Cardiff City’s maiden season in the Junior British League concluded triumphantly last weekend as the Boys team brought home the Division 4A trophy and the Girls side came close to the promotion places in Division 3, missing out by only two points. In total, nine young club members aged between eight and sixteen travelled to RAF Cosford in Shropshire last Friday to compete in the second of the two crucial weekends that make up the Juniors’ season.
Pouyan Javanmard, Tommy Heydon, Cade Short, Benedict Watson and Lawrence John all represented Cardiff in the Boys section of the league. A strong showing back in October had seen the team finish the weekend undefeated and in second place, held off the top spot only on a difference in sets won between them and leaders Ormesby 2.
Early on Saturday the boys recovered quickly from dropping the first set of the weekend against Greenhouse to win the match 5-1 overall. This comeback sparked an incredible run of form for Cardiff as Saturday afternoon would see them charge through two more games without dropping a single set. The two 6-0 victories came against Ashford Brunswick and Westfield, two sides who had held Cardiff to draws back in October. Club member Tommy Heydon was named player of the match against Westfield for the second time that day and the fourth time this season. The vanquishing of third-placed Westfield was also significant because the result secured certain promotion for the club; Westfield would now no longer be able to make up the five point gap above them, guaranteeing Cardiff at least second place.
With Ormesby 2 still flying on Saturday, however, Cardiff remained narrowly pinned back into second place heading into the final day of play. A possible title-decider between the two leading clubs in the final game was looming, but Cardiff needed to ensure they stayed in the running with a positive result against Deutsche Bank Guernsey on Sunday morning, a team recently lifted after securing their first win of the season in the previous match. The boys maintained their confident form from Saturday though, and came away touting their third consecutive 6-0 win.
Elsewhere on Sunday Ormesby 2 could only manage a draw against Westfield. This handed Cardiff a fragile one point lead at the top of the table and meant that the team moved into their massive final game with Ormesby 2 knowing that a draw would be good enough to make them champions.
Cardiff’s vulnerable lead in the league looked under threat early on in the match as Ormesby quickly established a 2-0 lead; drop another set and Cardiff would have a mountain to climb to snatch the draw, drop two more sets and the trophy was Ormesby’s.
A sensational fightback followed. Of the final four sets Tommy Heydon and Lawrence John won one each and Cade Short picked up two as Cardiff came back to win 4-2, securing the club’s first trophy in the Junior British League.
“There was a point in the Ormesby game when we were two sets down and actually 2-1 down in the third set,” recounts Coach Nathan Thomas, “on paper then it would have looked really very tough, especially with their number one player still to play. I tried to get the team positive again and to be fair they came back and did really well.”
The Boys’ heroics against Ormesby and all season has earned Cardiff entry into Division 3 for the next season. There they’ll compete against young players from some of the biggest clubs in British table tennis, such as Kingfisher and Rotherham Scorpions. Despite the increased level of competition, Nathan Thomas says his team will still have their eyes on another trophy next season. “They’ll want to win it, I’m sure of that. I see no reason why they can’t.”
The Cardiff City Girls side was made up of Lara Whitton, Anna Hursey, Lydia John and Jamie-Lee Harley. Like the boys, the team arrived in Shropshire second in their division. Back in October their weekend had begun with two defeats, before three straight wins had left them only two points off the top. Thirteen-year-old Lydia John was one Cardiff player who had particularly caught the attention of the league, being declared Player of the Match in every appearance she’d made across the weekend.
Lydia hadn’t actually dropped a single set until the first game of February when Cardiff were held to a draw with Northfield. Cardiff’s next game ended in a 5-1 defeat at the hands of Slough-based club Cippenham, who were busy mounting a late charge up the table by going on an impressive winning streak. The result meant that Cippenham leapfrogged Cardiff into the promotion places, pushing their opponents into third. Cardiff conceded third place in the final game on Saturday as they slipped to defeat against BATTS.
Cardiff’s promotion hopes were still mathematically alive, but the possibility of relegation was also on the horizon after Saturday’s action in this tight, unpredictable division.
On Sunday the girls responded brilliantly to the uncertainty. The first match of the day saw Cardiff triumph against Pudsey. The win was notable for eight year old Anna Hursey attaining her first Player of the Match award this season, despite competing in a league where Anna often finds herself up against players up to ten years her senior.
Although results elsewhere were now excluding them from the promotion race, Cardiff would still have a major impact on the final destiny of the trophy. In the final game of the season Cardiff beat long-time league leaders Urban TTC 4-2, offering Cippenham the chance to snatch top of the table in the season’s final round of games.
The brace of positive results on Sunday mean the girls remain secure in Division 3 at fourth place, with only two points separating them from 2nd place Urban TTC.
“We were definitely going for promotion”, admits Coach Danielle de Jong. “Heading into the second weekend we felt confident that we could hold on to second place. We lost matches that we could have won but all the games were quite close. We were unfortunate really. Certain key games just didn’t go our way.”
The coaches agree that fielding a team for the first time in the Junior British League has brought value to the club beyond simply some pleasing final
tables and a new piece of silverware. This season has offered some of the club’s best young players valuable competitive experience on the UK-wide stage.
“We took five players to the Boys’ competition and rotated the team”, explains Nathan. “Most teams took three or occasionally four, but I really wanted the guys to fight for their places. It’s such valuable experience that I didn’t want to leave any of the five behind.”
Danielle also emphasises the value of young players gaining an early experience of the British League, particularly given the youth in the Cardiff City’s Girls side in particular. “We were definitely the youngest team there. All the other players in the league were a lot more experienced, but I think this season has been a great start for our young team.”
For full tables and results go to www.tabletennis365.com/britishleague.