Match of the Week: Titans ruin Diamonds' night in North Devon Netball League
LAMENTING life as a Manchester City fan before his club's rise to prominence, author Colin Shindler entitled his book Manchester United Ruined My Life.
It is a tale of what it is like to be on the outside looking in, nose pressed against the sweet shop window, watching United supporters take all the wine gums.
Titans Apollo netball team also know what it is like to live in the shadow of a neighbouring team's success.
Carol Anne Diamonds have been North Devon Winter League champions for the last 12 seasons and Summer League winners for the last six.
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During that time, Apollo have finished runners-up more frequently than any other team, five times in the last six winters and four in the last six summers.
Or, as Titans founder and coach Lorraine Beel, put it: "Runners-up for the last God knows how many years."
On one occasion they enjoyed a glorious celebration, taking the summer title in 2006 while Diamonds were forced to slum it as runners-up.
And there was that evening last December when Apollo inflicted upon Diamonds their first Winter League defeat in more than ten years.
It put Apollo three points clear at the head of the first division with a 100 per cent record from nine matches, but still there was no stopping Diamonds.
They won the reverse fixture and then the play-off in May after the two teams finished on 87 points.
"We always get close but always it slips away somehow," said Titans player Kerri Wall.
Does it ruin her life? "We get over it," she said as she watched the latest episode in the Titans-Diamonds saga at the Park Community School, Barnstaple, on Monday.
Wall is sidelined through pregnancy but never misses a match, lending her support.
"Sometimes there are only one or two goals in it and it has always been close," she said.
"You look back and think, 'We could have done it this way, we could have done it that way'."
This week there will be no looking back on what went wrong. This week Titans did it the right way.
They won 41-40 in a finish so dramatic that Diamonds, eight goals down going into the last quarter, were denied a share of the points only by the final whistle sounding while the ball was in the air on its way into the net.
"Icing on the cake," whooped Beel who had celebrated her 40th birthday only two days earlier.
It was a victory, said Beel, built on "speed, camaraderie, and the belief we can do it".
Belief not only that they can beat Diamonds on December nights but that, unlike last season, they can go on to take the title. "This is our time," said Beel.
Calling her girls around her, she demanded to know what they would do differently now.
"Beat them again," came the confident cry from the players.
Titans, 11-9 ahead after the first quarter and 21-18 in front at half time, had been leading 36-28 going into the last quarter when Diamonds rediscovered the form that helped them beat high-flying Almondsbury in their latest Netball South West Regional League Two match.
Goal shooter Samme Ten-Bokkel, supported by goal attack Becky Ruff, sank a faultless sequence of shots to reduce the deficit to 38-37.
At the same time, Louise Lathwell, Titans' player of the match, was starting to miss.
"The pressure does get to you, especially in a game like this," she said.
But Lathwell conquered the demons just in time, halting her team's slide with two goals for a 40-37 lead.
Diamonds were not done yet and goals from Ten-Bokkel and Ruff pulled them level with two minutes to go.
Lathwell nosed Titans 41-40 in front but there was still a minute to play.
Diamonds missed two good chances before Ruff lined up a shot as umpire Katrina Venner put her whistle to her mouth.
While most were watching Ruff, Beel's eyes were drawn elsewhere.
"I was looking at Katrina because I wanted that whistle to go," she said.
Titans' winning score matched Lathwell's age. At 41 she remains central to Titans' push not only to win the North Devon League but to regain the Regional League status they lost two seasons ago.
"Her shooting stats have been phenomenal," said Beel.
This despite a lack of height, which has forced her to adapt an unorthodox style.
"How she gets them in, I don't know – it's definitely not textbook," said Wall.
Years ago they said the same about Paula Radcliffe's running style.
She refused to change yet still became a marathon world champion and record holder. For some people, unorthodox works.
The task facing Lathwell was especially challenging on Monday as she gave away a good six inches to Diamonds goalkeeper Vicky Hair.
"I am 5ft 5in and I can't play like a normal shooter," said Lathwell. "Their goal shooter played under the posts, whereas I could never do that because of my height. I have had to learn to shoot long rather than short."
Lathwell's enduring form was recognised in the league's 2012 annual awards as she carried off the first division Classic Cup for the best player aged over 40.
She was praised for her "continued excellence in the shooting circle".
With nine wins out of nine, Titans are back where they were this time last year, except Beel believes they are a better side now. Their one defeat this season has come in the Devon County League, having won it unbeaten last term before failing to get through the play-offs.
"This win tonight proves we are good enough to be back in the Regional League and that is our goal," said Beel.
Diamonds coach Sally King said: "Titans played very well but I am disappointed with the performance of my girls, in the first half especially.
"They didn't bring into the game some of the things we had been working on in training and, as a team, they weren't supporting each other enough.
"I said to them, "I need to know why you can turn up for Almondsbury, play fantastic, and beat the team who are second in the Regional League, then come here tonight and you can't throw and catch properly'."
It didn't ruin coach King's life but it did go some way to spoiling her evening.