be pivotal in trying to win back this hallowed title from bitter rivals, Flixton.

The likely fallers in the top flight are Ramsbottom ‘C’, unless Thomas Ryan can inspire his teammates and Burning Desire with their deep and ragged squad.

Division One is a slightly clouded picture in the scrap for 2nd place after the undefeated Coburg (Derek Watmough, Robert Bent, James Hewitt). Hilton ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ along with Heaton ‘A’ continue to show desire in an effort to play with the Premier giants in 2014/15. Heaton’s Ward brothers – Matthew (working abroad), Paul (broken toe) – should clear the way for Hilton ’B’ or ‘D’.

Division Two – Hilton ‘E’ and ‘F’ are both vying with Little Lever ‘C’ for the top spots. At the other end, it is a dogfight between Bolton University ‘B’, Harper Brass ‘A’ and Ladybridge ‘B’ (John Birchall’s return timely).

Division Four – Harper Brass ‘B’ all the way.



Very Superstitious

Superstition is defined as “Belief in supernatural causality: one event leading to the cause of another without any natural process linking the two. It contradicts natural science.” Opposition to it (omens, astrology, religion, witchcraft) was particularly strengthened during the Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century.

And yet, three hundred years later, it is everywhere: in every game; on every bit of grass; on every track; in every sports hall. We all have at least one little habit, one conscious finger-crossing, ‘touch wood’, salt over the shoulder moment which, it is believed, will improve our performance or defend against bad luck.

In US stock car racing, shelled peanuts are almost NEVER sold at an event. “According to 1930s racing lore, peanut shells were always found in the smoldering remnants of a badly wrecked car.” Beware the driver that eats nuts before a race!

Likewise, in Major League baseball, you “DO NOT talk about pitching a no-hitter!” In other words, you’re pitching against the final man with the potential to reduce the opposition team to zero hits across nine innings. Any mention of what COULD happen is anathema, a curse, a total “no-no”. It is like leading 8-0 in table tennis, with the final match player warming up with a huge, mocking and complacent grin on his face.

Cricket has its own superstitions especially when you’re part of the batting side. Always put the left pad on first like Tendulkar. When there is a great partnership at the wicket, DO NOT move seats. In fact, DO NOT get up!

Nick Faldo – winner of six major golfing championships – only cut his fingernails on a Monday, “so as not to affect the balance of his putting grip”. And he certainly DID NOT have lunch with fellow leaders on a Sunday which is common these days.

Table tennis has its peculiarities at local level almost as if Dr Kananga (Live and Let Die) were sat on your front bumper on the way to the match.

Graham Clayborough pats his thigh twice before receiving a serve. He refers to it as a “confidence trigger”.  Tim Fields wears his lucky Santa socks no matter what the season. Roger Bertrand cannot play without eating three bananas during match night. If John Barker sees the slightest gap in the court curtains, he HAS TO fasten them. Personally, I HAVE TO flip the ball into my left hand before serving.

Good luck this Friday. Voltaire will be watching.