Given the route into Ramsbottom – via the A676 with its reservoirs and moors – you know you are exiting Bolton and entering another land. Said to have become a homogenous settlement in the late 18th century, Ramsbottom or the ‘Valley of the Ram’ got a firm Industrial Revolution leg-up from Sir Robert Peel and the River Irwell.
Carrying some of that weight and might now – over two centuries on – is Ramsbottom Table Tennis Club courtesy of Richard Lightowler (100% win rate), Michael Moir (92%), Andrew Jackson (90%) and broad-shouldered captain, Mark Ramsbottom (80%). An unprecedented number of Premier Division crowns have burdened the club like Liverpool in the 1980s and Manchester United in the 1990s. And that kind of pressure had to tell.
Looking at the Premier table seven matches in, Ramsbottom actually have one more point compared to this time last year (55 versus 54). Unfortunately for them, Flixton – their rivals for the last five, now six seasons – have come out of the traps like Ballyregan Bob. A massive 61 points out of a possible 63 have been accumulated so far by the newly settled trio of Philip Bowen (100%), Stephen Scowcroft (95%) and Phil Biggs (94%); Paul Cicchelli a bit-part player this season despite his obvious gifts.
To a Boltonian it is thus a choice between two rough neighbours taking your most treasured prize. Do we let Trafford-based Flixton or Bury-based Ramsbottom plunder the town once more? The bookies are firmly with Flixton following two barren years.
Cicchelli – very much a neutral given his commitments elsewhere – is respectful, however: ‘Ramsbottom on their day are a formidable force. Six points is nothing. If Rammy beat us 9-0 then they have a positive advantage on us. We will both drop points in upcoming matches, but I think the league will probably be settled by the results of our two matches, which is exactly how it should be…[Don’t forget] Rammy still have the best player in the league.’
That player is Lancashire legend, Michael Moir but the problem with Ramsbottom is that they have stood still while Flixton have strengthened with the summer signing of Scowcroft and been amazed by the improvement of southpaw Bowen (84% last season). Also, barring disaster, Flixton are apt to use a maximum of five players this time out whereas a loose squad of nine crossed their ‘Welcome’ mat in 2014/15.
Roll on Thursday, 3rd December: Flixton ‘A’ vs Ramsbottom ‘A’. Tickets don’t come cheap.