With the Boston and District Table Tennis League beginning this week, Michael Maltby casts his eyes over each team’s prospects for the new season...
Defending Division One winners Penmaen A have the same line-up as before, and no doubt have other players up their sleeves should they need to call on them.
With their firepower, only Lodgers A (last year’s Lodgers G) will be able to run them close – but I think it will be the same teams in the top two positions as before.
Lodgers A have lost Gary Hill from their team, but gained Graham Lacey, suggesting that they will maintain their second place, ahead of the only other team to score 100+ points last season, Graves Park C, who are down to the bare bones of three players with the loss of Mick East.
Last season, four teams occupied mid-table, with only 10 points between them; Wrangle, Stickney, Graves Park A are unchanged in personnel, but Lodgers B (last year’s E team) have been wheeling and dealing in the transfer market close-season.
Graham Lacey has departed to the A team, whilst Scott Sykes and Andy Birks have been snapped up by Lodgers C in Division Two.
In the opposite direction come Boyd Smith and David Kime, both ex Lodgers C, to join Trev Blackbourn and Colin Bell.
I expect a much stronger showing from Graves Park A this season, as long as they can avoid the absences which cost them too many points last time round.
It’s too close to call who will emerge on top of this mini-league of Wrangle, Stickney and Graves Park A, but they, plus Lodgers B, should have too much all-round strength to get drawn into the relegation battle.
Graves Park B, who were reprieved from relegation by the admission of new team Penmaen B to Division Two, form a trio of teams with newly-promoted Graves Park D and Sibsey C who I suspect will have to battle for every point if they are to stave off the threat of relegation.
The only change in the personnel of these three teams from last season is the transfer of John Shortland from Sibsey C to Graves Park Nomads in Division Two.
A lot will depend on the matches between each of the three teams as to who will survive to fight another day in the top division.
Sibsey C travel to Graves Park D in week 1, and then host Graves Park B the following week; two crucial matches so early on in the season.
With last season’s top two teams in Division Two promoted, third-placed Sibsey A (line-up as per last year, plus Jason Cade) must be thinking it could be their year.
However, they will face some fierce competition for the top spot from relegated Sibsey B, who undoubtedly will have gained some valuable lessons from their year in Division One.
Also in the mix are Lodgers C, who lost Boyd Smith and David Kime to Division One outfit Lodgers B, but gained Scott Sykes and Andy Birks from their B team.
I expect the eventual winners and runners-up will come from these three teams…but who will lose out on promotion?
I fully expect Sibsey D (ex-Wrangle B), Lodgers Blades (ex-H team) and Graves Park E to be fighting it out in mid-table once again.
For Sibsey D, Barry Lea makes a welcome return to table tennis after some years out of the game, in place of David Butler, whilst the Blades have been bolstered by the addition of Nathan Raistrick and Jamie Stanton (ex-Graves Park Nomads).
Graves Park E have lost Adam and Tom Bell, but Alex Allbone has come in to the squad.
If Andy Gilbert (unbeaten last season) plays a full quota of matches, his Graves Park E team should improve on their seventh place last season.
Belchford and Lodgers D were equal in points in the final league table, and it should be tight again, with few changes to their line-ups; Belchford have lost Simon Ellis and Roger Chapman, whilst Lodgers D are unchanged.
Graves Park Nomads, meanwhile, have replaced Gary Hall and Jamie Stanton with Chris Wicks and the experienced John Shortland, whilst the division is completed with a completely new team playing at Penmaen.
Inevitably, the first season is bound to be a steep learning curve, but Belchford have shown that, with experience, league position can improve.
My feeling is that these four teams will do extremely well to rise above mid-table.