Pathway to Quantity

People do good things. Help the blind across the road. Pick up change for old ladies. Hold doors open out of courtesy rather than coincidence.

Some volunteer. Give ten or twenty years of their life to causes they believe in. And occasionally, just occasionally, recognition shows up at the door.

Through luck, perception or merit people are handed certificates, badges, scrolls and chances to further their philanthropy.

Karen Edwards OBE is a case in point. Chief Executive of the Bolton Lads and Girls Club (BL&GC) and part of the Queen’s Birthday Honours list in 2012, she has put in a long shift, been imaginative, dogged and tenacious since the 1990s.

Spearheading a team (more recently) in control of a circa £3m budget, Ms Edwards has mostly looked after the coffers well – built relationships, developed her soft language skills with particular emphasis on words such as ‘opportunity’, ‘pathways’ and ‘evaluation’.

Her efforts overall should be furiously applauded.

But there is a gaping hole; a hole which only started to appear towards the middle of August. And the table tennis community is at a loss to explain it.

When the list of teams was compiled and sorted into five divisions for the forthcoming season, one noticeable absence was evident: BL&GC – the oldest club in the league.

Why? Digging has begun in earnest in an attempt to get a satisfactory answer yet words hung together collectively in the form of responses can be an ugly business – they turn into racketeers, miscreants, contortionists, any number of twisting and bending creations.

The general take thus far is this: There are two RBs at the Lads & Girls Club – Rachel Burke (Sport Development Manager) and Roger Bertrand (their only qualified table tennis coach). Ms Burke, a glance at on-line archives reveals, has been photographed in celebratory pose alongside Ms Edwards on numerous occasions. Mr Bertrand has not. Ms Burke, being a member of the Senior Management Team, has the ear of Ms Edwards. Mr Bertrand does not.

The recent decision at the club therefore to replace competitive league table tennis with a ‘Try Train’ model and somewhat insular youth club versus youth club scheme must be put down to blinkeredness at the top and wilful neglect of those ‘in the know’.

Whilst this summary is not entirely without sporting bias or conjecture, it does hold water.

The grand myth concerning Cassius Clay’s fourth round knock down at the hands of Henry Cooper in 1963 is that Clay (later known as Muhammad Ali) glanced over at Elizabeth Taylor, who was sitting at ringside.

Such a story, whether true or not, is marvellous. In a similar vein, it can only be assumed that Ms Edwards in August of this year – whilst in a high-level meeting – glanced over at a spectre and was sufficiently overcome that she acceded to a proposal – perhaps from her Sport Development Manager or her Youth Club Manager – that would deny at least four young players league table tennis.

The BL&GC’s new schemes may have their place but when marinated in the disillusionment of players about to break through in what would have been a key season (Jack Daniels 2012/13 [35%], 2013/14 [65%]) such plans can only be recorded under the heading ‘Folly’.

They may even result in the wholesale abandonment of half a generation of players unless designed or mapped out more clearly.


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