Division Three: Farnworth SC ‘B’ 3 Hilton ‘K’ 6
For a team who were looking good for promotion at Christmas but who were then savagely beaten by title favourites, Hilton ‘I’ 9-0 in the New Year, Farnworth needed a result tonight. They needed a show of mettle, an undaunted display of might – performances from the depths of both squad and body.
Living with the visitors up to match six (3-3) – in large part due to the experience of old hand, John Ainley – Farnworth had this teed up nicely, ready to sound the battle cry and edge to victory.
Cue the unluckiest player in the league, Farnworth’s David End losing his third five-setter of the night, Ainley missing his treble and Hilton’s Brian Young with a born-again performance against John Rothwell.
One of the trickier venues, Farnworth Social Circle Cricket Club has an ‘under the stairs’ feel to it. To enter its table tennis bosom is to be met by paraphernalia not exactly crucial to the great game: stacks of plaster board behind the door; folded-up buffet tables; odd-shaped pieces of wood leaning against the wall; one orange life ring.
Whether this is strategic, part of the intimidatory armour, I do not know. The faces seem welcoming enough, as do the eight coat hangers – rare practical assets in this cubbyhole – yet beyond the minor pleasantries one senses the need for a power shift within this club, a firm separation of lines between cricket and table tennis.
Hilton’s Mathew Fishwick, 85% man and fourth finest player in Division Three this season got this show on the road in his usual uncompromising style. Fishwick is a human wall, a table tennis automaton. He must have played each shot thousands of times now and such dedication tends to sink opponents. Rothwell, deep-serving maestro, was fortunate to take one set: 6-11,9-11,11-8, 7-11.
Jeff Saunders – digger of the ball, a lower-league Jeff Craighill in terms of style – playing his first away match ever, will perhaps stay at home in future with the knowledge that low ceilings are routine annoyances ‘on the road’ and do not suit his game. Ainley, the wily, bespectacled man with a scooped push courtesy of his rotating, Gorilla-like arm proved to be too much: 11-5,4-11,11-7,11-9.
Enter not ‘The Special One’ but ‘The Unlucky One’. David End, Farnworth’s no.4 is half the size and has half the stats of usual incumbent, Carl Bennett. To see him play, however, is to respect his audacious looping style. Regular whispers emanate from him (“Rubbish. Rubbish.”) and you can see the demons plying their trade in his company. He lost this one in horrible fashion to Young: 13-15,11-9,7-11,11-8,12-14.
Rothwell pulled Farnworth back into it by defeating Saunders (3-1). End did his usual five-set trick against Fishwick (2-3). And Ainley sneaked home versus Young (3-2).
Match seven (End versus Saunders – battle of the 1961 boys) was pivotal – the best spectacle of the night; attack versus defence (9-11,8-11,14-12,16-14). End had it (6-4 up in the fifth) but then the groan, the calamitous finish (7-11).
Division 3 ‘Top Six’
P W L F A Pts
1 Hilton I 12 8 4 67 41 67
2 Lostock 12 8 4 64 44 64
3 Heaton E 12 7 5 61 47 61
4 Hilton H 12 8 4 60 48 60
5 Farnworth SCB 13 6 7 59 58 59
6 Hilton K 13 9 4 59 58 59