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.

 

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