Last Friday the Northumbria Table Tennis League hosted an Awards Evening which they hope to become a new annual tradition. Players who won events at the Northumberland Closed and Northumberland Junior Closed tournaments were presented with awards, as were the Handicap Cup winners and then, last but certainly not least, the team winners and runners-up from each division in the Winter league. The event was held at Goals Newcastle’s function room which was beautifully presented and the buffet went down a treat with the 60 or so people in attendance. Next year additional awards are being planned including committee and team-voted inclusions such as “Most Improved Veteran” and “Most Sporting Team”.

One of the players who unfortunately couldn’t be there to pick up his awards for winning the Premier division title with the Cramlington Casuals and also winning the Open Singles in the Northumberland Closed tournament was Andrew Wilkinson. Wilkinson was competing in his first Veteran’s Nationals competition in Wolverhampton where he did extremely well to win a Silver medal in the most strongly-competed event, Over 40’s. Wilkinson, seeded 8th, beat the number 2 seed Neil Charles in the semi-final. By all accounts the game was superb to watch and Wilkinson showed immense ability and mental strength to overcome Charles 11-8 in the fifth and deciding end. In the final he faced Premier British League player Lorestas Trumpauskas. Wilkinson played well and found himself ahead at the start of each game but in the end lost 3-0 to the well-known veteran. Considering the tournament was his first, Wilkinson can certainly be proud of his accomplishments and will no doubt set his sights on the title next year.

The Summer league kicks off this week and in Division 1 Cramlington Stingers immediately indicated their intent by beating new Division 1 team Brandon Air. Marc Cotton came back from being 2-1 behind against Jamie Lupton to win 3-2 but then had to retire injured. Steve Penman also had a close game with Jamie Lupton, coming back from 2-0 to win 3-2 in a match which saw two players with very similar styles duking it out with long rallies and great retrieving. In the end the Stingers only lost the matches that Cotton had to forfeit, winning 8-2 overall.

 The Casuals

     

Andrew Wilkinson                         Marc Cotton, Peter Smallcombe, Steve Penman (and son) – Gareth Pearson, Chairman NTTA

 

Both the Northumbria Winter league and the Handicap Cup competition have now finished which means it’s time for the Summer league to take over. Thanks to some new entries like Redby and East Boldon who primarily play in the Sunderland league during the winter season, all 5 divisions have been filled with 8 teams in each.

There’s no Premier division in the Summer league which means that Division 1 is host to a mixture of teams from Winter Premier, Division 1 and Division 2.

League winners and usual favourites Cramlington Casuals are represented by a mixture of Division 1 and Premier players such as James Bradbury, Rob Reed, Adam Webster, Gareth Pearson and Iain Wood. The actual players from the Winter season’s Casuals team are registered for the Cramlington Stingers – Andrew Wilkinson, Peter Smallcombe, Steven Penman and Marc Cotton with the addition of Dale Aitkenhead from Winter team Mitford who haven’t entered a team into the Summer league.

Mount also have two teams in Division 1, recalling last Summer season’s players Duncan Wraight and Lee Eadington to accompany their usual Winter line-up of Graeme Barella, David Pringle, Anthony Ainley and Phil Prady in the A team. The B team consists of Winter Division 1 stalwarts John Russell, David Cutler and Rodney Roberts.

Old England have only entered a single team which means they can call from a host of quality players including Jacob Helm, Alan Atkinson, Lynne Herrington, Joe Muldowney, Brian Bateman, Ken Clark and umpteen others.

St Chads will wheel out their usual squad of the Weatherby family, Jimmy Scope, Dave Bisset and Chris Blake but they’ll also add Paul Baines from NESLC’s Winter team.

Riding Mill have moved to a venue in Prudhoe and will now be known as Prudhoe United Services. They’ve entered two teams into the Summer league, one in Division 1 and another in Division 3. Currently the A team only has two players registered – Premier-quality players John Williamson and Jeff Salter – but the B team has no short supply of good players to support them in the form of Mark O’Connor, Andrew Firth, Shirley Gelder, Maurice Cheek, Allan Thompson and Peter Stempczyk. Players from a lower-registered team can play up to 5 matches for a higher team but on their 6th appearance they “join” that team permanently and can’t play for their original, lower-ranked side.

The only team to have players with no Winter league Premier division experience is Brandon Air. Comprised of Jamie Lupton, Lee Tinkler, Paul Dale and Troy Maddison, the line-up is full of up-and-coming young players who have proven themselves comfortably in divisions too low for their current ability. Despite their lack of experience at this level the youngsters shouldn’t be considered rank outsiders and most players who know them would certainly not be surprised to find them climbing well above the relegation spots.

The Cramlington Stingers team are certainly the favourites with their players having barely lost a title in the past 5 years but St Chads and Mount A could potentially cause upsets depending on which team fields their strongest players most regularly. Top players Andrew Wilkinson and Graeme Barella could yet again face each other if Wilkinson is practising for national Veterans tournaments at the same time that Barella returns from a work placement in London. Other players to watch include Brandon’s Jamie Lupton, a very steady, consistent retriever who likes to play away from the table, and Dale Aitkenhead who is slowly but surely recovering from injury and will invariably find a vein of form if he plays enough games for the Stingers this season.

The final of the Northumbria Table Tennis League KO Handicap Cup has now been played at Mount’s new summer league venue in Dunston. A Mount line-up of David Cutler, Rodney Roberts and Jamie Dent triumphed over Ouston B’s Neil Wilkinson, Tom Fowle and Jeff McKenna in a brilliant spectacle of table tennis.

Ouston’s route to the final included beating Cramlington Reivers in the quarter-finals and then Byker B in the semi-finals. Mount beat Birtley in the quarter-finals and then Newton B in the semis. In the Winter league, the teams play in separate divisions – Mount in Division 1 and Ouston B in Division 2, so Mount were prepared to deal with giving Ouston some decent-sized head-starts as part of the Handicap format.

Ouston started comfortably as Tom Fowle beat David Cutler in 2 ends. Cutler being the higher-graded player had to give Fowle a 7-point start and couldn’t quite overcome it, Fowle winning 21-18 and 21-15.

Mount bounced back quickly and took three matches in a row. Jamie Dent was responsible for 2 of these wins as he beat Neil Wilkinson 21-13 and 21-19 then Tom Fowle 21-10 and 21-10 again, both with Dent having a 2-point deficit to overcome. In-between these results, Rodney Roberts and Jeff McKenna battled for three close sets in the best display of the evening. Roberts gave McKenna a 9-point start and couldn’t prevail over this in the first end, losing 21-18. In the second end Roberts found form and won by the same score, 21-18. The deciding third end was even tighter still but McKenna eventually lost out 22-20, giving Roberts and Mount a 2-1 win.

At 3-1 down, times looked tough for Ouston. To get them back in the running, Jeff McKenna stepped up and played well to beat David Cutler in two quick sets after his disappointment of losing out in such a close match to Rod Roberts. Teammate Neil Wilkinson then backed him up with a consecutive win against Rodney Roberts with a 7-point start which put the match score at 3-3.

Mount halted Ouston’s momentum when Jamie Dent then faced Jeff McKenna and overcame a 6-point deficit to win in 2 sets 21-13 and 22-20 which meant Mount just needed one more win to take the Cup.

The eighth match of the contest, Mount winning 4-3, was between Rodney Roberts and Tom Fowle. Fowle had a 7-point start but narrowly lost the first set 21-19. The second set was absolutely mammoth and Fowle really proved his resilience and nerve by winning 29-27. Eventually however Roberts dug in and battled to give his team the match and win them the Handicap Cup as he beat Fowle 21-19, Mount winning 5-3 overall.

Roberts’ nerve was key to winning the match for his team and as such he deserves a mention for Player of the Match. Jamie Dent however barely dropped a match all the way to the final and can consider himself Player of the Season in the Handicap Cup competition.

Winners – The Mount: Rod Roberts, Jamie Dent, Dave Cutler

Runner -up – Ouston B: Neil Wilkinson, Tom Fowle, Jeff McKenna


Graeme Bell

Newton A clinched an unbearably close Division 1 title this week as they beat Mount B in a head-to-head countback. Both teams finished on 126 points by winning 126 sets and losing just 54 so the winner of the division is worked out by looking at the two teams’ matches against each other. In the end, the division was decided by just a single match as Mount lost 8-2 away to Newton. Newton’s Graeme Bell took Player of the Match as he and John Russell sealed the game and division title with hat-tricks. Craig Fryer chipped in with a single win over Alan Livingstone but lost out to David Cutler and Rodney Roberts. The sting of losing the title by such a small margin probably won’t last too long for Mount as they have certainly achieved their main objective of gaining promotion to the Premier division. The closest competitors to the top two teams were Mount’s third team with 92 sets won, followed closely by Matfen Centurions.

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Iain Wood

In the Northumbria Table Tennis League’s Premier division there are only 6 outstanding games yet to be played. As things stand, the Cramlington Casuals have won the league by an inescapable margin and Byker A have guaranteed their own demotion, but there is a fight on for second place between NESLC Eagles and NECA A. Old England Jacks could reach the 65 points already accumulated by third bottom Cramlington Stingers if they win their outstanding match, away to Riding Mill,  by 10-0. However it would not save them from relegation as Stingers have beaten them twice which, on the count back rules, would put them above Riding Mill.

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The winning team

This weekend saw the second and final weekend of the Veteran County Championships. At the start of the weekend Northumberland were second in Division 1A with 5 points, just 1 point behind leaders Cheshire 1. The line-up for this second weekend saw one change as Jim Stamas stood in for Dave Robson alongside Andrew Wilkinson, Eddie Smith and Christine Burke. Robson, having performed adequately in the first weekend, told the team that he wouldn’t play the second weekend but gave no reason. Fortunately for the county, Stamas is renowned for being a genuine team player who fights for every point and his performances over the weekend were to prove Robson wasn’t irreplaceable.

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Last week no league games were played as the Handicap Cup quarter finals took place. The handicap format allows for a level playing field between teams despite potential differences in their usual local league divisions or even between individuals of different gradings. Players facing higher-graded opponents will be afforded a certain number of points’ head-start and each match takes the format of first to 21 points in the best of 3 games.

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With only two weeks remaining, the top of the table in division two is looking terrifically close. Matfen Senators are currently top, but they also have games in hand over Old England Crocks and Ouston A. The Senators had no scheduled match this week but both Ouston A and Old England Crocks won 8-2. Ouston visited Matfen Tribunes whereby Mike Lyons and Mark Rogers both won their hat-tricks and Neil Rogers chipped in with a single victory. Old England hosted Birtley where Ken Clark took three wins and Player of the Match. Brian Bateman and Colin Robson both won two, Bateman suffering a rare defeat in the division against the equally experienced Bob Dodds. At the other end of the table, Old England Fatts unfortunately lost again as they faced Ouston B. The 9-1 defeat does not mean that all is lost for the Fatts but that relegation is looming increasingly close. The other fixture of the week saw Byker C lose 9-1 at the hands of the Cramlington Trojans, Mike Jones and Paul Fairlamb both winning three matches.

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As things stand in the Northumbria Table Tennis League’s Premier division, Cramlington Casuals are top with 132 points and a game in hand over second place NESLC Eagles who have amassed 123 sets. For a short period of time the Eagles were top and, controversially, the Casuals then decided to use the January transfer window to sign-on “super sub” veteran David Robson. Robson has only played 6 matches since signing on but has won them all, only losing ends to Riding Mill’s Geoff Salter.

Kevin Wilson showed his quality again this week as he beat St Chads’ Keith Weatherby, Jimmy Scope and David Bissett. Unfortunately the other Cramlington Stingers players couldn’t assist him as they lost 5-4, only Rob Reed able to chip in with a win over Bissett. It was a similar story for Mitford A as Dale Aitkenhead returned from injury to earn a hat-trick against Mount A’s Phil Prady, Anthony Ainley and Rod Roberts. Despite this, plus Wraight adding a solitary victory, the home team lost 6-4. NESLC Eagles and NECA A had easier runs out as the Eagles beat Riding Mill A 8-2 and NECA beat bottom place Byker A 10-0. Jim Stamas took Player of the Match for the Eagles as he was the only player to beat Riding Mill’s Geoff Salter. Richard Wilson and Paul Baines both chipped in with 2 wins each though as the Mill’s Peter Stempczyk and John Williamson were unable to pick up a win.

In Division 1, Rob Lawson had a stormer for Newton B as he beat all three Cramlington Reivers players Alistair Colin, Paul Jamieson and Alex Hinchliffe. The Reivers seemed to be in control throughout the game and eventually won 7-3 overall but Lawson proved to be a real thorn in the home team’s side. Andrew Firth, who has returned to table tennis this calendar year after a break, was once again in action this week for Riding Mill B when they beat Mitford B 7-3. Mitford were only able to turn out 2 players but put up a reasonable performance regardless. Mick Bull beat Shirley Gelder and was unlucky to lose 11-9 in the deciding end to Firth, Bob Atwell beat Maurice Cheek and the pair combined to win the doubles. Division leaders Newton A were too good for Mount C as they won 8-2. Graeme Bell won his three matches to seal the Player of the Match award, teammates Craig Fryer and John Russell both losing one game apiece – to David Bannon and Mohinder Rawat respectively.