Empires fall. Bit by bit they disintegrate – marry their mortar with the dust and dirt on the ground. The Ottomans, the Romans, the Persians, the Mongols – all had their era, their might, a trail of subjects and slaves; hubristic legacies now largely forgotten, yet represented by potent dents in the minds of historians and archeologists.
The Bolton Lads’ Club began life in 1889 as the Children’s Bolton Club. It was the same year that gave birth to the Eiffel Tower, Adolf Hitler and Vincent Van Gogh’s The Starry Night.
Founded by two church leaders and three industrialists, acutely aware of the plight of young, cotton mill children and their need, initially, just to be “able to wash, eat and sleep in peace away from their looms”, it served a distinguished role as a hostel.
Less than a decade later, the stampede began: “They came in their hundreds, for of all animals, lads are perhaps the most gregarious. They came to meet their fellows under conditions somewhat more comfortable and convenient than their natural meeting place, the street. They initially came for amusement and for games and for nothing else, and if we had told them it was our intention to improve them they would certainly not have come.
“But it is interesting how quickly their attitude to the club has changed, it is no longer our club, it is theirs, and we merely manage it for them. It is no longer a mere place of amusement, but is a place which plays a real part in their lives. It is a place for honour and for success.”
In 1947 table tennis entered the Lads’ Club’s doors. Bark Street – the old location – welcomed the fevered game, entered its recruits into the Bolton League. And so, the beautiful sport was inaugurated, two decades after the first World Championships in London and the year the International Table Tennis Federation or ITTF was formed (1926).
This led to a crossover point in 1952 – Japan’s World Champion, Hiroji Satoh signalling the end of the hard bat / pimpled rubber era and the rise of the sponge bat. From wiff-waff, to ping-pong, to table tennis sophisticates, the game developed – reducing the net height from 6 ¾” to 6”, introducing US celluloid balls and embracing technology on an unprecedented scale.
The Lads’ Club evolved by introducing girls into its ranks. In 2002, Team BLGC moved to its new £5million premises on Spa Road – the rear of the building resting impressively on White Lion Brow.
Inside, Tomorrows Citizens roam. Sports and games are played – basketball, pool, Xbox, football, boxing, gym. Underneath the Harrison Burton Climbing Wall, however, is a pitiful sight: two TT tables. (There used to be five permanently unfolded.) Numbers are short. Coach Roger Bertrand (07530 690985) and volunteer Ian Monk (07903 827703) have just three 12-18 year olds for the forthcoming September-April season. They are, in many ways, the Blackpool FC of the table tennis league.
What has gone wrong? How can they resurrect the glory days (2012/13) when their ‘A’ team finished a credible 6th in Division Four?
By its very nature, a youth club loses players. Suddenly, there is nothing to replenish the squad though. The feeder club’s diet is now a mirage.
Bold/passionate, empire-saving youngsters required: Mondays 5-7pm & Thursdays 6-9pm. Bertrand is waiting.