A good idea at the time?
When it was announced back in the autumn of 2020 that there would be no 2020/21 Liverpool League season because of the corona virus pandemic, it seemed like a good idea at the time to launch our own Marine Mini League (MML) to give some of our players the chance to keep match fit. This was at a time when some adult table tennis was allowed!
Six teams were formed, mostly of players from the lower tier of league standard players, and a schedule created to play 10 matches each. The season was launched on the 23 September 2020. And stopped on the 2 October after just 2 weeks, when corona virus lockdown forced all adult table tennis to stop!
The first two weeks had gone brilliantly, with some great play and creating a good deal of interest. It wasn't until 27 May 2021 that the MML was able to resume. Maybe by then the original enthusiasm had waned, or was it the fast approaching summer and warmer 'outdoor pursuits' weather? Nevertheless, there was still some great table tennis and the league finally finished on the 23 July 2021.
I wondered what I might learn from this experience? Well, two things come to mind. First, don't start something unless you can finish it! And second the heat of summer isn't exactly ideal for playing competitive indoor table tennis, especially when participants are tempted outdoors by other activities!
What of the table tennis itself. Here is a quick review. The division comprised of 6 teams of 3-a-side, with a match consisting of 6 sets of singles, with every game won counting as a point! So, even if you lose a set it was still possible to pick up points. Indeed, very often it was games won in a set lost that tipped the match balance in favour of one team or the other. The majority of the teams had a recognized No.1 player, which meant some of the matches were extremely competitive! There was also a very flexible substitutions system, so that more or less any player from another team could sub, and in any order within the team. The substitutions policy was perhaps over generous, and at times made a big difference to outcomes, especially in the latter stages of the competition when several teams found they needed more and more substitutes!
The evidence however shows that where teams remained consistent throughout they outperformed those around them! This certainly applied to Andy's Army. They were able to play the same 3 players for almost every match, and it paid off! There are few teams who win a league and cup double, but the Army did exactly that! They won the MML division, and midway through the mini-league, they triumphed in the Divisional Cup! A superb performance by Andrew Armstrong, Keith Dudley and Sue Young. And how did they manage to win? It was the absolutely vital contributions made by their No.3, Sue, that made the difference! Without hesitation this writer would label her as the most improved player over the MML 'season'! Even if she didn't like playing Billy Dunleavy! Billy was himself a revelation, initially being a reserve for the Maverick's he got games in several teams, and caused quite a few upsets by his persistent style. Dogged defending and great use of back spin to tempt players into mistakes!
The Maverick's themselves had a good squad under Captain Steve McCormick, but too often in the later stages were not able to bring out their strongest team or a consistent team and so fell behind. By contrast, The Marauders, started with a strong looking squad, but two player losses after the first two matches left them struggling. Captain Peter Crichton however went into the transfer market and was able to 'buy' in the Army's sub, Mark Benson. With other tactical substitutions the Marauders were able to claw their way up the table, finally finishing second. An extremely good effort in the circumstances.
The idea was that two of the teams would give a competitive opportunity for some of our younger players. Sam Pierce took responsibility for one group, he started off well with two teenagers, but when it came to the summer they seem to have found other pursuits! So he drafted in two newcomers, Ellis Parry & Daniel Duncan, and what a find they have proved to be, helping Sam get the team up to third spot! Sam himself has proved a very worthy No.1 for his team, as he has edged his way back into match play after a lay-off of several years. But there is no doubt the old magic is still there, and he hardly put a foot wrong! Dropping just 3 games and winning all of his sets. On that basis, there is no doubt he was the overall player of the tournament.
The other team to feature junior players was Mason's United, led by Club Secretary, Graham Turner. All of our teenagers have so many other interests, including education and sport, that finding a team often proved extremely difficult for the United! Yet alone a team that included any Masons! Pleasingly however, we were able to give some match experience to 8 teenagers over the course of the MML and all have done very well showing a lot of improvement. Overall the United finished just 4 points behind the Starters, so a very good effort by the youngsters - and the not so youngsters!
Then finally we had Hardman's Heroes. And truly they were heroes. Without a clear No.1 they at first struggled, but with every game won counting as a point they consistently picked up points. The break in the schedule however played into their hands! Forced to bring in substitutes towards the end of the tournament it rejuvenated their fortunes and they finished up with three very handsome wins on the bounce!
The great thing about this tournament was that their were no losers. In some way everyone won something. The real winner was table tennis itself. you can check out all the results, tables, player performances from the website, under the tab 'League' and our Facebook page has included weekly pictures from the MML. In case you haven't seen enough here is a short video of the MML in pictures, to the music 'Magic Season'!