A siege of table tennis, an array of talent, every player has a story to tell.
In and amongst the flying balls, the echoing shouts and occasional flailing bat, it’s easy for any man’s presence to be lost and simply become another player.
However one man in particular isn’t just ‘any other player.’
John Hilton @ VBL Nov 2012
It’s not often that you can officially state to be one of your country’s finest ever, single handedly change a landscape of a sport or be crowned European Champion.
It is something that John Hilton can claim, however. Part of one of the most controversial and biggest shocks in the history of sport, Hilton won the 1980 European Championships, using his infamous double black sided bat. Bamboozling opponents who hadn’t come across the mixture of anti-spin and spin, it led him to European stardom, while England got Silver in the team Europeans.
Astonishingly, as a faint smile resembled on his face, it was far from the standard response a European star would respond with.
“I was never world class. I was a good player but with the rubber and the dodgy bat it gave me a significant advantage, once the black and red came in I had to change to a lot more defensive to just stay at the top, while Dougie Johnson gave up because it was going to affect his game so much. It doesn’t offend me when people say I won because of the bat, you use what you have available, a tennis player wouldn’t use a wooden racquet now if they had the choice, I played with something to my advantage. I was asked by journalists at the time what I thought about the rule of red and black rubbers coming in and I told them I completely agree with it.”
Intriguing and brutally honest, it’s hard to imagine anyone who spent their life dedicated to such goals would openly accept their win was anything other than because of their effort and ability.
Hilton also spoke of the historic England team that came second in the Duisburg European Championships in 1978, but again, was modest about the team’s achievements.
“We were as good as we were because we were all so different. If an opponent lost to Desmond Douglas and played him again they could adapt, but they’d play someone completely different every time. Although Desmond was a bit better and successful than myself and Carl Prean, we were a good team, but it was a fluke in a sense that we were all just so different. What many people don’t know is that we made the semi-finals of the World Championships when we lost to Japan, we were good.”
Unfortunately, England’s fortunes have taken an astronomical downwards slant, lurking in irrelevancy on the world circuit over the past decades, but a new dawn is rising. With Paul Drinkhall and Liam Pitchford, along with Tin-Tin Ho all making their presence felt, Hilton left them with wise words.
“Take Desmond, he used to play all day, every day. He’d never get mentally or physically tired. That’s one English player. China have thousands of players prepared to do that, and have all the coaches they need to do it. They live for table tennis, they get up early, train hard, and go to sleep early for the next day. That is every day, it’s a regime. They know no better, while in England we live in a western civilization, it’s not in our make-up like it is them, there are other things to live for than just table tennis and that’s the problem. If I were to be at my peak now there is no saying I would have made it because it’s just the way of life. It’s all self-motivation, the players have to want table tennis to be everything, ability is worth five percent. If you are putting 99% of your life to table tennis that isn’t enough. You have to want to go the extra mile like the Chinese. “
While Hilton’s pinnacle has long past him, he’s still a force to be reckoned with, playing for Tameside, he currently holds 100% in Division 1A, with Tameside joint at the top of the table, and while the sport isn’t his priority anymore, he admitted to still feeling a strong fondness between himself and the game.
“I think my defence is 100% better than what it was before. I don’t play as much now, it’s more of a fitness thing for me but I still love to win. I think as a team we’re due a promotion, we’re good enough for the Premier and with a bit of luck we will get their next season.”
British League Press & Publicity Team