1951 Quite a year for Table Tennis in the Illawarra

1951 Quite a year for Table Tennis in the Illawarra

Extracted from the 1951 Annual Report

Johnny Leach World Champion 1950/1951

Played in Wollongong against Michael Haguenauer 1949/1950 world champion

They played in front of over 300 people

The fourth Annual General Meeting was held on 14 March at Mitchell and Fords Shop in
Crown Street, Wollongong

The Secretary reported to the meeting on 3 July of the arrangements made for the visit of the World Champion and that the Committee endorse his decision on the £25.0.0. guarantee money.  The Southern Cross Hall was hired for the exhibition and a deposit of £1.0.0. paid.

The following Committee members Merrick Coates, Jim Stone, Reg Coller, Tom Hansen, Alan Boyall and Reginald Harley were to meet the visitors and entertain them at a dinner at the Grand Hotel.

Johnny Leach, 28 year old Englishman, began playing table tennis in 1938 when he was 15 years old.  It was not until 1943 that he hit the big time with a win in the Irish Open Championships.  In the previous year he was successful in the Belfast Open.  His first attempt at the International Championships was in 1946, when he reached the semi-finals of the singles and the finals of the men’s doubles.  During this period of his career, although he had beaten players of the calibre of Victor Barna and Richard Bergmann, critics said of him “a first rate player, but he lacks fire and the ability to really kill”.  Shortly after he astounded the table tennis world when he beat the then reigning champion B Vana in Stockholm in 1948/49 series.

Leach had the honour of being the first English born player to win the world’s singles title since Fred Perry’s win twenty years beforeHe was the only married man to that time to hold the world title and was of the opinion that most married men fail in the world titles because of the responsibilities of marriage.  In the 1949/50 series he lost to Frenchman Michael Haguenauer at Budapest.  However, he regained the title in the 1950/51 championships, proving he still had what it takes. 

Michael Haguenauer; 35 years old, had been representing France in International matches since 1933.  He contested the singles championships thirteen times and had his first success in 1949/50.  He had won the French closed championships 20 times and was eight times singles champion.  Successful in the French Open men’s doubles on three occasions and won the Swiss Open singles five times.  He had also won the Dutch Open mixed doubles title.

Australian players in the exhibition included Mark Dankin, L Laza, Allan Jennings and
J Kleishman who was holder of the Australian junior title.

A crowd of more than three hundred people attended the exhibition at the Southern Cross Hall on Tuesday 14 July by English World Champion Johnny Leach and French star Michael Haguenauer.  Local radio announcer Guy Crittenden acted as master of ceremonies and interviewed the two visitors.  The 6ft. 4ins. Frenchman cracked jokes with the interviewer and considered Victor Barna the best player he had encountered.  While Johnny Leach modestly said that he was the best player in the world.

The majority of spectators mindful of a previous successful function conducted by the Association with Victor Barna, Richard Bergmann and Michael Szabados anticipated a really first class display of exhibition table tennis.  However, they were disappointed.  What they saw was a first class match between the two stars.  The match was interesting and both players appeared to be playing in deadly earnest.  They played excellent table tennis, neither giving anything away and each waiting for an opportunity to go for the “kill”.  Their skill in retrieving impossible shots was almost unbelievable and their lightning changes from defence to attack at times bewildering.  The match had many qualities, but failed to produce the spectacular type of play expected in an exhibition.  Despite this, Johnny Leach was the current World Champion and it was the first time Wollongong had an opportunity to see a title holder in action.

Total cost of staging the exhibition was £54.9.4.