Nick Matthew led Hallamshire to the 20222/23 Yorkshire Premier League title for the first time in the club’s history on Wednesday night after a nail-biting finale to the season.
Heading into the 18th and final round, the Sheffield club led second-placed Doncaster by 12 points, with York side Dunnington just behind them in third and mathematically still in with a shout.
As it turned out, all three clubs won 3-2, so Hallamshire’s 12-point lead remained unaltered by the end of a dramatic evening, and their celebrations could begin.
Captain Matthew, 42, said: “It’s brilliant to win one of the most prestigious clubs leagues in the world for the first time in Hallamshire’s history.
“The club asked me to take on the captaincy of the team this season and after losing the first two matches, my job was on the line!
“Our nine home matches have all had packed out crowds. We could potentially progress to entering the PSL with the right sponsorship in place.”
Hallamshire’s team is largely home-grown including Matthew himself, his protégé world no.45 Nick Wall, club head coach Adam Turner, Ollie Turner (nutritionist for British Swimming) and Nick Wall Snr, plus Nick Matthew Academy player Matt Gregory from Duffield.
Any Hallamshire pre-match nerves before the season climax – which was away at their cross-town rivals Abbeydale, just to add further spice – were not helped by the absence of injured No.1 Wall. An early straight-games defeat for No.5 Fergus Hunt to Abbeydale’s Hayden Tetley was certainly not the start the champions-elect were looking for.
Ollie Turner won a cracking five-setter with Ryan Spencer to level matters and veteran Wall Snr outgunned Josh Payne to put the visitors ahead. However, Jordan Hardwick’s gutsy four-set win over Adam Turner set up a top-string decider.
Hallamshire’s talisman Matthew, the three-time world and Commonwealth Games champion, saw them home with a four-game victory over Wales’ world No.127 Elliot Morris Devred, to the delight of the travelling support.
As it turned out, Hallamshire would have won it even without those five bonus points, as runners-up Doncaster won only narrowly, 15-8 at home to Harrogate. The match was decided by an all-Kiwi tussle at No.1 between Joel Arscott and Temwa Chileshe which went right down to a fifth before Chileshe succumbed.
Dunnington went into the last match with slender title hopes, but those were soon snuffed out when their No.5 Matt Hatcher lost in straight games to Leeds side Chapel Allerton’s Rahul Bansal at fifth string.
Taminder Gata Aura, who lost just once all season, levelled matters with a tough three-setter against Tim Watkins, then lengthy wins for Chapel A’s Isaac Green and the home side’s Seif Heikal set up a match-decider for the No.1s. It was Michael Andrews, elevated up the Dunnington order in the absence of Chris Simpson, who took the win in straight games against Conor Sheen.
Bottom club Chapel Allerton’s fate was sealed several weeks ago, but that 16-8 defeat meant they finished bottom by 24 points. They will be replaced next season by Hull & East Riding and Ferriby, who blitzed to the Division One title without losing a match.