There can be fewer noisier players on the table tennis circuit than Hilton’s latest recruit, Josh Sandford.
Set alongside the league’s current controversy overlords, Paul ‘Mad Dog’ McCormick, Mark ‘Clubber Lang’ Martin and the heaving tension which resides between Premier rivals Ramsbottom ‘A’ and Flixton, Sandford would appear to revel in his new-found acting role.
The purveyor of sarcastic witticisms and verbal musings, Sandford will undoubtedly be misunderstood in many quarters. His occasional bombastic ravings will be met by a peeping through the dividing curtain and admonishment from his fellow amateurs.
Escaping or evading the Bolton Table Tennis League’s iron clad rules is beyond most and Sandford, it is predicted, will come a cropper at some point in the near future if without restraint.
A cursory glance at the Code of Conduct suggests the potential shackling of even the land’s least volatile personages (Postman Pat and The Beano’s Walter Brown, be warned!):
“All players must show respect for their opponents, umpires and spectators by conducting themselves in a sporting manner. Gratuitous swearing, intimidation or misuse of equipment must not take place at any time on the premises of any match under the control of the League.”
Born in September 1993 and introduced to the game under the stewardship of unorthodox Frenchman and bearded wonder, Roger Bertrand, it was for Sandford – as with many unfocussed teenagers – a revelatory moment, a trip to the table tennis orphanage or rather the Bolton Lads’ & Girls’ Club.
“I started going to the Lads’ Club when I was about 14 to stop me being on the streets causing trouble. I didn’t start playing TT ‘til I was 15 and I loved it from day one.”
After the ‘orphanage’ or feeder club via the steady duo of ex-Ladies no.1, Andrea Holt and Division One flamethrower, Graham Clayborough, Sandford donned his frame with the red and black training gear of Farnworth TTC.
Taught the technical aspects of the game by the 5-times National Champion, his game developed well. In the 2011/12 season, he played across two divisions and ended with the respectable win percentages of 50 (Division 2) and 84 (Division 3).
For an 18-year-old, it wasn’t explosive or likely to augur a rush of scouts, but it was noticeably decent in what was only his second full season.
The real flash pan stuff came the season before in what was a temporary cloaking into musketeers of the apprentices and the master – Craig Duncan, Sandford and Bertrand scooping the 2011 Warburton Cup under the guise of Hilton F.
Benjamin Disraeli once said: “Youth is a blunder; manhood a struggle; old age a regret.” Sandford, in 2014, may just be on the cusp of something truly good in order to escape such a fate.
Humour still drives him (understandably so). He has the obligatory youthful passport of a large tattoo and often speaks above 65 decibels, yet his planned 2014/15 Division One team including Wilson Parker and Craig Duncan promises to be a Hadron Collider of sorts.
Either that or a derailed train. With ‘The Sandman’, you never quite know.