Can anyone stop the Panthers? That’s the question that waits to be answered when the new Clacton & District League season begins next week.
Division One champions for the last ten years, the Panthers retain the high-class quintet which did them proud last season and, without an obvious weak link, John Hatley’s team again look the team to beat.
Windsor Eagles and Nomads Lions, who finished second and third respectively last season, are also both unchanged and both will no doubt be challenging hard, but the battle for a top three place could be too close to call, with three other teams having credible credentials.
Walton A have added a familiar figure to their regular trio in the form of former Men’s Champion David Binns, a move which may not improve the team’s average age but which should strengthen their challenge for minor honours.
Windsor Hawks have boosted their chances by signing talented young player Daniel Young to their squad, which will give them the belief they can improve on last season’s fifth position.
There’s no Alan Burgess or Grant Sharpe in the Brotherhood A line-up but the team welcomes back Gary Young to the League scene to play alongside Kevin Gowlett, Martin Edwards, Gary Stallwood and Russell Hillier to form a highly competitive outfit.
Elsewhere, Walton B are unchanged from the side which recorded a disappointing set of results last time out, but a team containing Peter Burrows and Gavin Price should never be underestimated.
Walton C, led by Mark Gale, retain their quartet of hardy fighters, although they still lack the one top-quality player who will guarantee points week-in, week-out.
The same might be said of promoted and unchanged Windsor Buzzards who, with the exception of Dave Martin, lack experience of top-flight table tennis and, while everyone wishes them well, they may find it difficult to survive among such exalted company.
It should be a much closer battle at the top of Division Two where Brotherhood B start as marginal favourites, regulars Barry Allen, Paul Alden and Mark Salter joined this season by Grant Sharpe to form a formidable-looking quartet.
Ian Sherwood’s Lawford squad is unchanged and their team is never far away from the top – they finished third last year and, in the last eight seasons when they’ve played in the Second Division, they’ve never finished lower than fourth.
And don’t rule out the chances of last year’s runners-up Walton D going one better, Paul Woolnough joining Andy Foster and Clive Allenby for the current campaign.
The new-look Brotherhood D side comprises Kevin Pryor and two sets of brothers, Sam and Joe Plummer, with Simon Smith-Daye making a welcome return to League table tennis to play alongside brother James Smith-Daye. Could they be the season’s surprise team?
Nomads Jaguars finished mid-table last season but will probably feel they underperformed, and a team which includes Chris Parr, Daryl Lott and Chris Petrou will certainly hope to move up the table this year.
Meanwhile, John Gallagher’s Brotherhood C improves season by season and their unchanged quartet should be able to maintain a comfortable position in mid-table.
Nomads Tigers, who were forced to withdraw shortly after the start of last season, have been completely re-formed, comprising now of Dave Miller, Colin Webber, Mike Wellum and John Hockley together with two players new to the League.
Scott Campbell is another welcome returnee to the League scene and his presence will surely help an otherwise unchanged Windsor Penguins, last year’s Division Three champions, maintain a much-needed foothold at this level.
Windsor Kestrels, who struggled in the lower reaches of the Division last season, are also unchanged, but their route to safety will largely depend on the form of Graham Bunce and Debra Found, together with the fitness of Peter Aumord.
In Division Three relegated Windsor Harriers, led once again by Ferdy Rodriguez and unchanged for a tenth season, start as one of the two likeliest teams, alongside Duncan Dunne’s Brotherhood E, who this season have added Tricia Salter to their squad.
Christophe Wilmotte joins the Nomads Leopards’ side which finished third last season as well as reaching the final of the Knock-Out Cup, and they will provide stern competition at the top of the Division.
John Plummer’s Windsor Magpies retain their familiar foursome and neither they, nor Lynette Sparks’ always-affable Walton E, will be far away from the leaders come the end of the season.
Ruby Gallagher and Lucy Carvell join JJ Barry’s youthful Brotherhood F team which showed much promise last season, while Dan Grindrod and Andrey Pavlov are joined by former player Danny Still and newcomer Gary Simpson in a new-look Brotherhood G.
Nomads Lynx, Nomads Ocelots and Nomads Bobcats finished in the bottom three places last year but their personnel has been re-shuffled from last season’s squads, with a number of new players also added. However, they are all led by the same team captains, all well-respected local table tennis names – the Ocelots by Sue Lee, the Lynx by Dave Wright and the Bobcats by Doug Green. So, on the eve of the new