Tyson Fury: The Great White Hope?


“Look at dis shit! Boy, this is slavery all over again. I mean, look at dis shit! Dese men is seriously killin’ each other for a hun’red dollars.” Continue reading Tyson Fury: The Great White Hope?


Albany Smashed Again but Show Great Spirit

Division Four

Albany TTC              0

Meadow Hill            9

What a shot!!….Yes!” It was not so much the words from Albany’s Terry Cross, but rather their tone and stout defence, their necessity in the face of a beleaguered assault by a canny opponent. Having nicked the table twice in the 4th set – a huge but unavoidable sin in the table tennis world – you could sense the glee and wild abandon in him. No hint of an apology (the usual raised hand and “Sorry”) – just a jig of sorts, a celebration, the renewed belief that the match was still alive.

It was refreshing really – seeing a member of the league’s newest team completely disregarding etiquette or perhaps having no concept of such old-fashioned protocol. It was the golfer failing to rake the bunker, the darts player shadowing ‘bunny ears’ above the darts board, and yet it brightened the evening and provided a crucial spark to the procession-like beatings.

This was match no.5 – ‘the centre of the chocolate’. Albany were already 4-0 down against former Division Three outfit, Meadow Hill. They were praying for something – a crumb, a minuscule reward for turning up, for their fighting spirit, their unorthodox use of the bat.

5-11, 11-5, 8-11: Cross was on the ropes, looking a little dazed before the luck set in. His second nick (side left) allowed him to take command at 8-7 in the 4th. David Brownlow (46%) wondered what was happening. Cross (16%) was playing as Albany’s no.1 seed, but it was clear from the stats and the rhythm – however marginal – that he was their no.3.

11-9. Cross was jubilant. It was the 25th November all over again; another five-setter with the stern but schizophrenic, Brownlow. I say ‘schizophrenic’ only because there are two Brownlows. The first is Meadow’s unrelenting, simmering, anger management player. The second is the man without a bat in his hand – pleasant, courteous, perceptive and cordial.

He took this match in the 5th (Cross bowing out 5-11) in a similar vein to four months ago. As he trooped off, I made a point of asking him: Do you enjoy it? I expected a tirade, a volley of expletives, a ‘mind your own business’. He appeared to be one of the sulkiest players I had ever seen. But then Brownlow the saffron angel, without his dark guise, without his ‘on court’ Green Goblin persona emerged. “Very much so.”

We all change, metamorphose into someone else when playing, but Brownlow is the extreme. Laced up in Hi-Tec Squash trainers and Puma joggers, there is a rugged intensity to the man, a ‘have to win’ prevalence. Then the switch flicks and he is normal again.

Meadow won this encounter handsomely; their ‘double Roy’ attack – Caswell (71%) and Platt (69%) – engineering a methodical, if at times, careless conquest.

For now, Albany will play second fiddle in this division. They will struggle and struggle again. What a beautiful venue from which to play though – up there with the Hilton Centre in terms of lighting, Butterfly divides and meticulous flooring (not forgetting the Kettler table).

The irrepressible Terry Cross, stately Barry Atkins (19%) and merry Stuart Cross (24%) – no relation – will have their day soon.



On the Trail of Garvin Yim


‘“It is not a bad feeling when you’re knocked out,” Floyd Patterson said. “It’s a good feeling, actually. It’s not painful, just a sharp grogginess. You don’t see angels or stars; you’re on a pleasant cloud. After [Sonny] Liston hit me in Nevada, I felt, for about four or five seconds, that everybody in the arena was actually in the ring with me, circled around me like a family, and you feel warmth towards all the people in the arena after you’re knocked out. You feel lovable to all the people. And you want to reach out and kiss everybody.”’ Continue reading On the Trail of Garvin Yim

The Daves of Division Two

When Roger Lloyd-Pack passed away in January of this year he left behind not only a serious acting career (roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company and The National Theatre) but a comedy legacy. Colin ‘Trigger’ Ball, as he was known to adoring fans of John Sullivan’s Only Fools and Horses, was famous for his innocent yet howling one-liners; “What’s the name of that bloke who invented the Dyson vacuum cleaner?” just one of the masterfully-scripted scores.

Better known for addressing Nicholas Lyndhurst’s character, Rodney Trotter as ‘Dave’, Lloyd-Pack demonstrated the immensity of playing the low-IQ, straight man. Like a barman using the default of ‘John’ to unfamiliar faces, perhaps the Peckham road sweeper was trying to keep his life simple and manageable.

There are plenty of Daves in this world – very few Rodneys. This is evidenced by a quick glance at the player names in Division Two of the Bolton League. The Rodneys are outnumbered by five to one (more than 20 to 1 across the entire league). It is for this reason and in honour of the blue-suited Trigger that I will concentrate this piece of journalism on the table-tennising Daves.

Their records appear quite rotten on first inspection – almost reinforcing the plight of being a ‘Dave’. But then you look beneath the surface, as with most things, and realise there are various stories afoot.


Battle of the Daves’      Team                Played            Won              Win%age

David Cain                  Ramsbottom D          36                    15                    42%

David Jones                Bolton Uni B               48                    13                    27%

David Brookes           Harper Brass A         15                      1                       7%

David Mottershead Bolton Uni B             15                      0                       0%

Dave Rogers                FarnworthSC A        15                      0                       0%


David Cain, old warrior that he is, has returned to the game almost full-time after a decade out. Funny bat, ‘holiday’ legs, the Ramsbottom man has held his own with a notable ‘double’ over Tony Eardley and big wins against Gary Hilton, John Birchall, John Cole and Stephen Hunt. His win percentage at 42 is respectable indeed and puts him top of the Dave table.

David Jones – the burly bruiser playing for BoltonUniversity – whilst suffering a dip in form since December (just two wins from twenty-four matches) is a handful for anyone. The hard-hitting Farnworth man, playing up a division from last season has been unfortunate to lose six out of seven five-setters whilst on that run.

Such stats become psychological. His losses over the season to patient players such as Brian Greenhalgh and Alan Bradshaw perhaps tell the tale but his Division Two win percentage of 27% is still a ratio-busting figure when compared to last season’s 33% in Division Three.

David Brookes is the enigma of the bunch for me. A bit-part player (loves his handball and holidays), the Harper man is possibly a victim of never quite ‘getting going’ or having a sustained run in the team. His one victory, a truly uplifting five-set win against the might of 58% man, Gary Hilton was remarkable yet somehow demonstrative of better things to come. The father of Premier demon, Jordan, David quite simply needs to replicate his son’s killer instinct.

The remaining Daves – Mottershead and Rogers – although yet to record a win between them this season should be applauded for taking a set off Gillian Marsden and Bob Waller respectively.

Watch out, Rodney Hall (60%) – they’re gunning for you!


Fleetwood Town 0 AFC Wimbledon 0: Torturous to Some



Unusual for Graham Alexander to employ such a system: 3-5-2 (inevitably becoming 5-3-2); Alan Goodall, the old pro, sat between the centre halves rather than in front of the back four. But the wingbacks – were they conversant in the silky skills required to penetrate deep into opposition territory? Alas – not today. And the three man midfield – Murdoch, Sarcevic and new boy, Bobby Grant. Did they live by the psychic code of all great midfields? Were they each aware of the others’ movement and concession of space? Did they… gel? Not particularly.

I sat next to the grumbler of all grumblers today or rather an old man kitted out in sarcasm and negativity. It wasn’t pleasant. “£300,000 for Matt. £150,000 for Cresswell. What for?!” I am a team’s biggest critic but I at least know that players mostly feed off a crowd’s enthusiasm. To not expect anything from these “lumpen cart horses” in front of him or have one word of belief – it astounded me. Why had he been coming for 6 years?

He had been trussed up in the dangerous designs of having a ‘divine right’ to win. He had been spoilt. Was Fleetwood’s miraculous rise from the tenth tier to the fourth in a matter of fifteen years not there to be celebrated by the spectacle of each and every opponent to grace Highbury’s pitch? Wasn’t the visiting might of old giants like Portsmouth, Plymouth and Oxford enough? What did the old bugger expect? An easy stroll to the Championship?

From 100 fans to 3000. It was a fairy tale. The stands. The community. The set up. The brazen red letters on each programme – CODARMY. Not ‘Fleetwood’ made large font but a sign, a message to the opposition that we are together and prepared to graft and utilise every last ounce of sweat.

Expectation levels sometimes enter a realm which doesn’t entirely inhabit the real world. The young become impatient. The old offset their physical difficulties by moaning at able-bodied men. Some fans – most notably the proud, singing and bobbing unit in the centre of the Memorial Stand (accompanied by the beating of a war drum) – truly act as the 12th man. They understand that where we are is special. They do not take league status lightly. To be in one of the top four divisions of English football – by Christ, that is something for a town of this size.

Promotion to League One? Let us dream – yes. Let us try to sustain this momentum. Let us exploit whatever bricks have fallen into place. But booing if things go wrong, an attempt at humour with the dried-husk words of a menacing cynic? Leave them at home.

The team is trying. There are twenty-three different flavours, tastes and styles to contend with. Sometimes we’ll balls it up. Sometimes it will look bloody awful. But this was never meant to be choreography or theatre. It is blood and thunder, luck, random ideas, attrition – organised chaos with a circular piece of leather being thrust around the turf.

Did I curse Alexander for his tactics today? A little. Did I wonder why the hell he persists with two big men up front? Absolutely. Was I aware that the team void of Jeff Hughes and David Ball looks decidedly mediocre and without sufficient drive? You bloody betcha. Did I have my head down at the final whistle or rejoice in the contribution of our terrier and no.22 spark, Matty Hughes? Without doubt, the latter.

I applauded the team off the field despite my disappointment at only gaining a draw. I trumpeted individual performances which offered hope irrespective of the dip in form.

Can this team still gain automatic promotion? Yes. What if it’s only the play-offs or worse given the charge of Plymouth? We’ll live with it, regroup, understand just how far we’ve come, fully comprehend the privilege of playing in League Two.

And The Grumbler? A man I will have to sit next to for the Portsmouth and Rochdale games having pre-booked the tickets.

I will get my son to smear a hotdog in his face accidentally if he doesn’t see something in Fleetwood’s play – a blessed chunk of what I see every week; the player desperately working towards a cohesive unit; the slick passing of Big Jon Parkin (on a good day); the threat of Charlie Taylor when he smells a lack of speed; the bursting and compensatory runs of Gareth Evans in the knowledge that we do not possess any traditional wingers.

If he doesn’t see this, then feed him to the Kop. Cod Army! Cod Army! Cod Army!



Giant Killers Warm Up before their Big Day

giant k

Division Four

Hilton ‘L’                      3

Harper Brass ‘C’      6

Fifty years ago Oxford United knocked Blackburn Rovers out of the FA Cup 3-1 in what was arguably the biggest giant killing act in cup history. It was Division Four versus Division One – a team in only their second season of league football against established internationals.

Forget Wrexham/Arsenal (1992), Sutton United/Coventry City (1989), Wimbledon/Liverpool (1988) and Colchester/Leeds (1971). That afternoon at the Manor Ground in 1964, although perhaps not etched in modern minds, was cataclysmic – a real blueprint and precursor to Match of the Day stunners.

Hilton ‘L’, bottom of the table tennis tree, languishing in 12th place in Division Four, have had a run in the Warburton Cup (the local equivalent of the FA Cup) which has reverberated around the ‘grounds’ and will be highlighted in the table tennis annals should they go all the way.

Semi-finalists, dispensing with opposition in all three of the top divisions, Hilton ‘L’ have surprised many since their 2nd round defeat of seasoned Premier outfit, Burning Desire. That result (396.5 – 396), whilst incredibly tight and some might say fortuitous, maybe anchored itself to a greater destiny.

A young squad, the core of which is represented by 15-year-olds Thomas Field, Jason Hill and Robert Shaw, Hilton are developing at a good pace and showing the flair and belief of a close knit unit. Diplomatic squad rotation tonight from coach, Brian Young means that Hill sits it out – replaced by the youngest member of the team at just fourteen (and the boy with two surnames), Harrison Jones.

The tactical shifting of Harper Brass’s top player, Faizan Bhura to no.2 on the card results in an opening ‘big guns’ clash between Field and Bhura – a match that would normally see out the evening.

Field, blue and white Stiga top, slightly roguish gelled hair, does not look fazed. Opposite is a 75% man in mean, Nike orange-striped trainers, yet his polished technique copes admirably. 10-12. Damn unlucky; noticeable fight in the youngster when 4-8 down. Field knows that he has to have these scraps in order to rise and test himself properly.

8-11. 9-11. It is commendable from Field – not enough, but extremely encouraging. Bhura, quite simply, is match savvy. Even at 5-1 down in the third he retained his cool, played the same strokes.

Shaw versus Haroon Khan next – a decade separates them in age. The blonde, Hilton lad (grey joggers) has an austere aura to him. He knows the standards he wishes to attain, yet the path to them may unduly frustrate. 6-11. 11-8. Shaw’s whipping forehand sends a warning out to Khan.

Khan, always upbeat, enjoying his third and finest season in the league, thinks he has this opponent despite the mishap of the second. His game has improved drastically – the soft backhand is no more and the deep, arching southpaw shots have a beautiful, navigational quality. 6-11. 4-11. Too much for Shaw.

Enter the saviour, Jones – unfancied, modest stats and up against the loquacious Kaushik Makwana (55%). 11-4: Persistent smashes. 8-11: Makwana sweeping backhands. 11-7: Improved feet from Jones. 10-12: Cruel. 11-9: Always in the locker!

It is hardly Oxford United (plus Harper win on the night). But the promise, the dream – that lives on.



Knowing the Numbers


My maths teacher was given the nickname or moniker, ‘Chewbacca’ in the late 1970s. He was a tall, slim, hairy, quick-witted gent with the arm span of a light aircraft.

His classes were simple, but technical affairs. We would stand at the front in height order as if part of a Two Ronnies’ sketch in an effort to find the mean, median and mode. His swashbuckling system extended to other demonstrative feats when it came to algebra, calculus and trigonometry.

He wore glasses, BHS shirts and had the inside leg measurement of an electricity pylon, yet his extraordinary skills and personality I had not seen before and would not see again.

It is true to say that without Peter Richardson, I would have had nowhere to go, no self-belief and certainly no faith in the large, authoritarian figures who marshalled the classrooms.

As it was, numbers were the early calling. I could seemingly make them dance, perform and adequately limber up thus shaking out x’s value from deep within a quadratic equation.

My arch enemy and nemesis was Wendy Coupe (possibly spelt incorrectly but it rhymed with ‘chicken coop’). On leaving school, I heard that she’d become a bookie. True to form, although thirteen years later, I became a stockbroker.

We were still, in essence, battling away. She was taking bets. I was – let’s not kid ourselves – doing much the same. We stared at our respective screens and slowly developed a keener sense of numbers than ever before. Chewbacca had given us a leg up into these strange industries.

When the online exchange, Betfair was founded (2000) it presented an opportunity for the diffident yet sophisticated gambler to really examine this curious world – look through the swathes of numbers and decide which represented value. Or to put it bluntly, which were alarmingly but beautifully wrong.

The decimal odds (fancier than fraction odds) enabled me to create a spreadsheet with various bet/lay profit and loss projections which instantly told me what I stood to make were I to close out the position ‘in-play’. This was useful for football particularly but led to punts on cricket and tennis.

In October 2005, I noticed that Australia and the ICC World XI were both bobbing around Evens (2.0) for the proposed 6-day test at the Syndey Cricket Ground. Such numbers seemed ludicrous. Australia were a force, they were at home and they were also, crucially, a team that had played together before. Against Smith, Sehwag, Dravid, Lara, Flintoff, Muralitharan and the like they were dominant – breezing home by 210 runs with two days to spare.

My bigger bet three years later (Wimbledon 2008) had Rafael Nadal pre-French Open at around 7/1 (8.0). For a young man slowly coming to terms with grass, the figures quite simply were wrong. (Easy to say after the relief of a 6-4,6-4,6-7,6-7,9-7 final win over Federer!)

Now, it is the table tennis world which has shook me. I have looked at the Division Two scorecard (8th-placed Ladybridge ‘B’ 9 vs 1st-placed Hilton ‘E’ 0) over and over again and it just does not stack up. I would not use the word ‘irregular’ as that would bring into question the professionalism of my fellow players, but peculiar, abnormal, unusual, astonishing – yes.

Coupe would have had such a result at 100/1.