There may never have been a more eagerly awaited County Championships than that scheduled for 2016. A monster 20 teams from 13 Counties have entered the draw, fighting it out for glory across three divisions. Since the Racket Masters in 2015, there have been deals, claims, bribery and boasting and that was just from the Nottingham supreme leader, Jon Spinks. Elsewhere, Johnny Bispham forgot his roots, casting off Kent in favour of Norfolk, arriving there like Roman Abramovich, promising big money signings (Anna-Klara Ahlmer and Cedric Junillon) but ended up more like Dave Whelan, his ‘big money’ signing being Paul “The Plate” Hume, back over from France for Easter. Quietly the old pro’s of the counties circuit (Ray, Duncan etc) have reassembled their usual squads, ignoring the new boys bluster whilst making some shrewd additions of their own. Surrey poached Du Noyer whilst Essex brought in FIR president and third best Viking, Kresten Hougaard into their fold. Kresten however will pay a high price to enjoy the County Championships, as he has moved in with Keith.
Without any further introductory ramblings, it is time to head into the main ramblings. And it is to Division 1 we shall start, where the big guns will slug it out for the title. Middlesex and Yorkshire are seeds, not that it helped the northerners, as they were paired up in the tastiest first round tie against Surrey A. Both squads feature big guns of the tour, Barnes, Busby, Middleton & Du Noyer likely singles pairings, with both squads favouring the later sports, a strong start will be crucial to easing the pressure in likely nerve wracking squash and tennis. Could Surrey’s ace in the hole be tennis supremo and all round nice guy, James Silvester? This could be too tight to call, ladies and doubles ties likely to be crucial, a belter of a match for sure. Middlesex will be confident of dispatching Herts A and Kent A will be hoping to get one over their friends in the North, Surrey B. The other interesting tie of Round 1 will feature Nottingham I against Essex. Notts are becoming something of a gravitational well of Racketlon, sucking in all around. They feature the core of the youth A players on the UK tour, with Will “Aramis” Coley looking to lead their all for one charge. However, the Nottingham Outlawed Musketeers are sweating on the right hand of James “traitor” Watkins. Having betrayed his Cambridgeshire roots, to declare himself for Notts, James punched a wall in Sweden (betrayal tortures a soul...) and his hand injury may prevent him from starting in this tie. Essex, feature some great names (Hougaard, Elise Lazerus) and some great Tweeters (Keith, Kevin Neville), and all in all, Essex should be too strong, but it would be silly to write off the musketeers from Nottingham. Should these ties go to plan semi-finals feature Essex vs Middlesex and Kent vs. Surrey A/Yorkshire, like a blacksmiths forge, the stronger metal will form as the tournament heats up, the winner will have won the hardest fought County title ever seen in UK Racketlon.
Division 2 will be a bitter dogfight. With a number of counties who would normally expect to be entering Division 1 all fighting it out to show the tournament planners that they have been wrongly demoted. Once again the ties of the round feature the seeds, Notts II and Shropshire I. Notts II will face Cambridgeshire I, who will be keen to punish those who caused the betrayal of James Watkins (it was Jon Spinks, essentially). Cambridgeshire are unleashing a largely unknown team on the tournament, Aussie Leigh Sands and local Dianne Baker the regulars, whilst Sam Pickup returns to Racketlon. For Notts, their supreme leader, Jon Spinks will be hoping he can relocate his form from Batley to Gosling, in a team that is constructed out of UK tour regulars. Second seeds Shropshire face the team of big mouth Bispham, who having not delivered his international superstars, has relied on the people of Norfolk. Their squad is strong with Chris Batey and Simon Watkins joining “big mouth” and “the plate”. Shropshire however are calling on some handy names of their own. Alongside Paul “the Bridesmaid” Mathieson, will be Welsh Open ladies champion Shirley Barre, top tennis vet Nigel Hunter, badminton coach Stuart Preston and top Lee’s brother, Tom Lees. Elsewhere in Division 2, Cambridgeshire II formed from the Jesus College Racketlon Club face Herts B, it is likely that the Uni squad will be too much for the home county, whilst Kent 2 should be expected to overcome Derbyshire 2.
Finally Division 3 will feature our final 4 teams, Herts C, Notts III, Staffs I and the RoC, our newest county/Racketlon twitter account. Division 3 is a new addition for 2016, a result of the growing popularity of Racketlon around the country ensuring more and more counties are forming. With wonderful irony, the mainly Notts based RoC squad have drawn Notts III in the draw, so certainly huge bragging rights and pressure on both sides, but more so on the established county. In the other semi-final, Staffs I, the unlucky to not be in Division 2 side and will take on Herts C. Staffs are the George Roberts squad and George is bringing his personality to the fullest on this team, certainly bound to be an interesting experience for Racketlon newcomer and Welsh B champion, Adit “The Accidental” Patel. Despite laid back George’s personality, Staffs are firm favourites for the Division 3 title.
So, there we have it, the 2016 Racketlon County Championships. Pride has been staked, it will be won and lost and someone will claim glory for their county of birth/residence/university. The players have come from across the globe and Yorkshire, with outposts in Mumbai, Melbourne, Copenhagen and East Riding. So, for our 20 captains, like a thousand commanders, on a thousand battlefields, they await the dawn; let battle commence.
Full Draws Are Online Here.