If there was to be a raid on the table tennis community – bats stolen, an Italian Job of sorts – then it would be here, outside The Crown (1 Chorley New Road). Or a mile up the road (B6226) at the Bank Top Brewery Ale House (36 Church Street).
Both public houses are frequented by the cream of Bolton’s table tennis world. Both offer sustenance to weary players intent on forgetting the more rueful moments of their drills and practice sessions.
Notable patrons – be they politicians, artists or sportsmen – have congregated in certain spots since time immemorial. Public officials wag their tongues in The Red Lion, the Marquis of Granby and the Commons Strangers’ Bar in and around Westminster. Writers latch on to the faded footprints of the literary masters whose regular haunts included Kennedy’s in Dublin, the Vesuvio Café in San Francisco and Les Deux Magots in Paris.
Inside Horwich’s modest watering holes sit two motley crews – paddles thrown in the boots of their cars or lovingly placed in the glove compartments, sweat temporarily masked by the deodorant from a selection of canisters.
The Alan Ingerson crew generally comprises Dave Scowcroft, Steve Hathaway and occasional invitee Steve Barber. Promotion and relegation in the ranks this season has meant a swapping of status for the players; Barber giving up his Premier Division mantle – allowing the Hilton ‘B’ gents a shot at survival in 2014/15. For Ingerson, banditing his way around Division Three in 2012/13 after a long lay-off, it is a minor miracle.
Opposite the Parish Church of Holy Trinity they convene – on the chairs, stools and red-chequered banquette of the Ale House, elbows shifting in order to raise their pints. Formerly the Brown Cow, this new-found table tennis haven and resting place is a curious modern phenomenon, a refurbishment gamble left to the locals to judge.
It borrows some of its grandeur from the Francis Octavius Bedford gothic-designed Holy Trinity across the road, yet there are still small touches which clamour for your attention: the beautifully curved bar, the simple chalk boards (Today’s Real Cider/Summertime Specials), the square lamp shades and the twenty-three white light switches on a single brass plate. Also, the Sterling & Noble clock with Roman numerals – tilted slightly to the right, but beguilingly so.
Away from here, from the ash and sycamore that greet you as you exit, it is a roll downhill, then onto the flat before arriving at The Crown. Motion never quite leaves you if sat at the front of this establishment in the bay window – the old Wigan B5238 sign on the grass roundabout outside directing drivers new to the parish.
A fir tree is plonked on this spot awaiting Christmas decorations that will brighten up the area. For now, however, Brett Haslam and his seven borrachos (Dennis Collier, John Bradbury, Dave Smith, Jim Chadwick, Mick Dore, Phil Riley and Steve Barber) provide the necessary exuberance.
This isn’t a fancy pub. In many ways it is trepidatious – the sign on the wall next to the huge sash windows stating PLEASE DO NOT CLOSE THE CURTAIN. The tables, separated like planets, orbit the bar. Candelabras hang from the ceiling. Flashing fruit machines beckon victims. Willow-pattern plates snuggle up next to Horwich Harriers.
Walk in late on a Thursday and you witness history: table tennis’s Ernest Hemingway gabbing away.