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
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.