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In 1985 Winchester League celebrated the 50th anniversary of its founding (22nd November 1935), and the first League matches (January 1936). The late Doug Balchin, the League Secretary in 1986, led the publication of a special edition of the Handbook which included a history of the League.

I don't know who wrote the history - possibly Doug himself - but it's a very interesting and entertaining account, regardless of whether you remember the players concerned.

Almost nothing has been changed from the 1986 account, so "today" and "present" refer to 1986. Of those mentioned, only Kathy Ridgard (nee Conlon) is still playing in the Winchester League today, though some are still playing in other Leagues.

Please contact me - martinhealeys.org.uk - if you have any information or pictures that will expand or improve these pages!

The League from 1935 - 1956

This is the history of the formative years of the Winchester and District Table Tennis League. It's about those years between 1935 and the 21st Anniversary of the League in 1956 during which time it grew and became established.

The Winchester Table Tennis League was born on Friday 22 November 1935 in the Red Triangle Club room on St. George's Street. In what must have been a very workmanlike meeting the representatives of the founding clubs, the Conservatives, Gas Company Sports Club, Congregationalists, TocH, St. Cross and the Red Triangle Club elected officers, agreed rules, set fees, arranged a fixture list and even decided on the ball to be used (the Meteor). The meeting elected Mr. R. M. Brooks as its first chairman, (a later meeting elected Mr. Edmonds as president). The spread of clubs gives a good idea of the roots of the sport in general. It was nurtured by well established, but not necessarily sporting, organisations keen to foster a cheap, healthy, modern sport for their members.

The team affiliation fee was set at 5/-, with fixture cards an extra 2d. each, which bearing in mind inflation was a good deal more expensive than the present day fees. Matches began in earnest on January 8th 1936. Each team had five players who each played one game against all five of the opposition, the first to 21 points being the winner. No two point winning margins in those days! The first league champions in that first truncated season were St. Cross. The league also ran a men's singles and doubles knockout competition which culminated in the Finals Night, a tradition which persists to this day.

By 1937 the League's horizons were expanding; an inter-town match was organised against Alresford on March 4th. Messrs. Cuthbert, Gibbs, Matthews, Mattingley and Ward were chosen to play although there is no record of who won. However, two matches, home and away, were organised against Alresford in 1938 which Winchester won 20-5 away and 16 — 9 at home. Another inter-town match, this time against Southampton, was lost 6 — 19. Southampton proved sterner opposition and still do!

Affiliation to the ETTA came in 1937 at a total cost of £1 4s. 6d. which is less than one individual affiliation for this season. In those days much thought was given to the formulation and revision of the rules and it was suggested that they be condensed and printed on the back of a fixture card. Would that they could be now! St. Cross were the victors in all the pre-war championships. Messrs. Ward, Richards, Hudd, Rogers, Pyle, Mattingley, Tomes and Edgar being the backbone of the club.

The last pre-war season's AGM was held at the Red Triangle Club on September 11th 1939 and the minutes read 'Owing to the outbreak of war on September 3rd there was only a very small attendance. It was decided to continue with the meeting and discuss amended rules so that when it was found possible to continue the League everything would be in readiness.' At least the few present believed things would get back to normal! What that AGM did do was to give the league its present title of the Winchester and District Table Tennis League.

Although the war put paid to organised league table tennis in Winchester, it probably enhanced its general popularity. News reports of the time talked about a 'Thriving' game and table tennis being the 'black-out' game (there were of course others!!). The singles championships was held in January 1940 at the Guildhall and with it began the practice of staging exhibition matches. A Hungarian international, I. Bovos, added extra spice to the proceedings by retrieving shots 'inches from the floor and ten feet back from the table' in beating I. Baker from Bournemouth.

The league was reformed on 27 August 1946 again at a meeting in the Red Triangle Club. The prime movers in this matter were Arthur Richards and his colleagues A. Cuthbert and W. Edgar. The main decision of that meeting was to endorse the 1939 AGM decision to reduce the number of players in each team to three. It's interesting to note that the reduction was prompted by the fact that so many players were being called up that it was impossible to field 5 man teams.

The 1946—47 season started with two divisions of 11 teams each although only 14 teams completed the season. Again St. Cross were the champions and also winners of the newly promoted Team Eliminating competition. Winchester joined the Southern Counties Table Tennis league in October 1946 but found the opposition too strong and finished last out of six.

The start of the 1947—48 season was noteworthy for the outlawing of finger spin serves, although some league players of today have probably not heard of this ruling. The Hampshire Table Tennis Association was formed and the inter-Town competition replaced the Southern Counties league. It was in October 1947 that the name D. Balchin first appeared in print in connection with table tennis and, having played since the league re-started in 1946, he is now the league's longest serving player. During the course of the season 37 (Hampshire) PTC 'B' Team, one of a number of service teams of the time, had a unique reason for withdrawing from the league as the table at the barracks had been sold while the secretary was away on holiday!

The 1948—49 season saw the introduction of ladies' teams following the previous season's ladies competition in the singles championship. It culminated in a ladies division being formed in season 1950—51. 1948 also saw the entry of Hiltingbury 'A' into the league; Hiltingbury being a Polish Refugee camp. This club entered at the same time as the 16th Bomb Disposal Squad although it was Hiltingbury who proceeded to explode onto the Winchester scene. Their team of M. Jarecki, H. Stala and T. Palys swept all before them. The Hiltingbury club dominated Winchester Table Tennis until the late 1950s and were responsible for a considerable improvement in the standard of play in the town. Jarecki remained the only Winchester nominated player to win a Hampshire closed Tournament title (the veterans singles in 1956) until Kathy Conlon now won the mixed doubles with Chris Shetler in 1983. The popularity of table tennis in these early years was evidenced by the fact that in 1956 300-400 spectators watched the Hampshire Open Championships.

In the 1949—50 season the league held an invitation Tournament at Hyde Close Drill Hall won by L. W. Muller of Southampton, the Hampshire captain. It was the biggest table tennis event ever staged in Winchester and was so popular that the league could charge l/6d. for entry and still get a large audience.

Even so that event was upstaged by Finals Night in 1951 when an exhibition match was put on between Victor Barna (5 times World Champion) and Johnny Leach, who had won the World Singles title the previous year in Vienna. Over 500 packed the Guildhall on March 20th 1951 to see such renowned players in action.

A young Cliff Chevis was among the 500, bought the sixpenny programme, filled in the results, and has kept it to this day, 60 years later! Here's Cliff's programme, complete with autographs of Johnny Leach and Victor Barna.

In the years immediately following Winchester staged more exhibitions with such famous names as Richard Bergmann, the Rowe Twins, Harry Venner and Ken Craigie amongst others.

In March 1952 a Swedish International Youth Team played a Winchester/Southampton Youth team. The Swedes were far too strong and won 8-0. One of the young players that night was Tony Burbridge now of IBM.

The 1952-53 season saw the stranglehold of the Hiltingbury Club on the Championship broken by Alresford 'A' whose team of Way, Hoare, N. Williams and G. Williams beat Hiltingbury into second place by 4 points. However, Hiltingbury's dominance was reasserted next season when they regained the Championship, this time aided by a youthful John Waterhouse, who is now League President.

The 1954 season was the hey-day of Winchester Table Tennis. The Winchester Indoor Sports Association was founded with the league being instrumental in its permanent formation. As a result the league had permanent premises in the Guildhall big enough for play on three tables simultaneously. Two full internationals were played in the Guildhall in 1954. In March England trounced New Zealand 10—0, England being represented by Harry Venner, Ken Craigie, Peter Shead and Alan Rhodes. In December, England beat Germany 5—3. This time the England team was Derek Burridge, Ken Craigie, Aubrey Simons, Kathleen Best and Ann Haydon.

That the league could stage these events was due to one man, Arthur Richards, league Secretary from 1946 to 1952 and Honorary General Secretary from 1952 to 1956. He was the motivating force on the Committee during a time when the number of clubs rose from 9 to 21, teams from 14 to 43 and registered players from 90 to 230. It was said of him that 'Table Tennis is Arthur Richards and Arthur Richards is Table Tennis'. On his death in 1963 a memorial plaque was unveiled in the Guildhall and his wife donated a cup to the league to be presented to the person giving the outstanding performance of the year, whether in a playing or some other capacity, and displaying the qualities of enthusiasm and sportsmanship associated with Arthur Richards. The cup is presented to this day.

1956 was the 21st Anniversary of the league which culminated in a dinner at The Royal Hotel presided over by Mr. Roger Brooks, the league's first chairman and then its president. The Mayor, Councillor Paul Woodhouse, congratulated the league on its 21st birthday. In doing so he said the life of the town was represented by its organisations and the league could take its proud place amongst them.

Postscript
It is of note that 1956 saw the beginning of the controversy about sponge bats. The ETTA banned them in 1957 only for the ITTF to overturn that decision. Although there still are the hard bat veterans in the league the ITTF decision rang the death-knell of old style table tennis and ushered in the new attacking style. It was the end of an era in table tennis and the start of a new one that is only just finishing now with something of the same kind of controversy. Is nothing new?

1956 to present

Season 1956-7 was an uncertain one for the Winchester League with con­cern expressed at A.G.M. over being able to keep the League running as several committee members had resigned. It was also the end of an era. Hiltingbury had again won the League for the fourth consecutive year and M. Sobieraj of that club won the Men's Singles, also obtaining the highest average in the First Division. It was the last season that Hilting­bury were to compete as 'Hiltingbury' as the Polish camp closed down. The club reformed as Chandler's Ford 'A' for the 1957-8 season but were never to capture the honours as before.

Season 1957-8 opened with three Divisions plus a Mixed Division and the League even entered a women's team in the Inter-Town Competition, however without any success, they finished bottom.

Bill Devine, an ex-Cheshire county player, joined the North Hill club (Castle club's predecessors) and with the benefit of excellent coaching from Bill, a young Bob Collins developed quickly into a first class player winning the Men's Singles, Men's Doubles, Mixed Doubles and with the help of Charlie Emery the third member of the team, the First Division League three times and the Team Eliminating Competition four times. Also in the season 1957-8 the Red Triangle club, a founder member of the League, slipped out of the First Division; at this time Alresford were still a force in the League having players of the calibre of Norman Way, Jack Hoare, Ray Porter and G. Williams. Alresford even had its own League at this time boasting six teams. Winchester was considered a suitable venue by the E.T.T.A. to stage the England-Hungary match for this season and would have done so but for the Guildhall being already booked. Hungary at that time being second in the world ranking to Japan.

During 1958-62 women's table tennis was dominated by three sisters, Pat, Pam and Jean Boles, playing for the Winchester Lawn Tennis club. So strong were they that all three reached the Ladies semi-finals in the Tournament where Pat beat Pam in the final.

The mixed division was scrapped for season 1958-9 to be replaced by a fourth division and there has been a shortage of ladies in the League ever since.

In 1960 the E.T.T.A. introduced the players levy in order to have funds available to run International sides, coaching, and other organised com­petitions. There was a drop in membershp this season but the following season membership increased again.

1961-2 saw the death of Arthur Richards, of whom much is written elsewhere. North Hill had a last attempt at winning the League title being pipped on games average by the Winchester Lawn Tennis club. The following season saw the first award of the Arthur Richards Cup. It also saw Bill Devine leaving the area. Weeke 'A' won the League even though the top players were with other clubs. As people became more affluent, players became prepared to travel from Southampton, Phil Brown, later to become a County player, to be among the first. The standard of Table Tennis during this season reached its lowest ebb, it was the poorest of years in the Inter-County League, Winchester finishing bottom in the Men's and Mixed League.

Season 1963-64 saw problems in the running of the League with the General and League Secretary's work not being done. However, Jack Hoare (an Alresford player who has since died) and John Herridge stepped into the breech to keep the League in being.

A new side, Pitt Trailers, from Barton Stacey way pipped St. Cross for the League titles for the next two seasons, the Team Eliminating Com­petition Final being closely combated between Bob Collins, Reg Grace, Doug Balchin, Charlie Emery (all players who played for more than 25 years in the League) against Les Vaill, Geoff Hardy, Terry Vaill and E. Turner, with the match at five games all and deuce in the third game of the final set, between the Vaill brothers and Bob Collins and Doug Balchin, Pitt went on to win 23-21, and the Final 6 games to 5.

In season 1964-5 despite Pitt Trailers win Phil Brown was again the town's top player with the highest average and men's singles title. This saw the entry of Don Kendall and Doug Balchin onto the Committee. The next season saw St. Cross re-establish themselves as champions for the first time since the late forties. Indeed so strong were they that their 'B' team were runners up, with five of the six top averages were filled by St. Cross club members (R. Marsh, D. Dawkins, Reg Grace, Doug Balchin and Terry Pennial) the latter winning the Men's Doubles with Reg Grace.

St. Cross domination was to continue until the late 1970s with them winning the League or Team Eliminating competition on several occasions. No other club had such a sustained period of success over this time.

Season 1968-9 saw the League using the Lido for the first time.

Season 1969-70 saw the introduction of the Conder-Winnall Handicap Competition, a continuously popular team handicap competition, run by the Winnall Club supported by Conders. This season a record 46 teams entered the League and IBM were the club of the season with its 'A' team winning the 2nd Division and Team Eliminating Competition, the 'B' team 2nd in the 3rd Division and their 'C' team 2nd in the 4th Division. The League acquired its first table tennis table with proceeds from a Jumble Sale and by the end of the season the League had acquired a total of three tables. A Junior training squad was started at the Lido with Nigel Maguire, S. Terrel, T. Rawlings, Chris Arnold, Geoff Morris and Ken Dimmer, unfortunately not one of these players is any longer playing in the Winchester League.

Firefly Boys Club briefly interrupted the St. Cross domination of the League by winning the 1st Division title in both the 1970 and 1971 seasons.

Hursley 'A' were champions in season 1974-5 but St. Cross 'A' re­established themselves the next season in a very fiercely contested season with their team of Doug Balchin, Paul Freeman and Den Macklin (who has since tragically died in his late forties). However, Hursley's John Lewis won the Men's Singles and, with his teammate Bob Doe, won the Men's Doubles, Hursley obtained partial revenge by beating St. Cross 6-5 in the Team Eliminating Competition Final.

Throughout the early 70s there was a gradual increase in membership, particularly of younger players culminating in a five Division League in 1978-9 shortly after the World Championships in 1977 were staged in Birmingham and had received substantial television coverage. In addition the value of the weekly coaching sessions at the Lido were paying off, as the season 1974-5 saw the start of a Junior Singles competition at the Tournament, won in its first year by M. Chalcraft, of Alresford.

Season 1975-6 was again closely contested with St. Cross 'A' pipping Winnall for the first Division title on games average, Winnall's George Philpott getting 100% in the First Division. It was Hursley 'A' who broke the St. Cross stranglehold by winning the title in 1977-8 led by Gary Longland, Ro Bennett and Ken Murray, but it was Winnall's Chris Wilshere, son of the South of England's Coaching Officer, who won both the Men's Singles at the Tournament and the top average in the League.

Winnall 'A' briefly wrested the title from Hursley in 1978-79 with their team of George Philpott, Harry Spraggs, John Summerbell and Chris Wilshere, however strengthened by the inclusion of John Roberts, Pete Parsons and Jeff Mitchell, Hursley 'A' took back the title in 1979-80.

John Summerbell won the Men's Singles, the first, and so far, the only time that a past winner of the Junior Singles has won this title.

Hursley 'A' were to win the First Division title again in seasons 1980-81, 81-82 and 83-84, each season with ease, with the basic team of Ro Bennett, Jeff Mitchell, John Roberts and Gary Longland, during this period John Roberts twice winning the Men's Singles and Gary Longland once, and also competing in four Team Eliminating Finals, winning twice and losing once to their own 'B' team. It was during these three seasons that the standard of Table Tennis in the First Division was higher than at any time since the formation of the League.

In the season 1983-4 Hursley 'A' lost the services of John Roberts and Gary Longland, allowing IBM 'A' to win the title, comfortably, for the first time in their history. IBM 'A' dominated the scene that season with their team of Andy Ely, Andy Whitcher, Colin Easton and Tony Burbridge. They easily won the Team Eliminating Final too and Andy Ely the Men's title and with Andy Whitcher the Men's Doubles.

In the season 1984-85 IBM 'A' were again champions by a comfortable margin. The team was as the previous season but strengthened by newcomer Mark Walmsley. This season saw Winchester making an impression at the Hampshire Closed Championships at last, Kathy Ridgard winning the Ladies singles and Joe Healey the Junior Boys under 12's singles.

1985-86 proved to be a closely fought season, Hursley 'A' forged ahead at the end to wrest the title from IBM 'A' who had an unhappy end to the season as they also lost in the finals of the Conder-Winnall Cup, to Worthy Down, and the Team Eliminating Competition to a superb performance by St. Cross 'A'. Andy Ely did however manage to retain the Men's Singles, winning for the third year running and beating clubmate Mark Holt for the second year in the final.

May players of this standard continue to be interested in playing in the Winchester League which is noted for its friendly, competitive attitude.