Table tennis is one of the most skilful and dynamic games on the planet. Face a good player and you will be bamboozled by an almost endless variety of spin: loop, chop, side, mixed... Mostly mixed indeed. Some of the hitting and “killing” can be as fast and aggressive as a display of karate. Maybe that’s why the Chinese and Japanese (and their neighbours!) are so adept at the game. The similarities are obvious to me. Put another way, table tennis can be like a civilised form of boxing. The player can indeed feel quite alone at that table, just like a boxer in the ring. True, in a league game your team-mates can encourage you (but not coach), but they cannot lift a finger to help you.
In England, where I play in my local league, players use the term “ping pong” rather disparagingly. For us, ping pong is when two ultra defensive players endlessly tap or push the ball back and forth. Actually a good chop defender can be very successful up to a point. At the top levels the “three ball attacker” (serve, return, instant loop\drive) is king. Modern blades and rubbers (which make up “bats” as we call them here) have long since made fast spin-play the dominant style. Power to these players, I say. They make the game fast and beautiful.
As for me, I started playing regularly in 1970, in the Huddersfield University (then “Polytechnic”) Education Department common room. Bats were provided: hard wood with pimples out and no sponge beneath the rubber. I remember being very pleased when I managed to produce some topspin with such a bat. To be fair, modern pimple-in sponge rubber only appeared in the 1950s, so having a hard-bat then was the norm. I actually bought a reverse-pimple sponge bat then (D13), but kept this back for more serious play.
I actually played about four matches for the polytechnic in the local league (Division Eight!). The legality of this was questionable: I had to answer to the name “Alex”! I won most of my games until we faced some promotion candidates who were decent chop players. I kept trying to topspin the chop and putting the ball into the net. After a severe beating I decided table tennis was not for me! Later, I found a book on table tennis techniques, featuring how to block and push chop before opening up with a high loop. So I soon returned to the game! Earlier I had lost the Polytechnic Closed Men’s Final to a pure pusher, again from lack of experience.
Since those days I have played in four other local leagues. In fact I have played in Humberside since 1982. I was absent, however, for one of our most spectacular matches. The lads were playing at a fire-station and the alarm went off! Yes, a horde of fire-fighters slid down those poles and charged past our players. Must have been unforgettable... Enough for now.
© Paul Butters, Yorkshire, Sunday 19\9\2010 at 21.40.