Warburton Cup (last 16)
It is a tough ask for any team to concede an average of only 2 ½ points per set. But that is what Radcliffe (currently 3rd in the Premier Division) were asked to do tonight. Playing against the relegation-threatened Division Three side, Boyzone (handicap 301.5), they had home advantage however, the services of topspin king, Rob Hall and the knowledge that a well-brewed pint was waiting for them next door.
Boyzone entered this venue looking a tiny bit sheepish, half-wary of what was in store. Horror stories of Premier beatings regularly circulate in the lesser table tennis dens – tales of humiliation, of forced retirement and exposing half-decent players as quivering buffoons.
Manoeuvring your way to this venue is a job in itself. Once past The Unicorn public house you hang a left opposite Next Frydays Fish & Chip Shop and proceed to rumble across a cobbled track before the real assault course of 100 pot holes begins. Making it into the car park you are met by a flood of darkness, a stargazer’s paradise and the seemingly phantom presence of Jim Chadwick.
“Hello.” Jim is a pleasant chap, a perfect ambassador for this great sport. He shows me inside what at first appears to be a large, corrugated container. The dainty, green-check curtains immediately stand out; behind them and the windows, security grills perhaps alarming to a cultivated crowd.
Other items give this place an absurd yet comfortable aura: the World of Ice Cream freezer stood randomly by the door; the white-beamed ceiling; the six fluorescent kitchen lights. And that is before we witness the splendid ‘triple jump’ knee-high socks of visiting player, Vinny Merrit (children’s nursery proprietor by day, entertainer by night).
Hall gets the play underway against Matthew Brown and things immediately look ominous. Hall prefers the two-shot rally, has the ability to reverse most push shots at incredible speed. Such play numbs the opponent – has them wondering how to live with such fire. Brown has no answer yet scrambles sufficient points (3-11,2-11,4-11,2-11).
It is Radcliffe’s Michael Dore now. He has the build of Kenneth Clarke, hair of a chimney sweeper. A more patient player than Hall, he waits for the correct ball height before throwing himself into the shot. Too much respect perhaps, but then Jez Grimwood is a lower league heavyweight, a solid counter-hitter. Dore loses crucial points in the second: 11-2,11-7,11-3,11-2.
Gabriel Wilding has to salvage something now – indulge in the rampant slaughter of Merrit. Therein lies the problem. Merrit is useful. Most table tennis players are useful. His backhand shows great menace and it is another middle set which nicks crucial points: 2-11,3-11,9-11,2-11.
Brown picks up a further 27 points. He has the intense look of a highlander defending his patch. Merrit jokes his way to another 17. But it is kitchen designer, Grimwood (tape-measure in back pocket) who sees Boyzone home (39).
The old mill town and Mesolithic area rumbles. The River Irwell spills some of its load. Boyzone have entered this former coal-laden area and they have conquered!
Quarter Final Draw
Hilton L / Bolton Uni B Vs Standish
Meadow Ben C Vs Farnworth SC A
Little Lever C / Hilton G Vs Boyzone
Bolton Uni A / Harper Brass A Vs Heaton F