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.
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