Representing Wychelm, your friendly local tube driver and your favourite club captain…
By Katie Garner
Sunday 12th May saw the arrival of a beautiful clear blue sky, a vaguely bitter breeze, and a vast quantity of league badminton players, limbering up for battle – armed with numerous rackets, packed lunches and colour co-ordinating t-shirts.
What better way to remember the roots of the Barking, Havering and District Badminton League as it reaches the grand old age of 70 than to bring the celebration back on court in an old school knock out handicap tournament? Hosted by League Secretary and Treasurer Stephen Beech, clubs from across the county gathered to play ladies doubles, men’s doubles or mixed doubles, at William Edward School, based in Grays. In each category was a minimum of at least three groups, where each pair had to play all of the other duos in their group. The group winners would then progress on to the next round of the competition, whether this was a quarter final or a semi final, with the successors from this round naturally excelling through to the grand final. Eventual winners received an impressive gold trophy and a cheque for £40 to share, while runners up were given a golden medal each, along with a cheque for £20 between them.
As soon as I heard about the tournament, I knew I wanted to get involved, so my search for a partner began…and then ended with the one other Wychelmer who wanted to patriotically represent his club – men’s squad regular and mixed reserve Gary, who despite only being at Wychelm for six months, has become a real dedicated team player, attending socials with vigour and matches with an ambitiously competitive fire. Signing ourselves up for the mixed doubles, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect, especially with regards to the handicap which can either be a relieving help, or a panicking hindrance.
We arrived with Gary’s lovely wife Kerry (who had thoughtfully prepared ham rolls for us to munch on) at 9.15am for registration, although the mixed matches didn’t end up starting until 1.00pm after all the men’s and ladies games had been played (much to our chagrin). We had been placed in the second group of mixed players along with five other pairs from a variety of clubs – some of which we haven’t played before, which made a really refreshing and exciting change. Our handicap on the whole was around the +6 mark, although the handy computer programme being used worked out the individual handicaps for each game, making this a lot easier and also more tailored to each face off. Group games were one game played to 21, with no setting.
We started off the group games against a pair from Hunters and my fellow league committee colleagues Mike and Kellie. After sitting off for so long, I think we were a bit over excited to finally be playing, and this bundle of energy meant it took us a while to settle down and get to grips with the rallies. We ended up losing this one 19-21, which is very respectable, but we think we could have pushed for a win. Our second game was also against a Hunters duo; an 83-year-old woman playing with her grandson. We actually had a -2 handicap here, while they had a +2, which was our only minus handicap in the tournament. The handicap proved it’s salt though as we only just managed to scrape through a win at 21-20, which we were immensely relieved about. Chris in this game was absolutely fantastic, and it was brilliant to see them so obviously enjoy partnering each other.
With our first win tucked snugly under our belts, we were eager to clock up some more and when we ended up walking on court with Ramgarhia, we tried not to let our faith flicker. We had a +5 handicap, while they had a -5, which definitely worked in our favour, although I believe we had hit our stride at this point, and we played well. We won with a very nice gap of 21-12, which left friends from Emerson Eagles agape and surprised! Our next game was against newbies Epping, who we have never really encountered before. In this game, we felt that waiting around may have actually done us a favour – both of the Epping players had already expended vast amounts of energy getting through to the latter stages of both the men’s and ladies sessions, meaning they were incredibly knackered compared to our dashing levels of perspiration. Our best looking result by far, with a win of 21-4, although we once again had a +5, while they were on -6.
The last game in our group was against Redbridge, and we kept our handicap at +1, with Redbridge having -1. We won this one as well, with 21-16. On the whole, I think Gary and I had great teamwork, and our styles of tactics and shots seemed to gel together nicely. Gary is a great partner to have as he is so versatile, as well as a strong player on the back of the court, really using his height to reach every furthermost zone of the court. With four wins and only one defeat, we were hopeful of reaching the next stage of the tournament. There were only three groups of the mixed, so the three winners and the best runner up would go straight through to the semi finals.
Good news – we won our group! Bad news – our semi final game was against the Ramgarhia pair that we had defeated earlier, as they got through as the best runners up; the game against us being their only loss. After being beaten by us once, they weren’t going to let it happen again, and they really pulled out all of the stops to send us to a shuddering halt with a defeat of 13-21 (also using the same handicaps that we had in our earlier game).
Even though we lost, I am so unbelievably proud of our performance. Every other club were surrounded by hoards of their home players, playing in more than one category with practised expertise and high ambitions. They were polished, professional, and sitting on the side lines watching them play was at times an absolute treat. Despite all of this, we stuck our necks on the line and stood up for our little club and we made sure that we left our stamp on the competition. We didn’t expect to win the group stage, but we did, and we did it with drive and a need to prove ourselves. We succeeded into getting in a semi final against the eventual runners up of the mixed doubles. Gary played brilliantly and I couldn’t have asked for a better partner on the day, as well as our sandwich support and official photographer Kerry.
The entire atmosphere of the day was amazing – there was such an energetic and positive buzz about the hall, it was absolutely alive with sporting spark. Everyone was just nattering away to everyone, enquiring about handicaps or being nosy about scores, it was just an incredibly open and talkative environment, where we were all there for the same purpose – to enjoy our shared love of the fastest racket sport in the world. It was a really fantastic day and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Watching the mixed final between Ramgarhia and Harold Hill was a stunningly nail biting master class of play.
The league are contemplating hosting a similar tournament next year because of the brilliant success and amazing feedback received this time round. I will be expecting a better Wychelm representation next time and hopefully I can drag a few more of you along, as I have every faith in our squads. Wonder how many ham rolls Kerry can stretch to…