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    Article: The Street Table Tennis Phenomenon

    Come with me to meet some people in London. They are not famous, except to those who know them. They are hard to notice and yet they are everywhere, gathering day and night at chosen places across the city. Many have never picked up a Table Tennis blade before. Others have held one their whole life. For these, and the universe of players in between; streets, estates, and parks are host to a now prolific community. They have always been there, a Table Tennis underground lead by shamans of the sport who never stopped teaching their people under the street light. But from the beginning, the public Table Tennis table offered more than just somewhere to play, it is a place that is free. Not just free in that there is no cost to play, free in that every ability, every walk of life, every age group, every culture, is here.

    Originating from Barcelona at the end of the first city lockdown, StreetTT is a community run platform, mobile and web app, that seeks to unite and grow the street Table Tennis community, now 1500+ active players. This Summer 2021, I have been spreading the word throughout London and England. In partnership with Ping! – a programme led by Table Tennis England and London Borough Councils, we organised the capital’s first citywide street Table Tennis tournament, offering players of any level the opportunity to participate via tournaments dotted all over London and culminating in an epic showdown of the finalists.

    Within days of announcing the tournament dates and locations, two things were obvious, the generosity and positivity of street players is apparently universal and just like in Barcelona, the scene is much bigger than you think. I am contacted by Yee, one of the many gentle ambassadors of the community, although he would be far too modest to accept this title, he and people like him are gardeners of the tables where they play, they nurture players, involve newbies for the first time and hide away their considerable abilities in favour of encouraging talent to grow. Born in Hong Kong, Yee emigrated to London when he was 10 but only developed an interest in Table Tennis in his later teens, joining the Edison Table Tennis Club in Crouch End. A few decades later, Yee continues the spirit of the Rockall family run club, passing on what he knows patiently, advocating practice and sound methodology wherever he plays. Not only does Yee volunteer to referee the 10+ tournament events, over 4 weekends, across one of the largest cities in the World, at each event he was waiting there for me, early and with home baked cakes for all the players.

    And Yee is not alone. Meet Paul, a founder of KX Table Tennis Tribe, one of the longest established street collectives that is an extended family of urban Table Tennis players, they play at UAL, Granary Building near Kings Cross and at choice tables across the city. While some of the top players in town can be found at KX, the tribe give up their places at the tables to new players and first timers, they offer to play them and in the passing conversation they answer questions and share helpful tips and techniques. Paul takes 20 minutes out of his evening to teach me how to stand my ground against aggressive forehand topspin, he times this on his phone so that we share the table with others fairly, later he shows me a Desmond Douglas video to hammer home his coaching. Paul, like many other dignitaries of the community, plays an important role in the development of players, beyond the improvement of their sporting ability, extending confidence, experience and determination. Elvis is one such player, he started at KX Tribe as a young man, just playing socially, but through the encouragement of the community and exposure to quality players, he has become hooked on the science of the game and a formidable player in his own right. Now Elvis is winning points, sets and matches from some of the best players in London. Check out Sean’s awesome videos of matches from the UAL tables. I meet Kingsley (aka KING), also of the KX Tribe, at London Bridge where the toughest opponents often pass by for a match. A deep knowledge of the game is on display at this table, an understanding that is imprinted on the developing players that go there, producing excellence through access to the high level. In the senior players, that are the source of this quality, there is an unspoken pride when their youngers, like Kingsley, finally defeat them for a first time. In Hackney, as B boys dance beside the DIY skate park at Mabley Green and the flyover makes a roof above the heavily graffitied tables, I meet another KX tribesperson, Alex (aka Bon). Alex picked up Table Tennis at his local youth club, Forest Gate Youth Zone, when he was 16 and started playing regularly at the East London Chinese Association. Taking it further with a Table Tennis club, Alex won his first tournament in 2019 at the SJIA Cup. I would never have known that I was in the company of Table Tennis greatness, nor would I have found out, as he was happy to play at my humble level for many hours as we talked. It was only some weeks later, when I saw Alex compete in the final, that I realised just how kind he had been.

    KING
    And so, it began one Friday night at Lordship Recreation Ground in Haringey. I arrived to find Yee, his cakes and a huge crowd of people. There are the kings and queens of the table there, the regular players who are the heart of the community, Lee, Winston (aka ConcreteJ), Nati, Alex (aka Unknown), Philip, Tobias and others, although we are missing Kenneth, the cunning grandfather of the table because it is late. But there are more people, Melody is here to rediscover Table Tennis, she taught her son to play many years ago back in France, he is now 34 and she still beats him. Today Melody will advance victorious out of the group stages. Veronica did not read the large print and has arrived with a Tennis racket; friendly and bubbly, she decides to stay to see what all the fuss is about and we give her a Table Tennis blade and some coaching. Veronica will love it and she becomes a regular at the Lordship Rec table all Summer. Richard (aka RichardGraneau) and Bao from the KX Tribe as well as local Table Tennis club members all weigh in. As the sun sets and the semi-finals are played, we turn on the LED floodlights to reveal our finalists. Lis (aka LisPardo) was born in Spain and started playing at school when she was 7 years old. Lis won a national championship with Galia Dvorak, who has just represented Spain at this year’s Olympics, and Lis recalls a pavilion of spectators cheering their names in celebration of the victory. Lis still makes the time to coach others and you can become her student here. Surrounded by a ring of onlookers all staring in expectation at the illuminated contest, and opposite Lis, is Alberto (aka AlbertoGarrido). From Madrid, Alberto started playing when he was 8 years old on the family’s dining room table, one day he would win a doubles championship with his brother in their home city. Now a coach as well, Alberto smiles warmly when he describes connecting with his students, supporting them to succeed and sharing in their achievements. Like Lis, Alberto is an extremely friendly and positive person, he loves playing on the street at places where people share their knowledge, you can get coaching from him here. With both players qualified for the final, the stage was set for a great showdown, and there in the darkness with city lights twinkling behind the players, and the crowd firmly behind Lis, we watched and cheered a 5 set thriller of exhibition quality.

    Lordship Rec
    If you are ever in East London on a sunny day there is nowhere better to play than with the WSC Community at Timber Lodge or Westfield Stratford City. As you stroll into the Olympic Park you notice the two tables in constant use and beside them, huddles of players around chess boards. Then you realise just how good the Table Tennis is at WSC, besides the technique, there is masterful strategy and tactics at play. This cerebral approach to the game is personified in one of its best players, Arturas. He is tall but unimposing, intelligent but friendly, his father was a Table Tennis coach back in Lithuania. Arturas plays with total composure and calm, relaxed as if in complete understanding of every shot he receives, there is a profound consideration in his every return. Arturas goes on to produce his A game at the finals, jaw dropping rallies and spectacular winning points. Alongside him, Michael (aka KingMichael) is another welcoming face at these tables. He was introduced to Table Tennis to haste recovery from a stroke but when I meet him he is unbeaten by the vast majority, probably hundreds of players, each of whom pops up for a rematch every once in a while, always someone I don’t recognise, they wander off defeated. Along with his towering ability and cheeky banter, there is an enormous happiness about Michael, he welcomes new and old players with opens arms, he is talkative and soon brings a smile to even the most serious faces, the turning point in a bad day. As with the other communities, knowledge is freely exchanged and I am given a lesson in backspin from KoJo. He is a talented street player who will compete in the finals and go the 5 set distance with a coach. Winston (aka XuXin) is out there some days running drills for those that have caught the Table Tennis bug. Winston was born and raised in Stratford, he adopted the Penhold style on the advice of his father and he loves playing outdoors in public, inspiring new initiates to the sport. On the day of the tournament there is another massive group of players waiting to play. The WSC Community are out in force but there are others. Just like at Lordship Rec, there is a total mixture of players, the people everyone knows like Miguel (aka Migzy94), Adam, Cristian (aka Cristian_Dragomir92), Tatiana, John, Akin and many more, but also new players to the table, older like Richard (aka RichardLee) who kept the group stages interesting and much younger like AJ (aka Alekks), experiencing a Table Tennis competition for the first time. After an exciting day, the tournament is decided finally by the power players and their forehand artillery. One table is moved to a central position and the crowd gathers around. As Adam (aka thegenuineadam) qualifies in a tremendous win, Anshuman forces Ra to play all 5 sets of a thumping final, like a gladiator by the end, tired from slams “Are you not entertained?” Everyone was.

    WSC Community
    Now with hundreds of players having played or signed up to attend, Yee and I were feeling famous as people amassed at each location. Even when the sky opened and rain came down in sheets, we arrived to find players still congregating around the tables, sticking it out in the downpour to find out when the re-match would be. At Montrose Playing Fields in Barnet, I meet Oleh and Aleksandra, all of us drenched. Oleh is a trained player and the community leader of these tables, he once managed the Table Tennis facilities used for the London Olympics. Aleksandra took up Table Tennis at the age of 10 because she wanted to beat her male friends, she got so good at doing it that one day she went on to play at the Olympic Centre in China and was able to train with the masters. As re-matches are scheduled, local players in Barnet all come out to play, Christian, Ezeuzo, Ayad, Narayan, Eiad and many more. At the brand new tables in Rosehill Recreation Ground in Sutton, the same thing. Everywhere we go there are communities of players and new groups forming. Tom is in his 20s, lives in Sutton and has recently decided to take his Table Tennis seriously. He takes on Steve Fagan (aka SteveF) who used to play in the Sutton Table Tennis leagues but is famous for becoming the fastest person ever on roller skates and the first person ever to have skated from John O’Groats to Land’s End.

    Our journey through London takes us to stunning views, the tables at More London in Southwark and the NOW Gallery in Greenwich are scenic places, full of life. With glass office buildings shining above us, Tower Bridge beside us, our tournaments continue with the young and vibrant players that are found beside the river. Paul (aka Paul H) is an admin for the London Bridge TT Group and another activator of the game, he is smart with a dry wit and a sense of humour that is always awake. We watch Yuen sending a laser guided ball down the table edge past Kang in the semi-finals “I could have returned that.” Paul says, there is a pause and we both laugh. She is so much better than either of us and we would have missed. Again, every ability is here, from the club pedigree of Ben (aka BenLondon) and Table Tennis DNA of Younes right through to Ana who is learning quickly having just recently started playing. Prasad used to play seriously with his friends back in India, it has been 10 years since he last played and joining us today reminds him how much he loves it.

    In Westminster, at the tables in Marble Arch and Church Street Market, the Greenhouse Sports Table Tennis pros get involved, Bogdan, Mario, Vitor. Word has got out about the citywide tournament and the best of the best were going to be there. Josh (aka Joshua) got into Table Tennis at an after-school programme and he is now coaching, he fondly remembers the Greenhouse Tuesday night sessions where an entire hall of great players would attend, and the amazing atmosphere. He has played competitively in Europe but enjoys the street vibe with a focus on having fun and bringing the community together. Zion is another Greenhouse student just as charming and friendly. He recounts a stunning comeback at an under-18s tournament from 2 sets down, his coach threatening to quit if Zion didn’t play the way he knew he could. Zion came back to win 3-2, a crucial moment for the whole team, and it reminds me of so many sporting stories that I have seen first-hand at these street tournaments, it does not matter who you are, each of us can be a part of the story.

    With no idea what was in store for us, we arrive in Soho Square to run the last qualifying tournament, it would be a final all on its own. Rained off on the first day, the next day the square is packed with people bustling to play. Table guru, Zohrab, was born in Shusha, Azerbaijan and learnt to play when he was very young in the city. It is rare not to see him smile, he is worldly, kind and unjudgmental, always with something pleasant to say or a pearl of gentle advice. A great memory for Zohrab is volunteering at the Cardiff Oasis refugee centre and becoming runner up at their tournament. Bing is another master of the table, and like Zohrab, he is well known and liked. Bing, 64, is Malaysian Chinese living in London, although he learnt Table Tennis at primary school, he only started playing again at the age of 50. Bing’s favourite Table Tennis achievement is winning the first Ping! one day tournament here in Soho Square, and if you don’t believe him, he still has the blue T-shirt that he won to prove it! Just off Oxford Street, at the heart of London’s nightlight it is already busy this evening. We have more newbies in varying states of sobriety, the second and third timers and of course the hardcore crew, Ferenc, Huy, Peter (aka Peter_Li), Romeo, Guilherme and Pepe to mention but a few. Gem and Steven are notable by their absence. Steven (aka StevenCumberbatch) is from North West London, he started playing outdoors at London Fields and then progressed to a club. Never one to resist a slam or a joke, he is a brilliant player who makes great company. Steven loves the social aspect of meeting new people and experiencing different players on the street, sharing good times and the love of sportsmanship. But there was to be a twist or two in Soho. As the square lights came on there were more players in the line, the University College London (UCL) Table Tennis team, lead by their president Martin (aka Martin_Kwok), had come to play. Martin was born in Hong Kong where he learnt the game, now back playing Table Tennis at university he loves the team spirit and cheering on his friends, just as he will tonight. Amongst others, Duki is with him, a once under-21s national player for Hungary, now he plays Table Tennis for UCL as well as Tennis for a club. Duki does his warmup drills and everyone knows that a top player is on the block. The fixtures are set and players of all abilities survey their opponents in excitement. But there is one more. Enter Cain Fagan, (aka Cain), he removes his hoody and there is a ripple of recognition among the street players. Cain got into Table Tennis when he was 7 years old, he had been getting into trouble and the sport was his way out. From York Gardens to a Table Tennis England 2017 London Grand Prix and opening the Roehampton Table Tennis Club this year, he is described in hushed awe by the players around me, someone at the back shouts “Game on!”. So we get down to it, round after round of exciting matches. The group stages put players of equivalent skills into matches that produce nail biting tie breaks like Sabah vs. Marcin, AdamE vs Adelin, Huy vs. Greg, we play for hours. In the end there are only two left standing, as the LED floodlights go on, the crowd are already cheering, it is the match that everyone wanted, on one side of the table, Duki, on the other, Cain. Interested onlookers spill in from the Soho streets and the cheers get louder, players and spectators join together in uproar at every point. The match is spectacular as Cain and Duki question and answer each other in a display of expertise, an encyclopaedia of slams, whips, blocks and brushes. At the last point, contested over an epic rally, the ball sails out of play and Soho Square erupts in pandemonium.

    On the morning of the final, 4 weeks of tournaments behind us, Yee and I realise the scale of what we have experienced. For each one of the 22 finalists today there has been some 20 players and some 40 matches, now we know, there are thousands of people in London who are out there to play. We have found a total rainbow of abilities but clearly something is going on, there is a new wave of street Table Tennis players coming through. Across the tables we visited, we encountered an army of players that were new to the sport or had just started playing. Why this surge in interest for street Table Tennis? There are many reasons. Successive lockdowns are a factor, they have shown us the negative effects of staying indoors and the value of outdoor activities. Table Tennis is a sport that does not require extreme athleticism, it can be played by the widest age group and any fitness level. Through the work of Ping! and London Borough Councils there are also many public tables so the sport is highly accessible. And, like never before, people understand the benefits to their health, physical fitness and mental wellbeing as a result of playing. But what we have seen, and I hope I have described, there is something quite beautiful at the heart of the street Table Tennis phenomenon, in one word, community. Across London, people are venturing to public tables and they are making friends, realising that it only takes turning up to be a member of a community. And particular to street Table Tennis, for every Paul at KX Tribe, there is an Oleh at Montrose Playing Fields, a Lis at Decathlon Surrey Quays, a Zohrab at Soho Square, those warm ambassadors of each community who, alongside the other players, welcome new ones, encourage and develop them. Playing in the street is an act of sharing, we share the tables, we share our knowledge and we share our time with each other. Street Table Tennis is a free space where cooperation is more important than winning and losing. Here at the final, Jonathan Sia (aka The_Bat_Guy) an admin for WSC, has stepped in to help us steward. Johnathan was born in Malaysia and for years it has been a personal passion of his to see Table Tennis grow in Newham. Jonathan even does the amazing voiceover for the videos of the SteetTT ‘21 London Final below. Alongside Jonathan, there are faces of each and every community present and we are all together. Yee asks if anyone wants a home baked cake.

    Highlights ‘21 London Street Table Tennis Tournament Final
    The London ’21 Street Table Tennis Tournament now has its winners but the tournament does not stop there. Using the StreetTT mobile and web app any player can create a free profile and submit their own match results, providing them an Elo rating like that of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and entering them into a global ranking of street players. StreetTT gives its players the tools to meet, compete and achieve locally, and by playing, players win badges for their achievements and activity and they are rewarded with tournament invitations. For new and existing organisers, they can become a StreetTT moderator (MOD) for free to receive education and guidance on how to grow the real-world Table Tennis game at any table. There are StreetTT events happening across London, at the tables described above but at so many more. Check out the Woolwich Estate in Greenwich, Chessington Sports Centre in Kingston, Edbrooke Road Gardens in Westminster, Finsbury Park in Haringey, they can all be found in the app. The players are there too, JohnRogers, RicciPing, EZZA, Oscar_C_D, Rumplestiltspin, find them in London. But make no mistake, this is a wider phenomenon. This week in Barcelona, the Federació Catalana de Tennis de Taula (FCTT) stepped in to host a StreetTT tournament at their facilities because there were too many players to accommodate the competition on public outdoor tables. It is spreading from there to Madrid and South America. It is happening in England in Cambridge, York and Statford-on-Avon, on the continent in Milan and Zürich. And since PingSunday EmRatThich created a video about StreetTT it has acquired a global audience and there are now players all over the world, a community uniting.

    Highlights Barcelona Fall Street Table Tennis Tournament Final 2021
    StreetTT has been made possible in London by Ping! – a programme led by Table Tennis England and the following London Borough Councils: Camden, Barnet, Greenwich, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Kingston, Sutton and Westminster. In 2022 we are working with National Table Tennis Federations, Local Government and Universities to bring street table tennis tournaments to more cities worldwide. But we need your help. If you are interested in any part of running a street Table Tennis tournament… organising, promoting, refereeing, stewarding, please contact me.

    Louis
    A StreetTT Admin
    Email : [email protected]
    Telegram: https://t.me/streettabletennis

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    Last edited by Louis; 10-25-2021 at 01:23 PM.

  2. The_TT_Bat_Guy is offline
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    😎 Very nice write up covering the journeys of different players and the mix of personalities and abilities in street table tennis! It was a pleasure to be involved, helping at the tournament and contributing voiceover services to the London Street Table Tennis Tournament Final highlights video 😄 🎙

    Definitely loved Yee's home baked muffins! 🍰

    Btw, I've also done sports commentary for a tournament that the WSC Table Tennis Community held recently in Stratford -

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    The London ’21 Street Table Tennis Tournament now has its winners but the tournament does not stop there. Using the StreetTT mobile and web app any player can create a free profile and submit their own match results, providing them an Elo rating like that of the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) and entering them into a global ranking of street players. StreetTT gives its playersbest the tools to meet, compete and achieve locally, and by playing, players win badges for their achievements and activity and they are rewarded with tournament invitations. For new and existing organisers, they can become a StreetTT moderator (MOD) for free to receive education and guidance on how to grow the real-world Table Tennis game at any table.

    I have never seen such a great app and this is a nice way to stay in touch with the table tennis community and to not miss out on interesting information about the tournament. Nice find, good article!

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    Absolutely amazing what you are doing in terms of growing communities around public table tennis tables and enabling the outdoor spaces to create such a beautiful environment!

    Congrats on this astonishing project!

    ​​​​​​

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    #5
    We are heartened by the warm reaction and encouragement, from so many different places, thank you for commenting The_TT_Bat_Guy, kaneharry, harykee, ander together with you we look forward to further filling the streets with TT in 2022 🛣🏓

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    Very interesting project you've got here, a great way to expand the TT community! Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed the player stories and the videos. I've tried it out and there are quite some players in my city already. I'll join some events this weekend definitely 🏓

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    Great app! Wish I had friends to play with all the time!

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