From Physics lab to winning the league title!

custom_imageI still consider Caereinion as one of the new teams in the Oswestry League despite having teams in the league since the late nineties. But how did it all come about? Caereinion has always been a hub for table tennis in Mid Wales since the seventies when Caereinion High School Physics teacher, Mr Ieuan Thomas  (top right) set up a table in his lab. Many a pupil spent every lunch hour in the lab ignoring the theories of relativity and instead trying to get to grips with the technical world of forehand, backhands, topspin, and backspin. These youngsters were less concerned with the pimples on their faces and more concerned with the pimples on their bats with the ultimate goal of beating their mates or better still the teacher and climb up ladder competition. It was reputed that after a school inspection that one of the  HMI inspectors strongly suggested that the table tennis table was removed from being a pernament fixture in the Physics lab. Thomas's response was if the table goes I go. Suffice to say that the table and Thomas remained at the school. The lunch time club ran from September to April culminating in an all school competition in which up to 70 pupils and staff were pitted against each other over the period of two weeks. During his last few years at the school one young lad featured strongly in the finals, his name - Wyn Williams. During this time Wyn also played as a teenager in the Shrewsbury league before moving away to higher education. Also participating in the school event, although a few years later would be  Phil Langford and Clive Jones. In 1984 a new member of staff arrived at the school to teach and soon found himself venturing into the Physics lab during lunchtimes and becoming a regular…..that was of course myself! I even managed to make the finals of the annual championships on a couple of occasion’s always ending up as runner up…..no backhand! During this time Mr Thomas was also encouraging the pupils to play in a local league in Newtown. Unfortunately the league collapsed in the mid eighties which led to a decade of uncertainty. Although the lunchtime club still existed more demands on teachers time and other distraction for the pupils meant that numbers soon dwindled and the lunchtime club eventually folded when Mr Thomas retired.

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In the nineties the County decided that Caereinion would benefit from a new leisure centre. This would be built on the school complex but would be open in the evenings until 10pm. After the completion of the new centre the newly installed manager held open evenings to promote the new complex. One such evening was for table tennis and the highlight of the evening was an exhibition match by a few Welsh Junior players which at the time included the young Adam Robertson (Wrexham) who later had a successful career in table tennis playing as a professional in Germany also winning gold at the Commonwealth Games. As a result of the open evening people who attended were requested to leave their names and contact details and subsequently a meeting was called. This resulted in the formation of ‘Clwb Tenis Bwrdd Caereinion Table Tennis Club’. Initially it consisted of a half a dozen players. Eric Edwards, Glyn Jones, Phil Langford, Clive Jones and Graham Pastfield. Coincidentally there was a newly formed Mid Wales Table Tennis  League incorporating teams from areas such as Brecon, Tregaron, and Aberystwyth, as a result a team from Caereinion was entered . The league would meet four times a year on a Sunday when each team would play three matches. Caereinon enjoyed moderate success while participating in this league finishing 3rd in 1996 and runners up in 1997. However all was not well and the combination of travelling and difficulty of having to  play all day was unsuitable for members of the team who were farming. Consequently in the next club meeting it was decided that the club would seize to exist unless another alternative could be found. Remember in those days there was no easy access to information through the World Wide Web! I undertook the task, and having a day off school to attend an appointment for an MRI scan at Gobowen  for my back I decided that on the way home I would pop into Oswestry to see if I could find some information. So I decide to call into a local sports shop and made some enquiries. Fortunately this could not have worked out any better as I managed to find myself in the shop belonging to Mr Peter Richards who was at the time a regular player in the league. Armed with the information provided it was proposed that the club enter the Oswestry league for the following season. This was agreed and I made contact with Mr Jim Reeves and expressed our interest. I was invited down to see the Oswestry Championships and meet a few players which I did  and I remember clearly walking into the hall and my first sight was of a  Mr Jim Bishton playing, apparently he went on to win the final that day.

The following season saw Caereinion entering one team with the new format of playing once a week in the evening suiting the existing members. Unfortunately for us Eric Edwards who had played for us in the Mid Wales league and prior to that, been a regular in the Birmingham League for decades suffered a stroke and consequently never played in the Oswestry league for Caereinion. Although the team had coped well in the Mid Wales league with Eric Edwards now absent form our line up we found our first season quite tough despite being in the second division we were now playing against some players who were vastly more experienced, who had played regularly for nearly half a century in the likes of Arthur Jones, Ivor Parish, and there was also strong opposition in the form of Pete Scott, Harvey Kynnaston, John Lewis, Bill Coxhead, Steve Jones, Murray Drennan, Ivor Evans, and Ian Turner to deal with. Despite loosing four of our first five matches we persevered and word soon got around that there was a team in Llanfair Caereinion and this attracted a few more players such as Jenny Groves and Ian Davies. By this time Clive had also managed to persuade his cousin Wyn Williams who had returned to live locally to make an appearance. We soon found ourselves with too many players for one team and not enough to have two teams so we embarked on a campaign to attract new players. This gathered momentum as new players came in they also knew of other players who played in the Shrewsbury league who would also like the odd game in Oswestry. Our ranks swelled and we soon we had three teams in the league. Amongst those who represented the club regularly were  Glyn Reeves, Ian Davies, Bob Silvester, Nigel Pryce, Dilwyn Pryce.

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With the club going from strength to strength there was only one aspect which needed further development and that was a junior section. We obtained a sportlots grant, bought some new tables and started a coaching programme for the juniors. This proved popular with regular attendance between 10 and 15 players every week and soon we were able to put a junior team in the league. The junior players during this era were Kelly Brooks, Iolo White, Mark Griffiths, David Jones, Daniel Griffiths, Huw Griffiths, Sion Ellis, Mary Griffiths, Huw Jones, Ben Jones and Briony Groves. During one of our club nights a Mr Gwyn Griffiths called in having being playing some other sport at the leisure centre, we managed to persuade him to have a knock and despite being a little rusty the quality of the player was quite obvious. Over the coming weeks Gwyn and his young family became regulars and were soon signed up to play in the league. With Wyn and Gwyn playing alongside each other it was only a matter of time before Caereinion would win the league title, and after narrowly loosing out in 2003-4 the title was Caereinion’s  in 2004-5. The victorious team consisted of Gwyn Griffiths, Huw Griffiths (Gwyn’s son) and Wyn Williams.

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During this time Huw Jones who was only eight years old at the time had showed some potential and it was suggested that he should enter a few national competitions organised by the Table Tennis Association of Wales to identify new talent. With only a few events under his belt he was invited to train with the Welsh Junior sections in Cardiff on weekends, eventually representing his country for the first time as a nine year old in an event in Belgium. This was soon followed with events in Germany, Poland , France, North Africa as well as the home countries and when aged eleven Huw spent 4 weeks in a training camp in China. Nationally Huw competed in the British Primary Schools Championships finishing 3rd. And whilst playing alongside brother Ben Jones won the Welsh Primary School Championships in Sophia Gardens, Cardiff. He competed in the British Secondary schools championship on numerous occasions, and competed in the UK school games as well as being a member of a team who won the Welsh league. Huw was also the under 11’s, under 13 and Cadet Welsh Champion. Inevitably living in Mid Wales the travelling was an issue and aged 15 Huw decided that he would call it a day! This led to two years away from table tennis before making a return to the Oswestry league in 2011-2012 season and assisting Caereinion to their 3rd league title and in the following season retaining the title.

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Whilst individuals were enjoying success club membership had started to dwindle. Junior coaching had seized and as the current crop of juniors went away to further their education in far flung universities. Some of the senior players were finding that playing in two leagues was too much of a commitment whilst others unfortunately suffered from ongoing health issues. As numbers dwindled so did the numbers of teams they entered in the league. Although we currently have two teams in the league we on occasions have to rely on a couple of players such as Rob Mansfield from outside the area to be able to field a full complement of players for a match for which I am gratefull.

A lot has happened in the last 15 years whilst participating in the Oswestry league, mostly very fond memories, and some funny incidents such as Wyn sitting on Clive’s bat breaking it in two, the times I’ve been looking at the clock thinking whether Nigel Pryce was ever going to turn up….but he always did! Clive arriving in the hall with his trainers covered in mud after chasing some sheep, myself sending Bob Silvester, Wyn and Phil to play a cup match at Criftins….unfortunately for them it was on the wrong evening so instead of table tennis it was Bingo... they declined the offer to take part.  I’ve made new friends, people have come and gone and they will be sadly missed…….I’m  personally looking forward to the next fifteen years but it cannot be ignored that the  league is struggling to attract new players /teams. When Caereinion joined the league there were approximatly 17 teams in the league. It's currently 13 if this trend continues who knows what will happen so please remember.........

As is often the case, you don't really miss something till it's gone!

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