Hilton ‘L’ 3
Harper Brass ‘C’ 6
Fifty years ago Oxford United knocked Blackburn Rovers out of the FA Cup 3-1 in what was arguably the biggest giant killing act in cup history. It was Division Four versus Division One – a team in only their second season of league football against established internationals.
Forget Wrexham/Arsenal (1992), Sutton United/Coventry City (1989), Wimbledon/Liverpool (1988) and Colchester/Leeds (1971). That afternoon at the Manor Ground in 1964, although perhaps not etched in modern minds, was cataclysmic – a real blueprint and precursor to Match of the Day stunners.
Hilton ‘L’, bottom of the table tennis tree, languishing in 12th place in Division Four, have had a run in the Warburton Cup (the local equivalent of the FA Cup) which has reverberated around the ‘grounds’ and will be highlighted in the table tennis annals should they go all the way.
Semi-finalists, dispensing with opposition in all three of the top divisions, Hilton ‘L’ have surprised many since their 2nd round defeat of seasoned Premier outfit, Burning Desire. That result (396.5 – 396), whilst incredibly tight and some might say fortuitous, maybe anchored itself to a greater destiny.
A young squad, the core of which is represented by 15-year-olds Thomas Field, Jason Hill and Robert Shaw, Hilton are developing at a good pace and showing the flair and belief of a close knit unit. Diplomatic squad rotation tonight from coach, Brian Young means that Hill sits it out – replaced by the youngest member of the team at just fourteen (and the boy with two surnames), Harrison Jones.
The tactical shifting of Harper Brass’s top player, Faizan Bhura to no.2 on the card results in an opening ‘big guns’ clash between Field and Bhura – a match that would normally see out the evening.
Field, blue and white Stiga top, slightly roguish gelled hair, does not look fazed. Opposite is a 75% man in mean, Nike orange-striped trainers, yet his polished technique copes admirably. 10-12. Damn unlucky; noticeable fight in the youngster when 4-8 down. Field knows that he has to have these scraps in order to rise and test himself properly.
8-11. 9-11. It is commendable from Field – not enough, but extremely encouraging. Bhura, quite simply, is match savvy. Even at 5-1 down in the third he retained his cool, played the same strokes.
Shaw versus Haroon Khan next – a decade separates them in age. The blonde, Hilton lad (grey joggers) has an austere aura to him. He knows the standards he wishes to attain, yet the path to them may unduly frustrate. 6-11. 11-8. Shaw’s whipping forehand sends a warning out to Khan.
Khan, always upbeat, enjoying his third and finest season in the league, thinks he has this opponent despite the mishap of the second. His game has improved drastically – the soft backhand is no more and the deep, arching southpaw shots have a beautiful, navigational quality. 6-11. 4-11. Too much for Shaw.
Enter the saviour, Jones – unfancied, modest stats and up against the loquacious Kaushik Makwana (55%). 11-4: Persistent smashes. 8-11: Makwana sweeping backhands. 11-7: Improved feet from Jones. 10-12: Cruel. 11-9: Always in the locker!
It is hardly Oxford United (plus Harper win on the night). But the promise, the dream – that lives on.