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

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