At­tack hasn’t halted Main ob­jec­tive . . .

North Ayr­shire coach’s hand was shat­tered dur­ing mug­ging, but now he’s rel­ish­ing a crack at top level

The Herald - Herald Sport - - TABLE TENNIS - KEVIN FERRIE

LIT­TLE more than a year ago, just two weeks af­ter lead­ing North Ayr­shire Table Ten­nis Club (NATTC) into their first ever Euro­pean Cup tie, Chris Main had been en­joy­ing an evening out with friends in his home­town of Salt­coats.

It had been a quiet one and he was head­ing home early be­cause he had a tour­na­ment the next day, but just a cou­ple of hun­dred yards from the fam­ily home, the 28-year-old took the wrong short­cut.

He was ap­proached by a man who de­manded that he hand over his mo­bile phone and wal­let. Main re­fused and when he saw three or four oth­ers emerge from the shad­ows, took flight. He was tripped around 100 yards later and once he was grounded they set about him with their boots.

The most painful dam­age was to his ribs, but more wor­ry­ingly for his sport, both wrists were bro­ken. The right one re­quired surgery, but the more wor­ry­ing prob­lem was to the left, his play­ing hand, since the scaphoid was shat­tered so could not be op­er­ated on.

As he waited to see how it healed, his club­mates — brother Richie, Colin Dal­gleish, Sean Do­herty and Craig Hardie — kept NATTC on course for their sea­son’s tar­get. They were aim­ing to get into the Bri­tish Pre­mier League for the first time, know­ing that an un­prece­dented op­por­tu­nity to show­case their sport awaited be­cause of rule changes that meant league matches would be played, this sea­son, on a home and away ba­sis, one match at a time, as op­posed to teams gath­er­ing sev­eral times a sea­son at hubs to play a se­ries of matches.

The scope for build­ing an au­di­ence was ob­vi­ous, but they had to get up there first and head­ing into last sea­son’s fi­nal round of first divi­sion matches, with only one team guar­an­teed pro­mo­tion, they were a point adrift of Hal­ton TTC, but had moved a point ahead by the time they faced Ormesby. His in­jury healed, Main was to play a vi­tal role, a sin­gles win achieved in five hard-fought sets, hav­ing ini­tially led 2-0 only for op­po­nent Harry Dai to draw level, clos­ing out the over­all match and seal­ing pro­mo­tion.

“It was a great achieve­ment but I don’t think we’ll fully re­alise what we’ve done un­til we’ve played a cou­ple of Pre­mier League matches,” Main reck­ons.

Their sea­son opener could not have worked out bet­ter be­cause they find them­selves play­ing the first ever all-Scot­tish tie in the Bri­tish Pre­mier League, trav­el­ling to the club that has for some years been the pow­er­house of the do­mes­tic game, Drum­chapel TTC.

In an en­vi­ron­ment in which com­pe­ti­tion for the sig­na­tures of lead­ing play­ers is as fierce as the matches, their squad in­cludes three play­ers from the sport’s dom­i­nant na­tion China — Liu Song, He Zhi­wen and Tao Shi — as well as Scot­tish No.2 Craig Howieson and Calum Main, no re­la­tion to Chris and Richie.

There is no trace of re­sent­ment about the gulf in spend­ing power that sees a team of Scot­tish lads who have grown up with one an­other go into this com­pe­ti­tion as very much the poor re­la­tions and Main is re­al­is­tic about NATTC’s prospects, iden­ti­fy­ing hold­ing their place in the league as a chal­leng­ing am­bi­tion while recog­nis­ing that today’s op­po­nents have a good chance of bring­ing the na­tional ti­tle to Scot­land for the first time this sea­son. “Our team are all best pals and we’re just ex­cited to have this op­por­tu­nity, but we know it’s go­ing to be tough in the Bri­tish Pre­mier League and it will be a real achieve­ment,” he said.

Main is also his club’s coach, how­ever, as an evan­ge­list for the sport who works as a table ten­nis devel­op­ment of­fi­cer in both North Ayr­shire and Dum­fries & Gal­loway, he is aware of the chance this pro­vides to pro­mote the sport as much as the op­por­tu­nity to play at a high level.

“Table ten­nis is grow­ing as a spec­ta­tor sport and from that point of view, this home and away for­mat is what it should be all about. It should have been in­tro­duced four or five years ago, be­cause it is a great way to al­low clubs to gen­er­ate in­ter­est,” he said.

“We’ve now got a re­spon­si­bil­ity, as one of the top clubs in Bri­tain, to con­trib­ute to that by putting on as pro­fes­sional an event as pos­si­ble when we stage home matches and as much as we are look­ing for­ward to the trip to Drum­chapel we are try­ing to make sure our first home match [on Oc­to­ber 15] is some­thing spe­cial.

“We really en­joyed our first taste of stag­ing a big event when we hosted that Euro­pean tie last year, but this gives us a real chance to build some­thing by putting matches on reg­u­larly and we will be work­ing hard to get around lo­cal schools to try to en­sure that as many young­sters as pos­si­ble get the chance to see top-class table ten­nis.”

AT THE TOP TABLE: Chris Main is ready to take on Bri­tain’s elite home and away as the for­mat changes for this year’s Pre­mier League.

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