Some of Northumbria’s finest senior players descended on Rochdale last weekend for the first group stage of Division 1 in the Inter County Championships. Having narrowly missed out on promotion to the Premiership last year to bitter rivals Durham and Cleveland, the older players were out to dispel the memory!
The team consisted of County Champion and stalwart Dave ‘it’s Northumbria not Northumberland’ Barnett at 1, Liam ‘Long Stocking’ Gutcher at 2, Matt ‘Robert Snodgrass’ Hardy at 3, Chris ‘Baby-faced Assassin’ Boyer at 4 and Cai ‘A* Shot-selector’ Younger making his debut at 5.
On a miserably cold Saturday morning things got underway and it seemed like the weather was only the start of the worries. Against host county Lancashire it was battle of the baldies at one with Barnett losing out to fellow coach Danny Massaro (husband of Laura) in a long 3-1 while Younger was swiftly dispatched 3-0. Hardy and Boyer were outgunned 3-1 and 3-0 respectively while Gutcher rounded off the rough morning with another 3-0 loss to Laura Massaro’s brother ‘Chris.
A swift re-grouping in the local Asda for lunch saw the lads come out in fighting spirits against a solid, yet unspectacular Cheshire team. Barnett was in no mood for a repeat of the morning seeing off gritty challenge from their non-banterous (you heard it hear first) number 1 while Younger battled his way to his first senior county victory, winning 3-2. Although Boyer went down 3-0 at string 4 he got mistaken for a teenager showing every cloud really does have a sliver lining. Gutcher had the chance to clinch the match but sickeningly lost in five sets after over an hour to a squash robot, leaving it all down to the last match. While his brother was scoring a free kick in Norwich, Hardy performed in equal measure coming from 2-1 down and playing out of his skin to save the fixture and give Northumbria a chance of promotion on Sunday. ‘Ahh, sweet nectar..’ Hardy commented as he sipped a victory beer slumped outside the court.
A mammoth Thai ‘all you can eat’ buffet and a well earned stop over in a not so well organised Travelodge, Northumbria were ready to put Merseyside to the sword. Merseyside brought in a promising young junior talent at 1 but Barnett has spent years beating off lads like this, taking it comfortably 3-0. Younger made it two out of three in an encounter with an emotionally charged fellow junior at string 5 taking it 3-1, while Hardy continued his fine form by taking out talented Mike Beecham 3-0. Boyer and Gutcher finally broke their ducks with 3-0 and 3-1 wins respectively and Northumbria had done everything possible to gain promotion. Yet it all still rested on the deciding match between Lancashire and Cheshire, with Northumbria needing Lancashire to win. Gutcher’s old foe from Cheshire the night before had had his engine turned down though and lost in a swift three games to send Northumbria through!!
A place in the promotion group gained for next year by the skin of our teeth. Always an honor to pull on a County t-shirt, how it should be!!