Brandwood Finally Shows his Mettle

brandwood

The week after the Winter League season ends, Hilton Table Tennis Centre plays host to the Divisional and Warburton Cup finals. Days later, a different kind of show comes to town.

Call it the Oscars. Call it a ‘plumped up cushion’ of an evening. The Closed Championships are – to many – the highlight of the season; a bountiful gathering of kith and kin.

It is the one night when you see a solitary table basking in the centre of the hall – plastic chairs, not seen in an aeon, prized out of the storeroom to accommodate the merry and expectant crowd.

There are no tuxedos or ball gowns on display, no paparazzi (with the exception of the odd graceless snap from a mobile phone), but rather a sea of faces awaiting the multitude of talent.

Six finals offer solace and comfort to those in attendance – table tennis bats occasionally fluttering through the air like the webbed wings of their namesake.

In the growing crowd, you see the familiar faces of Dave Parker (flat cap and white tash), Malcolm Rose (blue-lined coat and glasses), James Young (mysterious girl in tow) and Barry Walsh (bob hat and a smile that refuses to retire).

Practising beforehand is the Stiga-clad 10-year-old, Amirul Hussain in readiness for his Junior Singles final with 16-year-old, Wilson Parker. It is reminiscent of when the gifted Danni Taylor used to entertain the crowd before the night got under way.

Except, Amirul is the ETTA’s 7th-ranked ‘Under 13 Boy’; he thus addresses the table with the composure of a starship commander. Parker – his name familiar to aficionados of the Bolton game – is quarrelsome at times, intolerant of his own deficiencies. Hussain, the shorter player by about a foot, whistles through this encounter (11-5, 11-9, 11-3) with panache.

Parker need not despair though. A Handicap Singles finalist also, retribution may be his against ‘Le Roadie’, Dennis Collier. Collier, famous for his defensive meanderings, loses the first set 11-9 – the Parker +3 handicap proving invaluable. After that something cracks in the Collier game and Parker rolls home 11-5, 11-5.

There is a conflated hush and buzz about the place this evening – a sense that the matches before us are part of a wider whirlwind. And we are in the vortex of its shifting swirl.

Next is the Handicap Doubles – the grey-haired, Keith Dale and Lancashire belle, Annie Hudson versus Steve Hathaway and Dave Scowcroft. It is the only four-setter of the night: 11-4, 11-13, 11-8, 16-14; plenty of nerve from the grinning assassins, Dale and Hudson.

Interspersed between these matches is Paul Brandwood. I had a duty in storing up his results, in lingering with the hard statistics of this man. Why? Because despite his modest Premier win percentage (52%) and the gulf between himself and the elite (85%+ men), he can turn it on if he chooses.

On the way to his three finals Brandwood weaved his way past some of the lesser names, but he did it in the manner of a seal swimming through a kelp forest. It was, on occasion, like witnessing a re-signing of the Magna Carta.

I cannot say any more.

Results

Veterans (40+): Brandwood beats Collier 11-8, 10-12, 11-5, 3-11, 12-10

Level Doubles: Brandwood/Mick Dore beat Collier/Steve Barber 9-11, 11-9, 4-11, 11-8, 11-8

Level Singles: Brandwood beats Barry Elliott 11-5, 11-4, 12-10

 

 

Dark Rumours and The Great Escape

great escape II

Division Two*

Ladybridge B             3

Harper Brass A        6

It was on Tuesday, 25th March that a fellow player mentioned the “dark rumours” concerning Harper Brass A’s meteoric bounce from the depths of certain relegation. Suspicions were aroused after the debut of Mike Brierley on 5th February and the team’s subsequent haul of 33pts over five matches with just two evenings remaining.

Jan 2014                                     Played           Points

7.         Meadow Ben A          13                    58

8.         Hilton G                         13                    50

9.         Ladybridge B               13                    44

—————————————————————-

10.      Bolton Univ B             13                    36

11.      Harper Brass A          13                    34

 

As with most things, such a statement was missing crucial context. It was easy to intimate that Brierley was a ringer brought in to save the day, but the story of my beloved Harper Brass went much deeper than this. I was happy to enlighten the player – who shall remain unnamed – however, a more substantial rebuff via this column was necessary I felt.

The summer or close season had not been kind to Harper Brass A (formerly BRASS). Having climbed the divisions rapidly from Four to Two in the blink of an eye, its lustre disappeared following the news that Alan Ingerson was leaving to join Division One side, Hilton B.

In that moment on 4th June 2013, I knew I had to act, get reinforcements in, strengthen what had become a ragged ship with just Roger Bertrand (98%), myself (47%), Dave Brookes (36%) and Abdiwali Ali (33%) left. If I didn’t then the bright lights of our new home, Division Two would be too strong, too bewildering. We would be pummeled and slaughtered each week – pushed to the back of the points queue like an ignominious runt.

The beauty of the Bolton League is its comprehensive data pool courtesy of www.tabletennis365.com/Bolton. This allows captains to scour the divisions for unused talent. Utilising this, I honed in on my first transfer target: Farnworth TTC B’s Malcolm Ferrier (89%).

He hadn’t played for them since 10th January 2013 and so something wasn’t right. Late, Sunday evening – a mere five days after Ingerson’s departure – I got an email back: “OK, count me in then…” It was the result of telling an unloved player that he was wanted. If he was the Paul McGrath of the table tennis world (rarely training) it didn’t bother me.

The season began in September, but not before the news that Ali had been hospitalised and Ferrier had injured himself. It was back to the bare bones. I let things roll for nearly a month hoping that Bertrand would produce some of his old magic but the results were terrible: 1-8, 1-8, 2-7.

On 30th September, I emailed the league’s General Secretary in an effort to get contact details for Meadow Bank’s Allan Auxilly (assuming he was French) and Heaton E’s underused Mel Brooks (73%). The latter returned my call, politely declined and I was fine with that. Brooks remained Bolton’s Roman Emperor to me – a giant sipping his Raki.

Auxilly was a different story. He had suffered a heart attack during the close season and was still out of action. On 5th November, however he made his debut for us in a respectable 4-5 defeat to Little Lever C. Exactly three months later his best pal, Brierley – despite signing on 17th December – made his Harper bow following a gentleman’s agreement with Hilton F.

And so fast forward to that grand night on 31.3.2014: Ladybridge versus Harper (‘Lady’ leading 3-2, needing just one more point to stay up). Enter the rocket men: Brierley (2), Raymondo Isherwood (1) and Auxilly (1). “It’s gonna be a long, long time…”

* Both teams finish on 75pts – Harper stay up courtesy of more wins.

 

Farnworth Social Club in Cup Double

Warburton Cup Final

Boyzone                       331.5

Farnworth SC A       397

I always prefer to sit with the underdogs. There is a radiance often not seen by the general public, a suffused splendour that draws you in.

Boyzone – carrying the flag for Division Three – I witnessed in the qualifying rounds against Premier giants, Radcliffe CC. They have been on the road in this competition since October and have offered deep resistance when it has been required.

Tonight, it is the business-like Farnworth SC A who prowl opposite, armed with finer equipment and Division Two nous: John Hutchinson (96%) – their powerhouse and deceptive gladiator; Mick Murray (48%) – fanged wonder; Gillian ‘Move Your Feet’ Marsden (45%).

The Boyzone handicap is 128.5; 3.5 ‘throwaway’ points per set to cause a major cup upset. Main man, Jeremy Grimwood (58%) walks up to the table. He plays with his tongue permanently burrowing into his cheeks. Perhaps he doesn’t know it. Perhaps no one has ever told him. He knows now. He also knows that he’s not up against favoured foes George Berry and Geoffrey Yates.

3-11. Murray makes the perfect start. Grimwood, no.10 on his shorts, light blue Slazenger T-shirt, looks a little nervy. Maybe the fourteen-strong crowd has unsettled him.

Murray surprises me at times in that he rarely steps in for the smash. For a burly mauler, he often takes the genteel route of wearing down his opponent. Grimwood seems to pick on this and adds a masterful patience to his game. 8-11, 8-11: Two commendable sets from the Boyzone chief.

The final set falls away 7-11 after an initial 3-0 lead, but the total Grimwood points (26) leave Boyzone a mere four points off target. Murray’s Lonsdale joggers and blood-red T-shirt depart. It is a satisfactory opening.

Vincent Merritt (15%) enters the table tennis fairground. One suspects that there might be candy floss all over his face after this encounter with Hutchinson. Before tonight had begun, Boyzone joked upon seeing Hutchinson’s Swedish STIGA attire that such dress sense was threatening in itself, overwhelming in fact compared to the ordinary clothing and duster-like threads of the Division Three strugglers.

Such words make you warm to them. But Merritt – in barely-legal light grey T-shirt – duly accepts his beating: 5-11, 3-11, 1-11, 4-11. They are now twenty-one points off target and it is looking grim – not quite in the mould of last year’s classic between Heaton E and Hilton H.

Marsden joins the fray. I know all about this lady having beaten her 3-0 at home but then the reverse of that away. She hates good-length, simple chopped serves to her body and short drops over the net. But give her the channels and she’ll power you off.

Matthew Brown (52%), trademark burnt orange trainers and England shorts, starts well – hanging in there at 8-11 in the first set. 6-11, 9-11 and 4-11 follow – a total only Grimwood betters on the evening in his own battle against Marsden.

The overall gross score (203-397) – virtually two points for every one – suggests that Boyzone were really not at the races in this. Even with another Grimwood or Brown (each totalling 80) they would have been thirty short.

“Our scoring’s been better,” secretary, Mike Barnes jests. There is also talk at the end from Merritt of getting ‘Warburton Cup 2014 Finalists’ T-shirts printed for next season.

But then Farnworth’s Geoff Rushton – moustache like a streaking caterpillar – is a wise, old secretary who hires well. Already weighed down by the George Yates Trophy the previous evening, this one – the biggie – has him slip a smile.