Is table tennis a young man's game? Not for 83-year-old Turbo Ted who welcomes any new challengers, as Ben Bentley finds out.
Is table tennis a young man's game? Not for 83-year-old Turbo Ted who welcomes any new challengers, as Ben Bentley finds out:
Turbo Ted fixes his rival with a stare straight out of the Lee Van Cleef book of scary looks.
There is a bit of jiggery pokery with the table tennis ball before the 83-year-old unleashes one of his famous serves: a vicious swerver that has his rival pratfalling over his plimsolls and retrieving the ball from the back of the sports hall.
One-nil to pensioner ping pong.
To give him his non-table tennis name, Ted Dalton, from Kidderminster, is one of a number of older players who take to the table at the Severn Centre at Highley, near Bridgnorth, every Saturday morning.
There is even a lady with a prosthetic leg who plays sitting down . . . never let it be said that table tennis is not a sport for everyone.
After the pensioner table tennis film Ping Pong became an unlikely hit amongst older people, the documentary has embarked upon a tour of care homes around the UK and it is expected to result in a huge rise in the number of people taking up the sport, due to its health benefits.
“With a bit more publicity I think table tennis for mature players could take off,” says Ted.
“It’s good for stiff joints. Most people in the old days would retire at 65, would sit themselves in their seat and the only people who would survive and keep up were the gardeners.
“But like gardening, it’s as strenuous as you want it to be. You are bending and stretching without realising. If you had to stand there touching your toes ten times and stretching this way and that you would moan about it, but with table tennis it’s enjoyable and you always feel better the next day.
“For the over-80s, a game of table tennis and a crossword are the two best things you can do to keep mind and body going. That’s what I do.”
Squeaking around the table in their trainers, the rhythmic rat-tat-tat of ping pong is a gently hypnotic thing for sure. But it can be quite competitive too.
“I like to call myself a street fighter,” says Ted, who packs his table tennis bat wherever he goes and keeps his eyes peeled for ping pong opportunities.
He has been playing for almost 70 years. He once even joined the Quakers so he could play.
“I used to sit on the wall when I was 14 watching people at their club playing. I went and asked if I could have a game, so I joined just for table tennis.
“Another time I was walking down the road and saw people playing though the bay window of this big house, so I knocked the door and said ‘I play table tennis’, and that was that.”
He adds: “I went on my holiday to Turkey a couple of years ago. I took my bat and won the singles there, against a bloke who was 25.”
As well as playing for Highley in the Telford League, Ted is also a member of the Bewdley Institute team in the Kidderminster and District League.
“It is very competitive. I used to be a top player, but as you get a bit older everyone you play seems to be a world champion! But it’s a game that is played in the true Corinthian spirit, with the decorum of always shaking hands afterwards.”
It is also a socially enjoyable way of keeping fit. It might not look as strenuous as Usain Bolt running to the paper shop, but it certainly a game that gets the heart pumping.
“It delays the inevitable!” says Ted.
“Anybody can play, and if you’ve got a large kitchen table you can put a net across and have a knock.
“Years ago I used to go out with this girl and we would play table tennis with her gran on her kitchen table. I’ve got a table at home, eight by four, and the next door neighbours come round. It’s very sociable. It’s the ‘in’ thing, I think.”
Fellow player Paul Flatley, 73, from Highley, agrees: “It keeps your body fit but it also keeps your mind active because you have to be quite quick-thinking in your reactions. It keeps you on your toes.”
Despite playing against many younger players, Paul regularly finishes near the top of the averages in the league.
“It is very competitive, especially against teams like Bridgnorth and Albrighton, they wipe everybody off!” Paul adds.
Players of all ages are welcome and Kendall Walford, 18, is one of the younger members of the Highley club. Kendall, who has played for Shropshire in the county league and is a former under-18 and under-15 county champion, attributes some of her success to older players such as Ted and Paul.
She explains: “I am used to playing older players in the league, and here too. It’s a completely different game because older players are more defensive, whereas younger players now are taught to play attacking table tennis, so I had an attacking and defensive side to my game.
“And that’s why I think I succeeded in the county league – because I had attack and defence and other players didn’t know what to do!”
The club welcomes new members to turn up for a friendly match on a Saturday morning. It’s all very friendly and, with a bit of banter chucked in, your biggest rival can quickly become your best friend.
Turbo Ted challenges the club’s latest visitor to a game of ping-pong – and promptly thrashes me 11-7. “Best of three?” he suggests.
For more information about Highley Table Tennis Club, contact the Severn Centre on 01746 860000.