To commemorate the golden jubilee of the North Norfolk Table Tennis League (formerly the Cromer and District League), Philip Stone, Press Officer for the League 2003 – Present has been looking back at the archives of the North Norfolk News and its sister papers to pick out his top 50 memorable moments from across the last five decades. His selection recalls memorable matches, great personalities and lots of humour. Also featured are some notable press reports amid the odd controversy or two, but the League has always kept its friendly nature and his 50 memorable moments start at the very beginning:-
- 50 - The League is Born. In the early sixties, a group of eight met with the idea of forming a table tennis league in the Cromer area and thus the Cromer and District League was formed. Records are patchy from the very early days but around 10 teams took part in that first season and in 1963 the very first winners were Norfolk County Council Employees. They were followed by Cromer Methodists in 1964 before Cromer Football Club dominated the next four seasons. The first Chairman was Billy Baker (father-in-law of the League’s Current President Peter Ward) who saw a successful increase in size over a short period of time with the second division introduced in 1966.
- 49 – In a Fix. From time to time several players have made the mistake of turning up at the opposition’s venue when they were the ones who should have been at home or vice versa, however when in October 1993 Mike Newton wrongly travelled to Sheringham Salvation Army for what was his home tie at Bacton Aces he got more stick than most. The reason being was that he was the fixture secretary and had misread his own fixtures! Mike rushed back and despite his travels, still won all his three games!
- 48 – Elliott throws himself into the final! The 2008 North Norfolk Championships at North Walsham Sports Centre produced one of the best finals of recent times as John Paul faced Dennis Elliott in the Veterans event (the first year in which the minimum age had been raised fifteen years to 55). Elliott won the first set 12-10 before Paul took charge dropping just eight points in the next two sets while a comical moment saw Elliott throw his whole body on the table in a bid to retrieve a mis-hit drop shot from his opponent. Paul led the fourth 10-6 but squandered seven Championship points as Elliott took the set 16-14, before Paul won the decider 11-4. The duo then faced each other again in the Open Singles final which finished at11:20pm – however Elliott had given his all in the Veterans and this time Paul ran out an easy winner in three.
- 47 - NNTTL TV! The League has kept up to date with the times over the last decade, with selected matches being filmed to preserve some great memories and since 2008 the Youtube channel has made these available to a now global audience. Viewers over the years have been treated to everything from some classic points and match-ups to Chris Pooley’s war dances and Simon Halliday’s somewhat disturbing match winning celebrations! The very first match to be filmed was the 2004 Knockout Cup Quarter-Final at Trunch Village Hall between Seaflames A’s Derek Philpott, Keith Register and John Jackson and NW Cobra’s Bjorn Hope and Edna and Philip Stone with Seaflames winning 5-1.
- 46 – Pimples cause a spot of bother. “Long-pimpled bats put the purists in a spin – Cliff Fletcher on a table tennis controversy” cried out the headline in the EDP on 2nd December 1982 as the then Press Officer reflected on the introduction of the expensive new rubbers and blades:- “The bats have such an effect on the ball that speed and reflex actions are totally inadequate on their own. One rubber called ‘feint’ has such an effect on the ball that it spins through the air looping like an egg. One player who uses this rubber does so with such effect that he has not lost a single set all season. Dave Pickard of Briston A has conceded an average of only 12 points per game”
45 – In the Dark. Sometimes the stories from the League reflected the times and this was certainly true during the power crisis during the early seventies. The press report dated 25th February 1972 stated that only six matches were able to be played because of the power crisis – clubs were asked to note that any match terminated by a power cut must be resumed at the score at the time of the cut and as soon as possible with the same scorecard used. And the League was still affected in 1974 with it being reported on 18th January that North Walsham Youth Club would not be able to meet any of its home fixtures during the crisis.
- 44 – The North Norfolk International Open? Bizarrely the 2008 North Norfolk Championships attracted international interest when former African number three Kazeem Ajose sent an e-mail asking to take part. Quite why he would want to play in the Championships after appearing in the African Games and Commonwealth Championships was unclear, but of course the event was only open to players from the League.
- 43 – Cup Classic. The 1983 Knockout Singles Cup final was a classic as Roughton A’s Nigel Warner, Sid Redgrove and Alan Walpole took on Nomads B’s line up of John Vaughan, Ian Ecroyd and Roger Greef. Rather than being played as the climax to the season, the finals were played mid-season in those days with the match report appearing in the North Norfolk News on 14th January. Six of the nine tussles went the distance as Roughton’s 2-0 lead became 3-3 and then 4-4. The deciding match saw Warner defeat Ecroyd 23-21 in the third to clinch Roughton’s tightest of 5-4 wins.
- 42 – Station Shouts and Everybody Out. In 2002 Sheringham Fire station joined the League. Due to the nature of the player’s jobs, all matches were played at the station and if there was a shout out, the match would be abandoned with either the outstanding games or a full replay at a later date. There was one shout-out seeing the last couple of points of a Chris Johnson involved singles and the doubles being conceded – however there was no blaze, instead a lad had to be rescued from a swing!! Sheringham was not the first fire station to play in the League with Cromer taking part decades earlier. Two matches were replayed due to callouts – with Methodists B reversing a 1-6 deficit at the time of the emergency to a 7-3 win on the replay! A couple of other points worthy of mention – on an emergency services related note North Walsham Police Station were a force to be reckoned with in the seventies and on a fire theme, drills became a regular feature at Sidestrand School in the noughties. The record was three in one match!
- 41 – Seagulls and Sandpipers The 1997/8 season saw the League at a bit of a low point with a lowly nine teams fighting out the honours. Something had to be done and that something was the Summer League initiative. Aimed at getting more juniors and novices involved and pairing them up with experienced campaigners, eight teams battled out this unique summer competition. All the teams were named after animals – so for example Derek Philpott’s Seaflames team became the Seagulls. The Shifters featuring the Jenner brothers led the way and there were also the Shires, Starfish, Sharks, Sandpipers, Scribes and Seals. 25 new players competed in the Summer League with several going on to play in the main League the following season (myself included) and it has been onwards and upwards since then.
- 40 – Excel Tel In 1991 Terry Venables (no, not that one but aCromerHigh School pupil then aged 16) became the Norfolk Under 19 Schools champion. Penholder Terry started playing table tennis because the tennis courts were always fully booked and set up a team in the North Norfolk League with two fellow students, also topping the Handicap League.
39 – Go the Distance. In 1988 there was a new sponsor, an increase in teams after the summer recruitment drive and hence a change of name to allow the area covered to be increased from12 miles fromCromerChurch as the Cromer and District League became the Norwich & Peterborough North Norfolk Table Tennis League.
- 38 – A Small Fraction Makes a Big Difference. In 2000, the League’s Chair Chris Pooley appeared in the North Norfolk News to discuss the first change he could remember in the game for 40 years – the increase in size of the balls which went up a couple of millimetres to40 in diameter. “I’ve tried the new ball and it’s horrid….it goes slower and it drops quicker”. Also that year pear-shaped bats were ruled legal.
- 37 – Worth the Wait. For various reasons the 2005 Knockout Cup finals were delayed from the end of the 04/05 season until the start of the next. With Sidewinders contesting both finals against North Walsham Alpha, it was agreed to hold one final at each of the team’s home venues. First came the doubles atSidestrandSchool between Sidewinder’s Peter Ward and the John’s Short and Paul and Alpha’s John Vaughan, Dennis Elliott and Mary Sawyer. The final reached 3-3 and Alpha led the next two battles by two sets, losing one and winning the next both in five before Paul and Short won the deciding match in four against Elliott and Sawyer. If that wasn’t enough drama, two days later came the singles final at North Walsham Sports Centre with Jonathan Care replacing Short. Alpha were a win away from the cup as they led 4-3 but Paul won a classic five-setter against Elliott before Ward won another deciding contest against Sawyer in straight. A very memorable fifty two hours or so!
- 36 – A Pooley in a Pear Tree! Every so often, us Press Officers like to have a bit of fun with our reports and the festive season - when the matches are few and far between to report on – provides the perfect opportunity. Chris Pooley held the position in the nineties and on 7th January 1994 the North Norfolk News featured his version of A Christmas Carol! The Ghost of Christmas Past took him back to Sheringham Methodist Hall in 1965 and the start of his one man destruction job of sports halls as he knocked over six seated players in concertina fashion while the Ghost of Christmas Future took him to 2010 where Sky Sports were showing the English team captained by a North Norfolk player winning the World Title and back in the local League, Haken Bennell’s veterans were struggling in division 3! I then paid tribute to the article a decade later in my end of year review appearing in the North Norfolk on 30th December 2004 where ‘Pip Scrooge’ was showered by polo mints by the ghost of Jacob Marley (he was out of humbugs apparently) and was told he had to come up with a more original article. In the end it turned into a version of the 12 days of Christmas with the verse featuring, amongst others, nine ETTA members sleeping, four ladies calling (there were only four female players in the League at that point), and a Pooley in a Peartree!
- 35 – If at First You Don’t Succeed….. Seaflames C’s captain in the eighties, Eddie Beacher – aka Steady Eddie – was patience personified. ‘Now Eddie can Smile’ was the headline of 27th November 1981 next to a picture of the grinning captain celebrating his team’s first match win in the League since 1976! Eddie didn’t actually play in the singles of that particular match with Ann Way, Paul Bridges and Colin Fizgerald all picking up braces for Seaflames against North Lodgers, but proving good things come to those who wait Eddie was back in the headlines of the report dated 21st December 1984. This time he clocked up his first individual win in the League for four years and didn’t stop there as he took a brace for Seaflames B over Aylsham B and partnered maximum man Derek Philpott to a crucial doubles win to clinch a 6-4 match win.
34 – A Nail-biting Finish – The 2001 Knockout Cup finals – in similar fashion to the 2005 version covered earlier – saw the same two teams reach both finals with one final taking place at each of the home grounds. This time it was Sidestrand Aces against Seaflames A and the latter won the singles 5-4. It was the doubles that was remembered as a real classic though as it again went to the wire with the last four contests all going to a deciding set. The final took place at Sidestrand School and pitted Sidestrand’s team of Robert Drake, John Miller and Freddie Jenner against Seaflame’s line up of Terry Copland, Keith Register and Peter Betts. The deciding set of the deciding contest saw Betts and Copland lead 13-4 before Jenner and Miller caught them up. It went to the wire – but the Seaflames duo won 23-21 to seal the double 5-4. The press report from the North Norfolk News dated 17th May 2001 stated that the contest was so enthralling that all six players and both experienced umpires failed to spot that the deciding victory had been mistakenly awarded to the Aces on the scorecard and that only a phoned match report from Chair Chris Pooley prevented the report from being somewhat embarrassing!
- 33 – Controversy Reigns. In March 1981 the League looked set for its closest ever finish. Eight teams were involved in each of the second, first and premier divisions and it was the latter where the drama played out. With two weeks of the season remaining, Nomads A led the way but defending champions Tyneside A were only five points adrift and with a game in hand and third placed Holt A also still had a mathematical chance to grab the League Crown. But it was Holt who put the cat among the pigeons after conceding their final fixture – against Nomads A. With Tyneside drawing their penultimate match with Roughton A, that meant they needed a whitewash in their final match to win what had now become a farcical season and ironically that final match was against Holt B. And it was a whitewash which Tyneside A got, but the wrong way around as they lost 0-10 to a team who had only won three matches out of the previous twenty! And so the final standings saw Nomads A top the table on 173 points, eleven ahead of Tyneside A on 162. Those twelve free points the new Champions had received had effectively handed them the title from the League’s most controversial default.
- 32 – Game, Set & Patch! Comedy and humour has played a big part in the League’s history – it does consider itself the friendly League after all. For example take the case of Neil Roberts, playing Haken Bennell in the 82/83 season and ending up with the ball where he least expected it – straight in his mouth from a Haken smash! But there was one match that outdid them all in terms of farce and could have been straight out of a black and white silent movie. The date was 7th November 1975, the venue the North Norfolk District Council Offices – the playing area hampered by a low bar running down the length of the room – and the players a T Henry versus a certain C Pooley. For starters, Pooley accidentally stood on the match ball and broke it, as well as managing to take a heater off the wall. Not to be outdone Henry slipped and split his trousers and oh yes, the entire table also collapsed as well!
- 31 – Close Encounter of the Third Kind. After finishing as runner-up in the 1975 North Norfolk Championships, Barry Stannard’s top spin smashes saw him to the title in1976. In the 1977 Championships, Stannard defending the title winning a nervy final against Terry Copland 11-21, 21-16, 25-23 and after a mixed League season went for the hat-trick in1978. A record 64 players took part in the Championships that year, which started at10am at North Walsham Community Centre. With 265 matches played throughout the day, the tournament did not finish until11:20pm and the final pitted Stannard against Eric Craske. The first set went point for point until 17-17 when Stannard finished four outstanding rallies with tremendous forehand drives to take it 21-17 and it was again his forehand that was the deciding factor in the second which he edged 22-20 to win his third successive title.
- 30 – Handicap Hat-trick. The North Walsham Delta trio of James Baldock-Yaxley, Alex Spragg and Adam Brown won both the Handicap Singles and Handicap Doubles Cups in both 2002 and 2003 meaning a double hat-trick was on for them in 2004. The dream ended for them at the semi-final stage of the doubles as they lost out 2-10 to Backhanders. However in the singles they negotiated an extremely tricky draw – beating North Walsham Alpha before winning a tough quarter-final away against Crosscourts that went down to the wire and then a semi against Sidewinders – to reach the final where they faced Cromer Aces who had romped through their own semi-final 16-5 – 1.5 against Seaflames B. With the Aces team of Teucer Wilson, Eric Dolden and Geoff Long winning the doubles final 10-7 against Backhanders, either they would be the ones completing the Handicap Cup double that season or Delta would win the Singles for the third successive year. An understandably tense final at Sidestrand School saw Delta lead 5-4 at the half-way stage before some great play saw them close out 9.5 – 6.5 to seal their hat-trick.
- 29 – A Rich Vein of Success. The 1982 Championships took place atBeestonHallSchool with the junior players impressing. Paul Rich won both the junior and senior singles, beating Haken Bennell in the final of the latter 21-17, 25-23. Rich also partnered Bennell in the Open Doubles where they defeated Eric Craske and Roger Greef 21-13, 21-18 in the final as Rich completed his hat-trick. Elsewhere, the final of the Handicap Singles saw junior player Robin Thaxter (+21) defeat John Vaughan 31-16, 31-27. Thaxter has recently made a successful return to the League winning the Championships the last two years.
- 28 – A Hole in One! The Handicap Cup quarter-final in March 1978 between Roughton D and Nalgo A was abandoned in very unusual circumstances. During the final game, the ball rolled down a mouse hole in Roughton Village Hall and the teams were unable to find another one with which to continue! Luckily Roughton had already secured victory by that stage so it was only the dead rubber that could not be concluded.
- 27– A Marathon Effort. In 2002 Sport Relief was launched and XFish player Paul Powell came up with a simple yet effective plan to help raise funds – a twelve hour table tennis marathon from 10am until 10pm on Saturday 6th July at Cromer Christian Fellowship. Players were sponsored to take part in shifts to ensure there was continuous play for the duration and £721 was raised. But that was just the start – in 2004 I took over the fundraising baton and North Walsham Sports Centre became the new venue as another marathon was held every other year until2010. In total five marathons were staged and the League raised a grand total of £4,852 for Sport Relief.
- 26 – Flames Heart-Ache. It’s never nice to lose a Cup final after being just a single point away (I should know having lost the deciding match of the 2006 Handicap Singles after being Cup point up to Clive Smith…). The 1996 Open Doubles final was contested by holder’s Briston/Bale (represented by Keith White, Stubby Dams and the veteran John Hancock) and Seaflames A (Reg Hall, Keith Register and Eric Craske). The final was staged on neutral ground at Bacton Village Hall and Briston were at one point fighting for survival at 2-4 down, before drawing level to force a decider. Hall and Register won the first set 21-19 and then held two Cup points at 20-18 in the second, but White and Hancock battled back to take the second 23-21. The Briston pair then played some immaculate smashes to take the third 21-13 to steal a 5-4 win.
- 25 – Inter-League Revival. In 2012 the North Norfolk League were involved in the first Inter-League match held in the area for over three decades. The brainchild of Barry Evans, the inaugural Hansells Inter-League Challenge Trophy match saw the NNTTL take on the Dereham and District Table Tennis League. The match took place on Wednesday 25th April and with Dereham having home advantage, the venue was Swanton Morley Village Hall. The challenge was unique in that it was, in effect, three matches in one with three players from each League’s respective first and second division and their junior ranks battling it out. There were many tight games with Dereham winning overall 17-10. This year the trophy has grown significantly with eight Leagues battling out the honours – ironicallyNorth Norfolk were again drawn against Dereham. Although this time they had home advantage, the NNTTL lost 5-22.
- 24 – Freda is Floored! In some earlier memories we have seen matches abandoned due to fire station shout-outs, the power crisis and a certain mouse-hole. But one of the most dramatic curtails – which thankfully did not turn out as serious as it could have been – took place on a harsh winter’s night in 1980. Freda Copland was playing for Roughton at the Tyneside Club when the floorboard gave way, sending her flying backwards and knocking her out as her head collided with a stove behind the table. As luck would have it, a Dr Moss Taylor happened to be playing for Tyneside that night and he sprung into action. Meanwhile Freda’s team-mate Chris Pooley braved the gales outside to try and find Freda’s husband Terry – and eventually found him sea-fishing on Mundesley beach!
- 23 – Four Hour Epic. The 1999 Knockout Singles Final between holders Briston/Bale (John Vaughan, Stubby Dams and Ian Darricott) and Seaflames A (Eric Craske, Terry Copland and Reg Hall) was the longest in many years – the report in the North Norfolk of 4th February noted the players in the four hour epic all displayed cunning, flamboyance, skill and all round enthusiasm. With the battles won alternatively by the two teams on neutral ground at Cromer Tennis Club, Briston/Bale led 3-2 at the halfway stage and that became 4-2 asVaughan came back from 10-16 down to defeat Hall 21-18 in the third. Man of the match Copland kept Seaflames alive by completing his maximum with a superb three set win against Darricott containing many chopped winning points, but in the end Hall had no answer to Dam’s variety of play as Briston/Bale won 5-3.
- 22 – Pooley has all the moo-ves! The 1979/80 season saw perhaps the most impressive spectacle in Chris Pooley’s one man campaign to destroy all the sports centres and village halls in the region. The venue this time was Roughton Village Hall and Pooley was playing Gordon Aldis when a shot on the run saw Pooley shoulder charging through the emergency exit doors, breaking them in the process and ending up dazed on his back in the field outside with ten cows looking down at him!
- 21 – Bleary Eyed Victory. The 1994 North Norfolk Championships started at the somewhat baffling time of 4pm. The estimated finishing time of11pm was blown out of the window when the final ball was hit at12:55am Sunday morning! That last ball was hit by Terry Copland in the Open Singles final who won a close final against Stubby Dams 18-21, 21-8, 21-14. Copland and Dams also faced each other in the final of the Open Doubles – Copland and Ivan Ransome defeating Dams and Stan Munn 16-21, 21-18, 21-12. The nine players in the Veterans had a combined age of over 180 years between them and it was a hat-trick year for Copland as he beat Mike Newton 21-12 in both sets of the final.
- 20 – Paul’s Pivotal Point. The 2008 final of the Knockout Singles Cup, staged at Trunch Village Hall, was between Sidewinder’s John Paul, Peter Ward and Martin Lawes and Hunnybell’s Ian Darricott, Colin Humphries and John Hancock. However it was Hancock Senior who took the place of an injured Hancock Junior. On paper, and although it was only the third battle of the night with the teams locked at 1-1, the match hinged on the first meeting in any League between Darricott and Paul – and all the players knew it. The first two sets were split 11-9 and there seemed no way back for Darricott as Paul took the third 11-4. Paul then became a bit too defensive – one rally in the fourth was over ninety strokes – and it cost him as Darricott took the set 11-9 and then held two match-points in the fifth at 10-8. However Paul had not been defeated for over two years and he wasn’t about to be here as he hit champions form to win the last four points of the contest. The remainder of the final went exactly as expected with the combined length of the next three battles less than the duration of the Darricott against Paul clash. At 3-4 down – and with both playing with rubbers to appear on the banned list the following season – Paul defeated Humphries to set up the decider where Lawes was inevitably too strong for Hancock.
- 19 – A Table Tennis Triumph. The 1975 Championships were held at Aylsham and attracted a record 152 entries, resulting in a £90 profit for League funds. Eric Craske was the Open Singles winner that year, however history was made in the Handicap Singles as thirteen year old Kim Cockaday became the youngest player to win a senior trophy at the Championships. In the final he faced Chris Johnson, who had all of a one point head start, but Cockaday edged to a 21-17, 19-21, 28-26 victory. The match was described as a triumph for both table tennis and the handicappers and is in contrast to the second division singles final where R Gale beat J Crossfield which was reported on in the press as a disappointing, laborious affair! Cockaday won his second title in the juniors, apparently overcoming one or two elements of gamesmanship from fourteen year old Geoffrey Wiffin to win the final in three.
- 18 – League President caught in Bribery Scandal! The 2006 twelve hour table tennis marathon – the third for Sport Relief and second to be held at North Walsham Sports Centre – introduced a hard bats tournament. With the money from the entries going to the charity, matches were the best of three sets. At the quarter-final stage, Chris Johnson and League President John Vaughan played out an incredible contest with the three sets lasting over thirty minutes! Johnson produced some incredible flukes – including at match-point down – and at 9-9 in the thirdVaughan stopped to take out his wallet and laid a £20 note on the table in front of Johnson in a bid to buy victory! Of course the money was confiscated for the charity and Johnson went on to win 15-13 before defeating Dennis Elliott and Geoff Baxs to take the inaugural title!
- 17 – Mary’s Golden Moments. In 2004 Mary Sawyer fulfilled one of her ambitions by pulling on anEngland vest to represent her country. That first event was the over-seventies veteran’s event in the Home Counties International and Mary won seven out of her eight singles and was a key factor in helping her team claim the championship. However, the best was yet to come as in 2007 Mary had an extremely good reason for missing the League’s AGM – she was playing for theEngland over seventies Ladies team at the inaugural International Veterans Team Championships. Mary joined forces with Pamela Butcher and Jean White and her team passed all expectations as after overcoming stiff competition from German and Czech teams they won a tense final against another German team to top the podium and win the gold medal!
16 – Back from the Brink. The North Norfolk News report of 10th March 1989 reported that the clash between that years Championships and Mother’s Day left some of the stalwarts of the competition unable to attend. However 28 players did take part. Haken Bennell had a close shave in the quarter-finals of the Open Singles as he saved three match-points against Eric Craske before going on to win the event after defeating Paul Warner in the semis and John Hancock (Snr) in the final. Bennell reached the final in each of the four events he entered that year as he partnered Hancock Snr in the Open Doubles to defeat Robin Thaxter and John Hancock Jnr. Bennell lost out to Duncan Smith and Derek Philpott in the final of the Handicap Doubles but gained revenge over Smith in the final of the Handicap Singles as he took a hat-trick from the Championships.
- 15 – Chris Tarrant Stops Play and How Not to Behave on Television. In April2001, a second round Knockout Singles Cup match between X Fish A and Seaflames A took place at Cromer Fun Stop. X Fish’s third man Andy King was somewhat distracted during the early stages of the tie as he received a call telling him to keep his line clear as his friend Richard Deeley had made it through ‘Fastest Finger’ and was now playing ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ – and Andy was one of his phone a friends. Meanwhile Chris Tarrant was finding Deeley a most peculiar character, as he wrote in his book ‘Millionaire Moments’ -“One of the oddest contestants we’ve ever had who seemed vaguely amused by everything around him – and above all himself” Deeley reached the £32,000 landmark and was presented with the customary cheque by Tarrant but to the amazement and astonishment of everyone he screwed it into a small ball and threw it across the studio floor saying “I don’t want that, give me another one”. Naturally Tarrant was not impressed “Inwardly I’ll happily admit I was absolutely furious. But resisting the temptation to reach across and shake him by the windpipe, I went onto the next question” And that’s where King came in – at 8:25pm he was still waiting to make it on the table when the phone rang and it was a case of ‘Chris Tarrant Stops Play’ as the match was delayed. King was asked this £64,000 question – ‘In which Sport are white goose feathers an important feature, especially at international level? A – Darts. B – Archery. C – Fly Fishing or D – Badminton. King was not sure and advised Deeley that he didn’t think it was darts and thought it might be archery and the line cut off. Deeley also agreed with his inclination and gave archery as his answer, before Tarrant revealed that the correct answer was badminton and a red faced Deeley was left to scramble about on the floor to retrieve his cheque. King unaware of all his friends antics in the studio found it hard to concentrate on the match and only picked up a total of seven points in his first battle as Seaflames won 8-1. Meanwhile Deeley worried that the bank might not accept his crumpled cheque asked for a replacement only to be told by the show’s producer “I’m sorry we don’t do replacement cheques. If you decide to screw it up into a tight ball, throw it in the river or even set light to it, that’s very much up to you. After all, the cheque was absolutely fine when it left us”.
- 14 – Both a First and a Last. On the 9th February 2009, Alpha hosted Sidewinders in a first division match at North Walsham Sports Centre. A lucky net-cord from Mary Sawyer saved a match point against John Batchford at 9-10 in the fifth before Sawyer won the next point to go from match point down to match point up. It was at this stage that Batchford took the very unusual step of removing the T from the scoreboard and taking a timeout! Although common on the International scene, something like this had never occurred in the League over the previous four and a half decades, but Batchford had been asking what the ‘T’s on the scoreboard were for and decided if they were there, he may as well make use of them! The game resumed ninety seconds later and following a serve and then winning hit from Sawyer it was all over! Although the time-out was done in the most sporting and jovial of fashions, the issue of them was then raised at the AGM where Timeouts were outlawed making it the only one in the League’s history!
13– Dennis plays Tennis! Cromer Tennis Club had always produced players who are equally at home on the tables as well as the grass courts and in 2005 and as part of the League’s fundraising efforts, a special tennis challenge match was staged between the Cromer Crosscourt’s duo of Anne Armitage and Geoff Long and the North Walsham Novices pair of Bjorn Hope and Philip Stone. The unusually scored match was somewhat one-sided with the Novices winning just a solitary game, but it led to the Charity Cup which was held betweenNorth Walsham and Cromer in both 2007 and 2009. The Cup combined two sports and four ties with table tennis and tennis being played at both venues. The inaugural Cup in 2007 went down to the final tie where Walsham had to win the concluding tennis on the grass at Cromer to lift the Cup – a tough ask given they were whitewashed 5-0 in their home tennis tie on the hard courts. Walsham went 0-1 down in the grass tie before Dennis Elliott stepped out to face David Harding. Their match was only the one set, but on a scorching day at Cromer it lasted over the hour and was entertainment all the way with Elliott diving Becker like around the court before getting bamboozled by the lobs of Harding. The Cromer player served for the match twice and twice was two points from victory, but it was Elliott who won the match 7-4 on the tie-break. And that victory turned the whole tie around as wins for Matt Robinson and John Jackson against Maureen Chapman and Harding respectively sealed the tie for Walsham who won the Cup 17-11 and successfully defended it two years later.
- 12 - The Champion is Toppled. John Paul entered the 2009 North Norfolk Championships having not lost a singles match in his four year history at the event – he was looking to win both the Open Singles and Veterans for a fifth consecutive year whilst he had won the Open Doubles the previous three years – each with a different partner. Dennis Elliott had enjoyed many memorable matches with Paul (a couple of which are featured elsewhere in these 50 moments), but always had to settle for second best. This time the duo met in the semis of the Veterans and it was Elliott who inflicted Paul’s first defeat with the fifth set concluding with the defending champion sportingly conceding a ball that had touched. The final of the Open Singles saw Paul meet newcomer John Batchford who won in four. Paul and Lawes also had to settle for the runners-up trophy in the Open Doubles as Paul’s conquerors in his two singles events combined – Elliott and Batchford winning in straight.
- 11 – Closest Title Race. The race for the second division title in the 1991/2 season could not have been closer. With eight teams in the division that season (including the brilliantly named Bacton Clowns) Briston B and Seaflames B both won ten of their fourteen matches in the League. Briston had drawn three and lost one compared to two draws and two losses for Seaflames but both finished on 119 points. That meant a play-off was needed to decide the title as Briston B’s team of Stan Munn, Craig Lorenz and Paul Gillette took on Seaflames B’s Derek Philpott, Keith Register and Freda Copland. Briston won a nail-biter 5-4 with the North Norfolk News reporting on 15th May 1992 that the match swung on Gillette’s best win of the season against Copland. Register was unbeaten and Philpott took a single but braces from Munn and Lorenz saw Briston’s B team match the achievement of their A team who had won the first division. There was also more significance to that close result of the play-off as the reduction in the number of teams the following season ultimately meant only Briston and not Seaflames were promoted.
- 10 – Net Gain. The League is now in a much healthier position than it was in the early nineties and that is all thanks to our Sponsorship. In 1996 Structure-Flex became our new sponsor and with the focus on bringing the youth back into the game it was the start of a fruitful twelve year association. Tables, balls, police checks needed for the coaches and lots more besides were all bought thanks to the money from the Sponsor and the good work is still being carried out thanks to Star Paving Services who have sponsored our League from 2008 to date.
9 – Alpha’s Oliver Twist. In 2004 Alpha Mary Sawyer had to take some time out from the team in order to recover from a knee operation and replaced herself with two of her coaching protégés – brothers Rhodri and Alexander Oliver. Sawyer wasn’t expecting much that season but remarkably the Alphas reached both of the Knockout Cup finals. 14 year old Rhodri joined John Vaughan and Dennis Elliott in the doubles, where the team were defeated by Sidewinders 5-3. Two days later the two teams again met at Trunch Village Hall in the final of the Knockout Singles, this time with Alexander – at 11 years, the youngest ever player to compete in the League – taking the place of his brother. With Alpha leading 4-1 Oliver had to chance to seal the Cup for them when he took on Jonathan Care and he dealt with the pressure admirably as he executed his smashes well and ran his opponent close to exhaustion as he won 21-19, 21-18.
- 8 – Bat’s Entertainment! It became a tradition at the Sports Relief twelve hour marathons to end the day with an exhibition match where the score did not matter and laughter was high on the agenda. In 2004 Mark Dare took on his wife Lindsey as the pair swapped their bats for dustpan and brush and then in 2006 Phil Logsdon and Steve Sadd ended up using miniscule bats and frying pans in their exhibition! Mark and Steve returned to face each other in 2008, but since the previous marathon Steve had suffered an injury that may have prevented him from playing all together. However, not to be deterred he took part playing – and phenomenally well at that – seated on an office swivel chair as the duo gave another breathtaking display and all – the charity included – went home with a very big smile on their face.
- 7 – Players Pack Up in Protest. When I started as Press Officer as the 2003/4 season commenced, I joined at one of the most controversial times in the League’s history as the biggest change in the sport was introduced. Already introduced on the International stage, the new 11 up scoring system was being introduced nationally meaning that instead of the best of three games to 21, League matches had to be played over the best of five to 11. In my first press report, in the North Norfolk News on September 11th 2003 I wrote that some players were so unhappy with the change that they quit altogether as a matter of principle and that the League had to resort back to one division. However most players grudgingly accepted the change and there was a vote at the end of the season. 43 League members replied with29 in favour of the new 11s system, 13 voting to return to 21s which could have led to the League opting out of ETTA and just one opting for another option that had been suggested – home team choice. With the future of the juniors also hanging in the balance it was decided the majority was significant enough and a decade later 11-up is still going strong!
- 6 – The Edge of Glory. The 2007 Handicap Singles Cup final, played at Southrepps Village Hall between X Fish and Seaflames C went down to the wire as Seaflame’s Derek Philpott and X Fish’s Nigel Pegg found themselves in the deciding set of the deciding match. Pegg (+10) reached Cup point at 20-19 but his forehand attack was denied by the net and that meant for the first and so far only time a one point play-off would decide which team would win the Cup. Philpott had the advantage of serve, Pegg attacked down the side of the table on his return forcing Philpott to send the ball back high – Pegg then hit a tremendous backhand half-volley that was surely the winner – but no, Philpott somehow got his bat under the ball and sent the ball back which looked wide but just flew off the corner of the table. The match and Cup was settled by that edge!
- 5 – A Good Sport – and those who Followed. Alan Bunting was a great sportsman and very hard to beat at the game – despite the fact he only had one leg. Following Alan’s untimely death it was decided in 1977 that the Alan Bunting Memorial Cup would be awarded to the sporting personality of the year. The first recipient was Nigel Warner and the Cup is still awarded every year with the players traditionally voting for their winner. In recent times there were emotional scenes as Maureen Chapman received the Cup – sadly Maureen lost her battle with cancer last year. All of those who have received the Cup – too many to name here – have deserved their award and have made sure Alan’s sporting example lives on in the League.
- 4 – Mary Sawyer, Unsung Hero. Mary Sawyer is a true table tennis legend – not just because of her heroics on the National and International stage, not just because of her sheer enthusiasm in representingNorth Walsham in the League over the last three decades and not just because of her infamous knitting in-between matches! Mary also invested loads of time – and patience – in helping coach the juniors of the League over numerous years and this was recognised when in 2005 she made the shortlist of Look East’s Unsung Sporting Heroes of the region award. Cue great excitement when Ian White visited Mary and husband Albert at home and also attended the junior coaching where he found it was not very easy to try and record a link to camera whilst playing! Although Mary did not win the award, the League was – and still is – very proud of her and all that she has achieved.
- 3 – Seventeen for Stan. “It is our best season ever” Stan Munn was quoted in the North Norfolk News of 30th April 1982 as eight years after he set up the Briston and Holt Table Tennis Club they swept the League winning every trophy going. Briston won the first division the next year and then the next and the next and the next and the next…with a move to Bale and the team becoming known as Briston/Bale the club won the League for a staggering seventeen consecutive seasons between 1982 and 1998. Players such as Stubby Dams, Haken Bennell and the Hancocks ensured a decade and a half’s worth of ‘Who can stop Briston/Bale’ press reports before the run was ended in 1999 as Seaflames A won the first division – and Briston/Bale finished fourth.
- 2 – Who could Cope with the Pope? Nicknamed ‘The Pope’ and with a lethal backhand, John Paul was a major force for Sidewinders/Specials in the second half of the noughties. After a loss to Phil Clarke on 15th February 2006, Paul became almost invincible – crises were few and far between and on the rare occasions they did occur he rose to the game. In December 2007 Paul won his 100th consecutive singles match in the League – fittingly against Dennis Elliott – and his run finally came to an end on 4th December 2008 after 143 wins. John Paul added the famous figure to his e-mail address and it was a run that many thought would never be broken, except….
- 1 – Hancock’s Half Decade. John Paul’s winning run of 143 consecutive singles matches was ended by John Hancock Junior who was at the start of a record run of his own. Hancock had not been defeated since his return to the League on 22nd October 2007 and reached his own century with a defeat of Terry Copland in January 2010. With Hancock finishing on 199 consecutive singles wins at the end of 2012, it was inevitable that he would pass the double century this year – however he also suffered the first defeat since his return. Howard Lupton’s win on 21st March 2013 ended Hancock’s undefeated reign of over five years and it will take some effort to beat his record of 214 consecutive victories in the League.
And so there we have it my top 50 memories from the last 50 years of the League’s history. Of course there have been tragic times as well with two players – Don Pritchard and Geoff Long – suffering fatal heart attacks during matches and it would be remiss not to remember them as well as all of the other players who are sadly no longer with us. But as I think these memories show – throughout all the ups and the downs, the laughs and the tears the League has always retained its position as one of the friendliest. Long may it continue to one hundred years and beyond!