Written by Bob Coull - December 2017
Seven years ago I wrote some notes about the history of the Central London Table Tennis League and posted it on the old Website. Whilst re-reading it recently, I was surprised at how much has changed in just a few years since then, so maybe it is time to include an update (not least because I was also prompted by our League Secretary).
Seven years ago the League had just 3 divisions, but we have more than doubled from 32 teams then to 69 teams now. Before this season, no players had experienced playing in Division 6 in this League since way back in the 1984/1985 season. That was 3 years before I started playing, although I do believe there are still a few players around now who were also playing in the League back then.
I put together this visual showing the highs and lows of participation in the Central London Table Tennis League during the past 50 years. It shows just how far we have bounced back since our low point 18 seasons ago.
I was recently browsing other local leagues around the country and I believe we are now amongst the largest anywhere in the country which certainly wasn’t true a few years back. We also migrated to the Table Tennis 365 website three and a half years ago which has made a big impact on the ability of us all to obtain quicker updates and more detail about matches and associated statistics.
So, why am I sharing all this information? Well, back in 2010 I effectively acquired a bag of a back catalogue of most of the old Central League handbooks, which I guess makes me the unofficial archivist. The bag included all but 12 former handbooks. I was able to supplement 2 of the missing handbooks from my back catalogue, and John Male (our ex-treasurer) was able to supplement me with scans of 7 further missing handbooks, leaving just 3 outstanding handbooks as follows:
1943/1944: The first season, so maybe there wasn’t one.
If anyone can help me fill any of these gaps, please get in touch. Also, I am always interested to speak to anyone on any related issues.
07903 365 335
2. A potted history of the Central Table Tennis League
1. Formation and rapid expansion (1943/44 to 1948/49)
The Central League was formed in 1943 with just one division of 11 teams. The following season it expanded to three divisions. By season 6 there were 74 teams competing across 7 divisions.
2. The Golden Years (1949/50 to 1965/66)
During these 17 years there were 10 or more divisions every season. In 1950 a separate Ladies League was also formed. At its peak in 1954/55 there were 131 different teams competing across 14 divisions involving no less than 84 different clubs. In addition there were 25 Ladies teams competing in 3 additional divisions. The main League was structured in a 'pyramid' with Division 1, Division 2A and 2B, Division’s 3A to 3D, and Division’s 4A to 4G. Each season, one team would be promoted and two teams would be relegated from each division.
3. The slow decline (1966/67 to 1983/84)
1966/67 saw the number of divisions fall to 8, the lowest number for 18 years and the Ladies League was reduced to just one division. 1969/70 saw the final year of the Ladies divisions. Numbers then held firm for the 10 years between 1971 and 1981. 7 divisions were operating across all of these years. The 'pyramid' structure was partially dropped in 1972 and fully dropped in 1980 in favour of divisions 1 through to 7.
4. The sharp decline (1984/85 to 1994/95)
In 1984/85 there were still 62 teams playing across 6 divisions, but 10 years later the League had collapsed to just 22 teams playing in 3 divisions.
5. Concern for the future of the League (1995/96 to 2002/03)
Four years later in 1998/99 the number of divisions was reduced to 2. By this time the Central League was down to just 16 teams and on the brink of collapse. The League limped along with just two divisions for 4 more seasons with fewer than 20 teams competing each season.
6. A revival (2003/04 to the present)
Finally a reversal of fortunes was achieved in 2003/04 when the Central League expanded back up to 3 divisions of 24 teams. The first time the number of divisions increased in 47 years! Since then the Central League has continued to expand back to 4 divisions in 2011/12, 5 divisions in 2012/13 and now 6 divisions in 2017/18.
3. A look back at the season 1954/1955
I could just as easily have picked any number of other seasons to look at, but since this particular season of 63 years ago involved the greatest number of clubs (86), the greatest number of teams (131), and the greatest number of divisions (14), plus an additional 3 Ladies divisions too, it seems like as good a season to look at as any other.
The first thing you notice, apart from the sheer size of the League compared to today, is there were no individual clubs dominating the league. Today, the 4 biggest clubs in the Central League enter 38 teams which contribute to 55% of all teams entered in the League. In 1954/55, the 4 biggest clubs each entered 4 teams (16 in all) which contributed to just 12% of the teams overall.
Another thing you notice is the large number of teams based around work environments. Whether it be Government departments or private companies, it seems evident that Table Tennis was a popular pastime amongst staff at many workplaces, and many of these work places entered teams in the Central League.
At this time, the League was structured in a 'pyramid' with Division 1, Division 2A and 2B, Division’s 3A to 3D, and Division’s 4A to 4G. Each season, one team would be promoted and two teams would be relegated from each division.
None of the current Central League teams were competing in the League back in 1954/55. The four clubs with most teams back then were:
"Stores" (Stores Superintendent Department). This club was based in Weller's Court NW1 close to where the new St. Pancras International is located now. All of their teams were playing in the lower leagues, and the club continued playing up until 1960.
"Queen Anne's Mansions" who played near St. James' Park SW1. A Wikipedia search suggests this was a Ministry of Works building that was demolished in 1973 on what is now 50 Queen Anne's Gate (currently a Home Office Building). The club continued playing until 1959.
"London Welsh" who played at 157 Gray's Inn Road. WC1. This club continued playing until 1966, and the Welsh Centre remains there to this day.
"Bishopsgate TTC" who played at the Bishopsgate Institute. 230 Bishopsgate EC2. This is another buiding that is still in use today. This club played there until 1965, and continued playing as a club at alternative premises until 1973.
Bishopsgate TTC was the only one of these 4 clubs to have a team competing in Division 1 and they were also the home of the ladies league champions that year.
The only club with two teams competing in Division 1 at the time were "St. Brides" playing at the St. Bride's Institute in St. Bride's Lane EC4. Their first team won the League title by winning 18 of their 20 matches, and collecting 55 points (in the days of 3 points for a win, and 1 point for 4-5 defeat. No doubles then). St. Brides continued as a team in the Central League until 1993.
“Gainsford” were the Warne Cup winners in this particular year. They played at 44/46 Drury Lane. WC2 and were competing in the Central League until they lost their premises in 1987 when many of their players then moved to play at International Students House!
Other clubs competing in the Central League in 1954/55 include the "Student Movement House", the "Royal Artillery Association", the "City Police", the "B.B.C.", "Zoological Sports". the "London School of Hygiene", "Post Office Engineers". "Anglo-Israeli", "Negretti and Zambra", "Holy Trinity Church", the "Church Commissioners", the "London School of Printing", "Westminster Hospital" and "W.H.Smiths" !
The Central London championships were held during one week in November/December 1954 at Manor Place Baths close to Elephant and Castle (the baths were eventually closed down in 1978). The Men's Open champion that year was won by M.T. Thornton. The Ladies Open champion that year was a Miss A. Haydon (aged 16) who later on went onto win the Wimbledon tennis singles title in 1969 as Mrs Ann Jones!