The Northumberland Table Tennis Association Team Handicap Knockout Cup may have a lengthy title but its format is hugely enjoyed by swathes of league players every year. Teams opt in to the competition at the start of the season and fixtures are picked at random then played on designated league break weeks throughout the winter season.
During a match, every individual player has a handicap. When players with different handicaps face each other, the higher handicap player gets a head-start, the size of which is determined by the difference in handicaps. The old scoring rules are used in this competition too so players play to 21 points in each end, and best of 3 ends wins.
These handicaps are developed by a complex formula based on players’ results across multiple seasons. Every player, at some point, starts on a handicap of 60 – but as they earn wins in the winter and summer leagues, this figure will start to drop. Losses take their toll too however and unexpected defeats can incur significant damage to a player’s handicap when the results are calculated at the end of each league season.
The real benefit of the team handicap format is that players in lower divisions often get the chance to play against stronger teams, and importantly, face them on a level pegging. Top Premier Division players can often find themselves on the receiving end of an 18-point deficit against Division 4 players which means it only takes 3 good shots from the higher handicap player (or 3 mistakes from the Premier player) to win an end. Sounds easy for the player with such a big advantage, but once you take spin and wicked serves into the equation, these games can still often be very tight.
Three rounds of matches were played before 8 teams made it into the quarter-finals. Prudhoe narrowly beat Cramlington Trojans 5-4, Mount C beat Tyneside C 6-3, Cramlington Ravens nearly whitewashed Ouston B 8-1 and Mount B beat Old England Fatts 7-2.
In the semi-finals, the two Mount teams were drawn against each other leaving Cramlington Ravens to play Prudhoe at home.
The Ravens made short work of Prudhoe as a young team of Ethan Brown, Jack Cairns and Israel Shodeinde had 9, 10, 11 and a single 12-point head-starts against Prudhoe’s experienced line-up of Shirley Gelder, Mark O’Connor and Maurice Cheek. All three of the away team players nearly managed to win matches as they had 5 close deciding end matches but in the end only Gelder was able to pick up a win as the youngsters battled to an 8-1 victory. The other fixture was also relatively one-sided as Mount C dispatched their compatriots with ease, winning 5-1.
This led to an interesting final as Mount C’s team comprised of Division 2 player Alan Livingstone, Division 1 player Dan Dodds and Premier player Anthony Ainley against Cramlington’s Division 3 players Ethan Brown, Jack Cairns and Israel Shodeinde. The match started out with Alan Livingstone facing Ethan Brown, Livingstone losing the first end with just 8 points. The second end was closer but Brown pipped it 22-20 to give the Ravens a 1-0 start. Anthony Ainley then stepped up to face Israel Shodeinde and was unfortunate to lose the first end by just 4 points. In the second end however Ainley’s resolve disintegrated and Shodeinde cruised to a 21-4 victory.
The third match between Dan Dodds and Jack Cairns was a close call, Dodds facing a 10-point deficit, but after taking the first end 21-17, Cairns got to grips with Dodds’ play style and won the next two ends -9 and -10. Ainley stepped up again to face Ethan Brown and did incredibly well to get to 18 points in both ends despite a 14-point start for the youngster but it wasn’t enough to stop a 2-0 loss, taking the Ravens to 4-0 in matches and only requiring a single win to take the Handicap Knockout Cup trophy.
The last match was the closest as Alan Livingstone stared down a 10-point disadvantage to beat Jack Cairns 22-20 in the first end. Cairns got his game together however and won the next end -13. Cairns needed just one more end to seal victory for the Ravens and he did so dutifully by winning 21-15, giving the Ravens a seemingly comfortable 5-0 victory.
All three youngsters were identified by top local coach David Godbold as part of after-school sessions at John Spence school in North Tyneside a couple of years ago and the league community are delighted that such promise is starting to take shape in a competitive environment.
Ravens – KO Cup winners : Ethan Brown, Jack Cairns and Israel Shodeinde
Mount C – KO Cup runners up : Dan Dodds, Alan Livingstone and Anthony Ainley