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chronicle home page  |  1934-1958  |  1959-1983 1984-2008


 

Top People

Men's Singles Champion R A Algie (A)
Women's Singles Champion Miss J M Williamson (C)

 

Ranking List 

Men

  1. R A Algie (A)
  2. R V Jackson (A)
  3. W O Jaine (A)
  4. W J Fogarty (O)
  5. K F Dwyer (A)
  6. V N Brightwell (O)
  7. Albert Kwok (O)
  8. M L Dunn (W)
  9. J S Crossley (W)
  10. B D P Williamson (C)

Women

  1. Miss J M Williamson (C)
  2. Miss M M Hoar (WR)
  3. Miss J E Leathley (O)
  4. Mrs D J Chapman (O)
  5. Miss E McNeill (HV)
  6. Miss M McLennan (O)
  7. Miss A M Hughes (W)
  8. Mrs E A Collins (SC)
  9. Miss B I Powell (SC)
  10. Miss P M Quinn (C)

 

Executive Committee
V M Mitchell (Chair), H A Pyle (Deputy Chair), K B Longmore, W Mullins, T S Williams, J C McCluskey, A E Carncross, P Dudley, A R Algie, K C Wilkinson (Secretary), H N Ballinger (Treasurer).


 

 

 

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World Champion Visits New Zealand

We’ve had world champions here before (Perry, Szabados, Barna and Bergmann), but none of them were reigning champions. Bergmann came the closest, losing his title only seven months before his visit and poised to win it back five months after. Laszlo Bellak was the current world mixed doubles title-holder when he visited in 1938 but as 1951 dawned we still awaited our first visit from a reigning singles world champion.

The wait ended on 6 June when Johnny Leach touched down in Wellington Harbour at the end of a long flying boat journey from Singapore via Sydney.

Leach’s ascendency to the status of world conqueror had been rapid and spectacular. It began during his war service with the RAF. He was on 24 hour shifts and would often stay up for most of his 24 hours off and practise pushing the ball to various parts of the table simply to develop ball control. By war’s end he was a classic all-rounder: long range defence, attack on both wings, the drop-shot – he’d mastered them all. But many saw his skills spread too widely and thinly to take him to the top. Renowned English coach Jack Carrington disagreed. He took the 22 year old under his wing, urged him to hit the ball harder, move his feet quicker, and believe he could beat anyone in the world. By 1946 Leach had a world ranking, reached the world semi-finals in 1947 and became world champion in 1949. He lost narrowly in 1950 to Frenchman Michel Haguenauer in the semi-final, and regained the crown in 1951.

The complex negotiations leading up to Leach’s visit is summarised in a 1950 article. He had already travelled extensively and Richard Bergmann influenced him to include New Zealand in his latest trip. Bergmann’s memory of his own experience here in 1949 was still vivid.

Michel Haguenauer (35) accompanied the now 28 year old Leach on the four week New Zealand tour. While Haguenauer was destined never to win a world title he was still a world class player and able to match the champion in their series of exhibition contests. Unlike some previous exhibitions these were highly competitive – both were out to win. Leach won a narrow majority but the spectacle was warmly received wherever they played and regardless of who won. Haguenauer was, like Leach, a skilled all rounder but with a ferocious forehand and a chop defence played closer to the table than Leach’s long-range floating returns. Leach was more of a stylist with impeccable footwork, Haguenauer (six foot two and fourteen stone) more spectacular but a little ungainly. He played with a “hammer” grip (no finger on the blade) while Leach used two fingers for extra control. They made less use of spin than our last international visitors, Barna and Bergmann in 1949.

They were a popular pair – Haguenauer’s hearty laugh became familiar to those who travelled with him, and Leach’s more reserved good humour was often on display on the table.

They played fourteen provincial contests with the not too surprising result of fourteen wins, all to nil. Johnny Leach was clearly going easy on his lesser opponents, but this was to his cost in his first match against Wellington. John Crossley beat him 21-18 in the first game. Seeing that game slip away Leach knuckled down in the latter stages but Crossley, remembering his international success in Scotland the previous year, rallied brilliantly and held on to win. Leach won the next three 21-8, 21-9, 21-10. No other games, singles or doubles, were dropped by the touring pair on the tour.

Among the lighter moments were Leach’s 11 point games with local players using a tiny two-inch wide bat, and his practice of occasionally playing out of turn in mixed doubles if a shot looked a bit difficult for his local partner to deal with.

“Test” Matches

These could hardly be defined as tests – the players in the opposing team were from two different countries. But it was deemed a New Zealand test team and competition for selection was intense. There were grumblings over the scheduling. Only two tests were played, and on successive nights. Provided selection was based on merit, this meant the same players would play in both and no others had a chance to play their way in. But the schedule was tight and couldn’t be changed. Selection was indeed based on merit and chosen for the singles were NZ champion Bob Jackson and (back from “retirement” – refer below) Russell Algie! John Crossley and Neville Brightwell were selected for the doubles.

Jackson had already been exposed to the tourists in the Auckland match and it hadn’t been a good start to his international career. He had begun nervously and even when he was able to execute one of his favourite shots with precision (the drop shot) he could only stand and watch while Johnny Leach raced in and put it away for a winner. This severely dented his confidence.

In the first test in Wellington he and Algie played a little more freely but the score-sheet still made sorry reading with an abundance of single figures. Crossley and Brightwell did rather better in the doubles, 13-21, 13-21, 15-21. Improved scores were registered in the second test in Auckland.

Prior to the test matches Christchurch had hosted a contest featuring an all-New Zealand selection (John Crossley, Neville Brightwell, Laurie Wilson and Pat Spillane) with all four playing singles and doubles against the international tourists in front of a crowd of 1,200 at the Civic Theatre.

Representing the North Island, Algie and Jackson faced the tourists once more in the final contest of the tour in Hamilton. Owen Jaine joined Algie for the doubles.

All the New Zealand players, national and provincial, did their best. But it was never going to be good enough.


Leach and Haguenauer Assess NZ Table Tennis

The New Zealanders lucky enough to face Johnny Leach and Michel Haguenauer on their 26 day tour were all beaten by faster footwork (attack and defence) and superior anticipation, ball control, consistency, concentration and experience (13 world championships for Haguenauer, 5 for Leach). When asked his honest opinion on the standard of table tennis in New Zealand compared to other countries he had visited, Johnny Leach said that even our best players were well below world standard. “The stroke play of New Zealanders is quite good,” he said. “What is lacking is footwork, concentration and the sheer will to do better.” He stressed that stroke play without tactical skills can’t win matches at top level.

Michel Haguenauer added the comment that New Zealand players are too anxious to win the point quickly rather than tactically, and if necessary patiently, work towards an opening for the kill shot. Both urged New Zealand to import a professional coach, and to expose New Zealand players more often to international competition.

Leach considered John Crossley our best player, followed by Russell Algie and Bob Jackson with Neville Brightwell not far behind. He thought Trevor Flint had made an impression overseas (refer below) but like many others in New Zealand, would benefit from professional coaching. Andy Wong, who played singles alongside Jackson in the Auckland contest, was named as the country’s most promising young player.

New Zealand farewelled the popular duo on 1 July. The tour had been financially profitable, had given our top players and administrators plenty to think about and, through generous media coverage, had considerably boosted the public image of the sport in this country.

Even more popular visitors would arrive in 1953.


New Zealand Team at World Championships - Again

Following what was now becoming a well-worn path, three more New Zealanders made their way by sea to Europe to participate in the World Championships. Russell Algie had shown the way in 1948 followed by John Stewart, John Crossley and Neville Brightwell in 1950. Even as the 1950 trio were still voyaging back to New Zealand mid-year, Jack Borough was investigating the availability of positions for himself and Trevor Flint on the crew of any vessel making its way to England later in the year. He was determined that they would find their way to Vienna, Austria in time for the 1951 championships, accompanied by a third person and competing as a New Zealand team in the Swaythling Cup competition.

A number of players were approached to complete the team but were unavailable. Eventually Hutt Valley representative Jack Knowlsey agreed to travel and all three began an anxious wait for a job opportunity on a ship. Feeling they were running out of time, Borough and Flint opted to travel as paying passengers on the Rangitata while Knowsley continued to wait for a crewman’s position. He had been leaving home each morning packed for the trip, waited around the gangways at the wharf all day and returned home without success every day for three weeks. A day or two after Borough and Flint’s departure he finally secured a steward’s position on the Taranaki and sailed off in the wake of the Rangitata.

They arrived in England a good three months before the world championships. Under the guiding hand of New Zealand’s man in London (the ever-reliable Corti Woodcock) and assisted by coach Jack Carrington, the three were introduced to a London club (St Bridges) and entered a succession of tournaments ranging from club championships to the English, Welsh and French Open.

The team was considered to be slightly below the standard of the Stewart / Crossley / Brightwell combination but managed to register fairly similar results. Trevor Flint was the most consistent and the most successful. He reached the second round of the English Open and round three in the Welsh Open. At a huge Central London tournament (291 in the men’s singles alone) Jack Knowsley reached the mixed doubles semi-final. By the end of the build-up period, all three felt they were playing several points better than when they left New Zealand.

They supplemented their financial resources, and maintained their fitness, by taking on casual work as council employees.

Outplayed at World Championships

They travelled from England to Vienna under no illusions. Any contest win in the team events or single match in the individuals would be an achievement to treasure for a life-time. The hard reality is that they lost heavily to France, South Vietnam, Hungary, The Netherlands, Germany and Austria. Their moment of glory all but came in a contest against Portugal which they lost 4-5. It was unfortunate that Jack Borough had to play the deciding singles at 4-4 with an injured shoulder.

Trevor Flint scored 19, 19 and 17 against a top French player in the first round of the individual singles – New Zealand’s best performance. Flint has a strong chop defence and lightning attacking strokes down either wing. He was to become one of New Zealand’s top players on his eventual return.

The individual events were a triumph for England. Johnny Leach reclaimed the men’s singles title he had won in 1949, and a pair of identical twins – Rosalind and Diane Rowe (17) sensationally won the women’s doubles in a spectacular final.

Lessons Learned

The party split up for the voyage back to New Zealand. Jack Borough returned immediately after the championships, Jack Knowsley about a month later and Trevor Flint remained in London for the rest of the year for business reasons. As the main instigator of the trip, Jack Borough communicated with the NZ media and his thoughts were widely reported. He felt a major disadvantage in New Zealand was lack of top level match play. “Top players in England get more chances to play against better overseas players in one season than New Zealanders would get in seven,” he wrote. Trevor Flint later added that many English players practised six nights a week for eight months of the year. All three noticed a vast difference in the speed of the tables in Europe – they were much faster, especially in England.

The trip by the three adventurous New Zealanders gave officials another chance to re-assess our position in the world, and to examine our priorities. A major controversy arose over which should come first – engaging an international coach, or financing a trip to the next world championships by an officially selected team. The next article deals with that debate.


Professional Coach, or 1952 World Championships?

An issue which occupied the entire year and stirred a high degree of emotion and parochialism was an AGM decision to select and finance a team of three men and a manager to attend the 1952 World Championships in Bombay, India.

Doubt was expressed at the meeting over whether this was the best way to spend such a large amount of money, hard-earned cash from the pockets of grass-roots players. Wanganui Association led the opposition by moving an amendment to the original proposal allowing more flexibility - only go to Bombay if NZTTA considers the money in hand is not needed to assist the game and affiliated Associations within New Zealand. The mover of the amendment (Morrie Gordon) included in his statement of case a suggested alternative use of roughly the same amount of money - engage a professional coach to tour New Zealand for six months.

The arguments on both sides were well aired and would be thrashed out again on two further occasions. Those favouring the World Championships believed the benefits of international competition would filter right through to grass roots players. And this was a great chance to get to the Worlds for a lesser cost – they were usually played in Europe and it could be a long time before they were held in Asia again. Those favouring the alternative claimed that direct contact with players at all levels by a professional coach would be better value for money.

The Wanganui amendment was put to the vote and narrowly defeated. The original motion was then carried, again narrowly. The trip was on.

Problems arose immediately. Financial support from Associations was essential and they had already been asked whether, if the trip went ahead, they would agree to contribute to the cost of air travel, or sea travel? Not surprisingly, the majority favoured the cheaper sea option. But when leading players were approached regarding their availability (if selected), every one of them said they would only travel by air.

The issue was resolved by the launch of an art union (raffle, lottery), large enough to raise a 1,600 contribution to the air fare. Most Associations agreed to support it. Meanwhile the management committee was formulating selection policy and decided by a narrow majority that the three best men would be selected. No young developing player was to be included.

What About the Women?

Then came a further complication: a strong argument was put forward (in the press and elsewhere) for a women’s team to be sent rather than a men’s. The AGM had decided on a men’s team but the decision could be overturned. It was suggested that Margaret Hoar, June Leathley and Joyce Williamson could be approached. This was not followed through and the idea of changing the team from men to women came to nothing. But a rapidly improving 20 year old from Wellington, Pam Smith, took the initiative and embarked on plans to assemble a team of three women to accompany the men by paying their own way.

About Face

The Bombay / Professional Coach debate did not lie down. It was re-activated, again by Wanganui (with support from North and South Taranaki) at the New Zealand Championships. Notice was given of a Special General Meeting on the evening before the finals to consider applying the money raised by the art union to the engagement of a professional coach. Jack Carrington, who had trained Johnny Leach, was named as the preferred person with Richard Bergmann second choice.

Many of the same arguments were presented again but this time the decision went the other way. The motion to cancel the trip and engage a coach was passed by 54 votes to 38.

Neither Carrington nor Bergmann were available so there would have to be a search for an alternative.

Bombay Bombshell

On hearing the trip to Bombay was now cancelled the leading players were devastated. They had played their hearts out at the NZ Championships under the impression that a good performance could earn them selection. The four men’s semi-finalists, all from Auckland, were particularly angry with their own Association. Auckland had voted to call off the trip but only 20 clubs out of 59 had attended the meeting which made that decision. “I know of at least three clubs that were not even advised of the meeting,” complained Owen Jaine. If Auckland had cast its ten votes the other way the trip would have been saved.

Rumours that the four considered boycotting the semi-finals and finals as a protest are confused and contradictory. Newspapers blazed headlines such as “Table Tennis Men Threaten Strike” but a later NZTTA enquiry found that the rumours arose from the late arrival of three players who were legitimately delayed by the cancellation of a bus service.

One More Attempt

There was a final attempt to rescue the Bombay trip. Otago Association, with the support of Wellington, Canterbury and Marlborough, called for yet another special meeting in November, proposing the restoration of the original AGM decision. The motion was narrowly defeated.

Wellington, strong supporters of the trip, blamed what they saw as a seriously flawed voting system. No Association could exercise more than ten votes regardless of its size. “Associations with a total of 705 interclub teams were able to outvote those totaling 1,089,” fumed an angry Tommy Williams on hearing the result.

By and large, commentary in the press favoured the trip throughout the debate. Considering they had been writing about it, recommending it and anticipating it since late 1950 this was unsurprising. But after the November meeting there was no going back. New Zealand would not be attending the Bombay World Championships. With the help of Corti Woodcock in London applications for a six-month tour of duty in New Zealand were sought from professional English coaches. Six were received and Woodcock recommended Ken Stanley – a person unknown in New Zealand. He was scheduled to arrive on 1 April, 1952.

The divisions created by the year-long controversy were deep and slow to heal.


World Championships Decision Spoils Mixed Doubles Plans

Two male players, one a top New Zealander and the other a former World Champion, developed an interest in whether or not a NZ women’s team competed at the 1952 World Championships alongside the men – assuming at that point that the men would in fact be going. Russell Algie had been involved in coaching in 1950 and his students included a promising young player, Barbara Williams. She improved to such an extent that he encouraged her to enter the Auckland Championships even though she had no experience of competitive table tennis, not even interclub. She won the women’s singles! It was such a remarkable debut that plans were made for her join Pam Smith and Charlotte Savage, currently training at the Michael Szabados academy in Sydney and hoping to enter the 1952 World Championships as a New Zealand team, travelling with the men. Algie had already decided that, if Miss Williams did travel, they would play the world mixed doubles together. A similar plan was afoot in Australia. Michael Szabados was coaching 20 year old Pam Smith who had moved to Sydney from Wellington to improve her game under his tuition. He was keen to play the world mixed doubles with her if she made the trip.

But in a disappointing anticlimax the women chose not to pursue the possibility of competing at the World Championships once the decision was made to cancel the men’s trip. The chance was lost and it would be another six years before the first New Zealand woman competed at world level.


Welcome Back, Algie

The decision (short-lived as it was) to select a team based on merit for the 1952 World Championships in Bombay was a major factor in Russell Algie’s decision to come out of “retirement”. He declared last year that his top level playing career was over and was conspicuously absent from the 1950 NZ Championships. But in May this year he made himself available for Auckland interclub and quickly returned to form. His almost certain selection for Bombay, his work with Barbara Williams (pictured) 1951_bwilliams.jpg (4653 bytes)and the prospect of playing doubles with her at the World Championships kept his enthusiasm bubbling. He eagerly anticipated the New Zealand Championships and the announcement of the team.

By the time the Championships drew near, pundits were busy predicting which three men would be selected. Algie was at the top of everybody’s list.


NZ Championships: All eyes on Algie, Jackson, Hoar and Leathley

New Zealand table tennis fans never got to see an Algie / Cantlay men’s final in the 1940s. The question at the Wairarapa-hosted NZ Championships in 1951 was whether they would get to see an Algie / Jackson final – and if so, who would win? They had also seen two consecutive Hoar / Leathley women’s finals and the same pair were seeded one and two this year. Would they meet again - and if so, who would win?

Joyce Williamson had other ideas. The 16 year old was seeded 5th but spared an encounter with second seed June Leathley thanks to a giant-killing performance by unseeded Ellen McNeill who beat the twice runner-up three straight. This left Williamson the task of dealing with a fired-up McNeill in the semi-final. It went to five, but Williamson won. When she faced Margaret Hoar in the final she was a warm favourite, having beaten her in the Wairarapa / Canterbury inter-Association contest. Despite her reputation for saving her best for the big matches, and generous support from her Masterton home crowd, Hoar’s defence was simply not good enough for Williamson’s confident and consistent attack. It was a spectacular match, won three straight by Williamson and bringing Margaret Hoar’s three year winning streak to an end.

The win by the young Canterbury star put her in the record books as New Zealand’s youngest champion. For Margaret Hoar, it was a mere blip in her career. Much success was still to come.

The men’s giant killer was Kevin Dwyer. He beat, first, John Crossley (4th seed) and then 6th seed Neville Brightwell. He was rewarded with a semi-final berth where he found Russell Algie’s defence too impenetrable. Bob Jackson won the other semi-final, helped by an error-ridden Owen Jaine.

A shadow was cast over these semi-finals. They were played after the four had just learned to their disappointment that a trip to the World Championships for a team of three men had been cancelled (refer earlier article).

Only a purist would define the much-anticipated Algie / Jackson final as a spectacular match. Algie won in four games after a dour (but delicately tactical) 51 minute cat and mouse struggle with both players attempting to outwit the other with cleverly disguised spin. Algie had the measure of his 20 year old opponent although his attacking game let him down somewhat. Jackson’s day would come again.

Murray Dunn (15) drew attention to himself by beating 18 year old Andy Wong, the player declared by Leach and Haguenauer to be our best young prospect. Dunn would have met Frank Paton in the next round but Paton had fallen at the first hurdle, leaving Dunn a clear run to the quarter-finals. Algie put a stop to his chances of going any further but the two had a great match with Dunn hitting tremendously hard and with confidence.

The championships were a major challenge for first time hosts, Wairarapa, who appear to have done a remarkable job despite accommodation difficulties. Their souvenir programme with its eighty pages and rich variety of articles surpassed anything done before.


Inter-Island Contest Hits Rocks

For the first time since 1946 no inter-island contest was played. The irony is that this was meant to be the year when contests for both men’s and women’s teams would be held for the first time. Only men had been catered for until now.

The two contests were scheduled separately at two different locations. North Taranaki were to host the men’s but were unable to meet a condition imposed by the South Island team that, unless the hosts paid the cost of air travel, they wouldn’t come. The best North Taranaki could do was offer one quarter of the fare. This was not accepted and, despite mediation from NZTTA, by the time some sort of compromise was struck it was too late and the contest was cancelled.

The Waikato Association, scheduled to host the women’s event two months later, concluded that they were unable to meet the financial burden. Thus the women’s contest was also cancelled.


Annual General Meeting Plans Ahead

The women’s inter-island event was one of several proposals unveiled at the AGM by the NZTTA Executive. Setting up an Umpires Association and introducing a junior inter-Association tournament were others.



1951

page updated: 03/09/13

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