Match of the Week: Rare defeat for Twisty's Tornados in Ilfracombe Pool League
It was a rare night in the history of the Ilfracombe and District Pool League – a jolting defeat for Twisty's Tornados.
League champions for the last ten years – and for 17 of the last 20 – they suffered their first reverse of the season against a Headhunters team whose name has yet to be inscribed on the winners' shield.
For postman Andy Hill, it was a case of return to sender.
When Hill, 49, left Twisty's to join Headhunters this season, he did so because he fancied a change.
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On Sunday, he was back in familiar surroundings at his old team's home at The St George, leading the Headhunters' fightback from 1-0 down to a 3-2 victory.
Hill has not been able to tear himself away from The St George completely – he still plays for their skittles and darts teams – but it was time, he felt, after five successive titles with Twisty's, to move his pool on.
"I come here on a Friday night to play darts and on a Wednesday night to play skittles, so it was just for a bit of variety, a change of scenery," said Hill after his 2-0 win over the Tornados' Colin Smith.
"I used to play snooker in the Ilfracombe League with a lot of the team I play pool with now.
"So I wasn't leaving Twisty's just to join another team, I was moving to play with players I am friends with anyway. I grew up with the lads in both teams."
Named after local legend and former world champion Jason Twist, Twisty's Tornados began the match as league leaders in a clash between the last two teams with a 100 per cent record this season.
Their one-point advantage was converted into a one-point deficit after Headhunters took three points from the five individual contests, plus the winning team's bonus point.
Headhunters now have 36 points to the perennial champions' 35, but the latter have a match in hand, which still makes them favourites for an 11th successive title.
After a drawn-out defeat in a match that was not decided until the last frame of the night, long-serving Tornado Paddy Pinn was adamant.
Were Headhunters now serious challengers? "Not really," said the 53-year-old, a member of the squad since the days they were known as Swills Original Dream Team.
"I reckon we will win the league about four weeks before the end of the season. We have better depth and are more consistent. And we have a game in hand, so potentially we can earn six points."
If there was defiance in Pinn's comments, it may have come from the frustration of losing his own 100 per cent record in controversial circumstances.
A marathon first frame against Headhunters captain Steve Coles had to be abandoned and replayed after a dispute over a foul snooker.
"That is probably only the second time that has happened in all the years we have been playing, bickering over something like that," said Pinn.
After strongly expressed views from both camps, both players agreed to restart the frame.
"I had got him into such a position that I had won that frame," said Pinn. "The next frame (which Pinn won) was over in five minutes.
"But they have got a good side, I am not taking anything away from them."
Coles, 45, a painter and decorator, applied a gloss finish to the night by taking the last two frames to secure a match his team had to win.
"We came back from the dead and we're really chuffed because that gives us a chance of winning the league," said Coles.
Especially pleasing for Coles is the way new signings have strengthened the Headhunters.
In the absence of unavailable stalwart Andy Crowe, three of the five on duty were new in the ranks this season. Two – Hill and Martin Phillpotts – won.
"We have been runners-up a few times but this year we are stronger," said Coles.
"They tend to win the league in a canter so it would be nice if we could give them a bit more to think about."
Compared with Twisty's, Headhunters are relative newcomers.
"We have been going eight to ten years," said Coles. "Before that we were all in other teams but we have come together as friends."
On holiday in Mexico, Twist was missing from the line-up, his place taken by Colin Smith.
Hill's 2-0 win over Smith levelled the match after Anthony Yeo had defeated Dave Lee 2-1 in the opener, ending his 100 per cent record this season.
This is Yeo's first season with Twisty's, having played for teams in Mortehoe for some 20 years. He has won six of his seven league matches so far.
"Jason asked if I would be interested in playing for them and it didn't take much thinking about – I bit his hand off," said Yeo.
"I just want to get better and what better way to learn the game than from a two-time world champion?
"At the Morteholers we were never going to challenge at the top of the league.
"We would always finish just above halfway and, at 38, I wanted to take that opportunity."
In the third match, Phillpotts beat Jon Schiller 2-1, but Mark Gilfillan, standing in for Twist as captain, defeated the third Headhunters newcomer, Dean Whitehead, 2-0 to set up the decider between Coles and Pinn.
Phillpotts, 41, a printer, has made his mark with a 100 per cent record from three matches since joining Headhunters.
In beating Schiller, he took a considerable scalp, given that his opponent is the reigning town singles champion.
Schiller won that title less than six months after returning to the game when his wife told him to go out and find something to do.
He was a member of The Lamb team in the 1990s before spending some ten years as a chef in Tenerife.
Schiller returned to North Devon only last year and joined Twisty's.
"I decided to emigrate with my family – different life, something new – and I didn't play pool in that ten years," said Schiller, 46.
"They don't play pool over there but I didn't miss it. I had been playing a long time and was bored.
"When I came back I wasn't going to play for anybody. But my wife got bored with me sitting around the house on the weekend and said, 'Find something to happen on a Sunday night'.
"I went into a few places where I thought there would be pool going on, but there was no one there I knew.
"It was about my fourth port of call when I saw Jason, so I thought I would play for them.
"Twisty's were always the enemy to me – we were their main competition for a few years – and that is why I never played for them. I never intended to play for Twisty's.
"My pool is nothing like it used to be but, through luck, an old reputation and other people not playing so well, I have done OK."
OK until the Headhunters came along, knives sharpened for the scalp of the champions.