On possibly two of their twenty-two evenings there was hope: the opening Division Two fixture on 4th September 2014 when captain, Dave Jones Jnr wrestled the night’s first match away from Krishna Hooton (12-10, 11-9, 10-12, 11-3) and then again on 12th December 2014 when they salvaged a hat-trick of wins against a weakened Hilton H.
But in between and after the beatings came; hard and heavy - six evenings in October/November with a meagre return of 2/54 points and a horrible February/March racking up that same sombre total.
Heaton ‘D’ (formerly ‘E’), a mere six months before, were considered giants in Division Three – runaway promotion kings with 110 points and the experienced hands of Dave Jones Snr, Philip Beales and the aforementioned Jones Jnr. Journalistic notes on them from their heyday read (respectively): footwork of a ballerina; rangy and lethal; affable but deadly.
This ageing crew, however, has fallen foul of the cursed middle division. Plenty have trod this path and failed - immediately understood the dedication or innate ability required in order to flourish. You cannot, it seems, just stride into the table tennis halls at this level and cement a result or sneak numerous points on your serve. Division Two has that ominous combination of “long established players and young guns being coached” Beales mourns. In other words, there are no safe matches.
Finishing with a season low of 19 points (Jones Jnr 9, Jones Snr 4, Beales 2 and part-timer, Martin Hulton 4), Heaton have well and truly gone from punching the air in March 2014 to “desperately looking for inspiration from each other” in 2014/15. “By the end we had little belief in our own ability and looked forward to the end of the season and a chance to regroup”, Jones Jnr opines.
The really disappointing aspect was that they’d “somehow underperformed” though – “too many easy points given away…poor reading of serves…too hesitant to attack”.
After a wonderful beginning (75% after his first four matches), Jones Snr won only once more (1/47) – a Christmas present from Jean Smart who was ‘playing up’ anyway. Such habitual play can torment a man. Noises begin to mess with one’s psyche. ‘Will I ever be the same again?’ is the voice – ‘Even on my return to Division Three.’
Heaton will be grateful for their experience once September arrives. They are too good to implode. Until then, there will be a ghost over each shoulder, a slight nervousness with the bat and renewed belief slowly baking in the background.