a Man and his Times
“They’ve changed our local Palais into a bowling alley. Fings ain’t what they used to be” was the lyrics to a well known song written by a well known Cockney songwriter, just after Rock n Roll had become popular and not too long before the advent of the Beatles. It replicated how many people felt as the War Babies, including me, started to leave school and find work. Adulthood for us was still a long way off because the school leaving age was still fifteen and you did not get ‘the key of the door’, or allowed to vote for that matter, until the age of twenty one.
It was also a time when the majority of people were still without the now ubiquitous television and had to find their own interests and make their own entertainment. One way a young lad growing up in smog ridden Glasgow, then dubbed the Second City of the Empire, could find an interest was to go to the local youth club. For a one off annual, modestly priced fee you could become involved in a full range of activities from 7.30pm to 9.30pm three or four nights per week.
In my area of Maryhill this was held in the local primary school where you would exhibit your membership card on arrival and be asked if you wanted to take part in a range of activities be it badminton, table tennis, football, arts & crafts or boxing (yes, boxing). So it was that I found myself taking up table tennis under the tutelage of good players and, as was the practice of the day, they were all addressed as Mr. On Monday there was Mr Mitchell (Joe), Tuesday Mr Hannah (John) and Thursdays Mr Pratt (I never did find out his given name). As it so happened Joe played Division One with Hamilton Cross and John was with Springburn RSAS and acted as Secretary of the West of Scotland League.
Facilities were restricted to two tables tightly fitted into a primary school classroom with the added bonus of draught and chess sets being provided for the periods in which you were not on the table. Many a working class boy, like me, learned the cerebral game of chess in these interludes and soon introduced it to our own households. On occasion there were new members with more than a passing knowledge of table tennis and sporting crew cuts, usually a sign that they had recently spent some time in borstal where the main pastime used to be table tennis. So much for snooker’s reputation as being a sign of a misspent youth!
Most youth clubs had its own team, playing in the Glasgow Youth Club League. A team comprised four players with each team member playing all of the opposing team one set up to twenty one. I found myself travelling from the north west of Glasgow to the far south of Glasgow by public transport. Matches often finished as the club was closing and we all had to make our own way home. Not only was this a learning curve as far as the geography of Glasgow was concerned but it helped foster a degree of self reliance and independence.
As one visited these other clubs you would find other established and reputable names from the sport acting as leaders/coaches. Off the top of my head there was, in no particular order, Eddie Bruce (Central), Andy Fleming (Central), Jack Hillan (Maccabi), Ian & Matt Cochrane (Wester Rossland), Bill Peterson (Wester Rossland), Jackie Wright (Partick YMCA), Mr Moyes (father of Everton manager at Anniesland) and many more too numerous to mention (translated as my memory fading).
By 1959 Joe Mitchell had encouraged me and a couple of others to enter the Scottish Closed Championships. As I recall, it was won by Bert Kerr (Edinburgh) with Gordon Fraser, a team mate of Joe, doing well. For my own part I reached the last eight of the junior event, losing to Stan Sokolowski (Edinburgh). There I learned that open tournaments were played almost fortnightly and could be found in Stirling, Dunfermline, Perth, Dundee and Aberdeen with Glasgow and Edinburgh pitching in twice in any one season. So popular were they that buses were organised to take groups of players from their home towns in these pre car owning days. Closed championships and Inter League competitions were an added bonus.
Simultaneously, John Hannah had recruited me to play for the Springburn RSAS club the following season. However, disaster (that’s how I felt at the time) struck as Glasgow Corporation closed the youth club as a new purpose built facility was to be built. At the same time, the Taylor Street facility (Jimmy Dow, George Anderson, Peter Cameron and Lesley Barrie were all regulars) so beloved of Glasgow’s table tennis community also closed to later become Strathclyde University’s Sports Hall. As a total aside, the attackers preferred playing on the stone floored ground level while the defenders, of which there were quite a few, by far preferred the wooden floor on the first storey. As building practices were the same then as now the new youth club did not complete until some two years later and I found myself out of the sport for the duration. If I had a West handbook or even a telephone in the house, perhaps I could found myself a club.
Some two years later the replacement club was opened and, again, I was able to play table tennis. Its hall was much larger than the aforementioned classroom and housed four tables. Chess was still provided. The biggest difference was the provision of a café where you could buy a coca cola from a fridge and listen to records on a juke box. As I recall, Del Shannon was the pop artist of the day. There was also a relaxation of personal codes and some leaders could now be addressed by their Christian name (now known as forename). So it was that I had the great fortune to find Liam McKeating as one of the leaders/coaches.
Liam was one of these people who was always happy, always helpful, always kind and a great role model and life coach – even before that terminology was invented. My youth club found itself with a number of teams, winning leagues and individual honours at the annual Youth Club Championships, all with guidance and encouragement from Liam. Digressing slightly, I think that it was the 1962 tournament where the semi finalists were Ian Hay (Milngavie), Ivor Lipsey (Maccabi), Billy Carmichael (International) and me. From our youth clubs we all went on to play major parts in our future clubs.
I did not know Liam prior to that time but I can well imagine his family being proud that he had found a trade after leaving school. Those of us who knew him will also recognise his joinery skills as did John Lawrence (Builders) when they first made him a site foreman and then estimator, which is what he was doing when we first met. Those of the modern generation will find it curious that also working beside him was Ian McMillan, a star of Scottish football who turned out for Rangers and Scotland of a Saturday afternoon after a hard week in the office. So good was he that he was known as the ‘little general’ or ‘the wee prime minister’.
After a short period of time Liam invited a group of us to his Knightswood club and that was when I first met the other Mr Knightswood, Jimmy Cook. Most of Knightswood’s players had grown up in the same local area, most had done their national service together and most had served in the Royal Air Force (and some even used Brylcreem). At their ages most were young husbands and fathers, as were Liam and Jimmy. In fact, I learned that Liam served in the RAF as a P E Instructor. My impression then, and still is, that Liam was too nice for this role but I’m sure that he would have charmed any potential malingerer round with his own brand of infectious enthusiasm.
However, this group was starting to disband and among the first to leave were Andy Stewart (Central) and Liam’s brother John who emigrated to Canada. I got to know Andy in later years but never met John. To bolster the club both Liam and Jimmy introduced some of their youth club boys. A team comprising three players from my youth club, Ian Coyle and Billy Savage were the two others, played together in Division Four. Liam also introduced Gerry Doak from another of his clubs.
Jimmy, too, brought in some players such as Tom McFadden, Clifford Black, Brian Groat, Billy Crooks, Sandy Fleming and Henry George Vigine David Van der Steighelen (funny how some names stick in your consciousness). With the introduction of this new blood several of the more mature players such as Jimmy Brown, Bill Ronald, Ian Murray and Bill Murray moved on to RAFA (ex RAF club) for a more social environment. At this point the success, or otherwise, of Knightwood became even more dependent on the two amigos, Liam and Jimmy.
These two were always the best of friends but there was one area of their private lives where we younger members were sure that they were in serious competition. Looking back, it seemed that they both added to their respective families with great regularity. I may be wrong but I think that the lead often alternated with Jimmy eventually winning 6-5. Quite how they found the time, not to mention the stamina, to play table tennis escaped us all. In later years they were both to introduce sons to the sport.
As I joined Knightswood, Jimmy had just finished in third top position of the first division averages and Liam somewhere mid second division. Both had very distinctive styles which made them instantly recognisable. Jimmy was one of the first West players to adopt spin serves and topspin on both wings but, for me, I was amazed at how often he would confuse an opponent by selling him a dummy. His body moved as though he intended to play his shot down one wing but he actually placed it down the other wing.
Liam, on the other hand, was more of a stuffy, defensive player, but with an excellent backhand kill. The most noticeable thing about Liam’s game was his constant talking – talking to himself rather than his opponent, and always with a sense of fun. On more than one occasion I witnessed him climb the wall bars in the gymnasium when playing a hard hitting opponent and calling “I’m ready now!”
I can recall going to Liam’s house one Friday night ‘for my tea’ prior to a match and in common with the majority of Glasgow households in these days a fish supper was ‘de rigeur’. However, Cathy a.k.a. Mrs McKeating used the attendance of this teenager to tell her husband that he was now too old to play table tennis and tried to insist that I confirm it. Of course, I had great difficulty in repeating this but I’m sure that she would regularly tease Liam with this taunt over the years. However, I’m sure that if Liam did not have his wife’s approval table tennis would have been much the poorer for his absence.
For a young lad who had hardly experienced life, playing league table tennis was an eye opener. There were clubs all over, and in the most unexpected places. There were clubs in shipbuilders Stephens (Linthouse) and Dennys (Dumbarton). There were clubs in engineering factories Springburn RSAS, Rolls Royce, Weirs and Davey & United. There were clubs outside Glasgow like Lennox Rovers (Balloch), Lenzie, Hamilton and Ardmore (near Helensburgh). There were clubs in ethnic organisations like Maccabi, Sikorsky and Casa d’Italia. Glasgow Corporation was represented by Police, Lighting and Transport Departments. Sports clubs, too, like Woodend Tennis Club and Poloc Cricket Club competed in their own off seasons. Clubs were formed from retail outlets such as Brighter Holidays, SCWS and the Co-op. Table tennis in the west of Scotland, it seemed, knew no boundaries.
Knightswood Community Centre, too, knew no boundaries. You name the activity and they had a club – three or four types of dancing, camera, chess etc. Some of the younger group started visiting on Sundays to practise and found themselves in illustrious company. The White Heather Club dancers would be going through their routines for the coming week’s television programme and in another area there was the centre’s own world champion pipe band. In total contrast there was also Knightswood’s own pop group, Dean Ford and the Gaylords who later renamed themselves Marmalade. If you stop to ‘google’ them, please also look up band member Junior Campbell.
In my second season I was promoted to the first team, playing in Division One where my captain, and minder, was Jimmy. Jimmy, of course, was as competitive as ever and his personal support was second to none as he insisted on discipline and fair play at all times – good advice for personal life too and in my case sometimes needed. The other regular player was Willie Boyle who, I believe, was a junior internationalist.
Gradually, though, the new kids on the block brought in some of their own contacts and although Jimmy and Liam dropped down the rankings a little, their input and influence within the club did not waiver one iota. Just before I left at end season 1973/74 to join my new home club Paisley YMCA, Knightswood could boast having Gerry Doak, Alex Sackefiyo, Jim Graham, Tom McFadden, Ron Lindsay (father of Kenny), Mike Docherty, Davie MacDonald and Archie McCulloch amongst its ranks.
As I moved to Paisley YMCA with some players and Archie moved to Milngavie it looked as though the very future of Kightswood as a force within West of Scotland Table Tennis must have looked in doubt but within a couple of years along came Ian Stokes and George Innes who were joined by Callum Gerrard. Liam and Jimmy had turned up trumps yet again and as their own playing days were on the wane they became coaches and organisers within the wider table tennis community.
During this period Liam formed his own company and it comes as no great surprise that he made an enormous success of it. His workmanship, honesty and diligence would no doubt play a big part in this success and I know that he often passed work to people he knew from table tennis. It is to my discredit that I rarely met either Jimmy or Liam since these days but I always remembered them with great affection.
By the end of the 1980s I had moved to West Lothian and among the many kids I coached there was Tamami Igarashi. When she was moving to Glasgow to study architecture she begged my advice on where she could continue playing. Of course, there was only one answer I could give – Knightswood with Jimmy and Liam. I know from speaking with Tamami over the years that she has never regretted her connection with the club and cherished her acquaintance with Liam and Jimmy.
Occasionally, I look at the West’s excellent website (congratulations Sinclair) and am delighted to see that Knightswood is still going strong and their current players include an old team mate from Paisley YMCA (Callum Gerrard), an old adversary from our youth club days (Ian Hay) and some one I recently met at a Vets tournament held at my new home patch at Bathgate (Neil Doherty). Others from my West days have also returned after long absences and can be found in nearby rivals Drumchapel. Coincidentally, I followed Liam’s example by coaching in youth clubs and had an exceptionally enjoyable three years at Drumchapel’s Waverley Secondary which, I believe, was destroyed by fire.
A couple of years ago I noticed that the West of Scotland League had nominated Jimmy for a well deserved Honorary Life Membership of Table Tennis Scotland. I had hoped to attend to that Annual General Meeting to support the nomination, as if my support was necessary, but a pre-arranged holiday prevented me from attending. Likewise, Liam was honoured by Glasgow City Council for his work. Belatedly, I now find myself doing something I should have done a long time ago – thanking Liam and Jimmy for their guidance and friendship during my formative years.
I recently read a quotation which goes along the lines of “if you want to understand the man look at the world in which he lived when he was twenty”. By the time Liam was of that age he had lived in an era of personal respect and austerity during the war years thereby learning the meaning of community, served in the armed forces which taught him self discipline and after the war had no alternative but to adapt to hard work. All of these qualities were natural to Liam but add to that mix his innate good humour and, most of all, his generosity of spirit and you have the Liam McKeating we all knew, loved and respected.
Finally, I think it’s fair to say “Fings ain’t what they used to be” and, frighteningly, I have been told that repeating oneself is a sign of old age.
Born in Edinburgh on 20th January 1927.
Helen did not take up table tennis until she was 16 when she played for Dalry First Aid Post before moving on to Murrayfield. She then had a long association along with Bert Kerr at the Gambit Club.
Only three years after taking up the sport, 1946 was the year everything took off when she won her first of 13 consecutive Women’s Singles Titles at the Scottish Open. She also won the Irish Open Women’s Singles Title in 1946.
Helen gained her first Scottish cap in 1947 appearing in the World Championships in Paris where to her credit she reached the quarter finals of the women’s singles. In the 1948 World Championships held at Wembley in London, Helen again reached the quarter finals in the women’s singles. Incredibly, partnered by Dora Beregi of England, she also reached the final of the women’s doubles only to lose to Mrs V. Thomas and Miss M. Franks of England.
In Stockholm, Sweden, in 1949 Helen had a new experienced partner at the 16th World Championships in Gizelle Farkas of Hungary. Helen became the first Scot to win a world title as she and Gizelle took the World Women’s Doubles Title (W.J. Pope Trophy). Again Helen made it to the quarter finals of the singles.
In 1950 Helen travelled to Budapest, Hungary and played with previous partner Dora Beregi and retained her World Doubles Title. Helen also reached the quarter finals of the singles for the 4th consecutive year.
The World University Games in 1955 took place in Warsaw, Poland where Helen teamed up with another World Champion Angelica Rozeanu to win the Women’s Doubles Title. Both Helen and Angelica contested the Women’s Singles final with 6 times World Champion Angelica coming out as the winner.
Thirteen is said to be unlucky for some but not for Helen in 1958 as she won her 13th consecutive Scottish Open Women’s Singles Title.
During her playing career Helen coached at Butlins Holiday Camps during the summer months alongside Johnny Leach. Skegness, Pithelli, Clacton, Bognor and Ayr were the holiday camps where they unearthed future table tennis talent between 1955 and 1973.
|Winner:||Stockholm 1949, Budapest 1950||Finalist: Wembley 1948|
|Semi-final:||Bombay 1952||Quarter-final: Utrecht 1955|
Quarter-final: Paris 1947, Wembley 1948, Stockholm 1949, Budapest 1950, Bombay 1952
|Finalist: Quarter-final:||Utrecht 1955
|Semi-final: Stockholm 1957|
|Consolation Singles||Finalist||Stockholm 1957|
World University Games
|Women’s Doubles||Winner||Warsaw 1955 with Angelica Rozeanu|
|Women’s Singles||Finalist||Warsaw 1955|
|Women’s Singles:||Quarter-final||Budapest 1958|
|Women’s Doubles:||Quarter-final||Budapest 1958|
Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships ( Inaugural Event) Women’s Doubles: Quarter-final Singapore 1971
Winner: Irish Open 1946, Welsh Open 1951, German Open 1955, Belgium Open 1957
Final: Irish Open 1947, Belgian Open 1946
SF: Welsh Open 1947 & 1954, Belgian Open 1958
Winner: Belgian Open 1957 & 1958, Austrian Open 1958
Final: Irish Open 1947, Welsh Open 1947
Winner: German Open 1955
Final: Irish Open 1947, Welsh Open 1947 & 1954, Belgium Open 1957
At the time was second in importance to the World Championships. The English Open was held at Wembley every year except 1953 and 1956 where they were held in Manchester.
|Women’s Singles||Women’s Doubles||Mixed Doubles|
|Winner||1949, 1950, 1958||1950, 1953||1950 (Victor Barna), 1955 (Aubrey Simons)|
|SF||1953, 1955, 1957||1949||1949, 1953|
|QF||1956||1957, 1958||1957, 1958|
English Open Tournament Titles
|Event||Women’s Singles||Women’s Doubles||Mixed Doubles|
|Home Counties Open||1953||1953|
|South of England Open||1954,1956||1956|
|East Suburban Open||1955|
|North East England Open||1956||1956||1956|
|East of England Open||1956||1956|
|North of England Open||1956||1956||1954,1956|
Open Singles Titles: Midlands Open 1947, EoS Open 1948 , NoS Open
Open Doubles Title: EoS Open – 1949 with Bert Kerr
Women’s Singles Titles: EoS Open 1954, 1971, Lanarkshire Open 1954, WoS Open 1954
Women’s Doubles Titles: West of Scotland Open 1954, Meadowbank Open 1971 (Pat Ker) East of Scotland Open 1971
Mixed Doubles Titles West of Scotland Open 1954, Meadowbank Open 1971
13 consecutive Women’s Singles Titles – 1945 to 1958
9 Women’s Doubles Titles: 6 with Elizabeth Pithie, 3 with Helen Houliston
6 Mixed Doubles Titles: 5 with Bert Kerr, 1 with Johnny Miller
Scottish National Championships (Closed) Women’s Singles Titles 1954 – 1956 – 1957 – 1958 – 1961
Women’s Doubles Titles 1954 – 1956 – 1957 – 1958 – 1961
4 with Helen Houliston – 1 with M. Julins
Mixed Doubles Titles 1954, 1957, 1958, 1961, 3 with Bert Kerr – 1 with Ian Barclay
On many other occasions Helen reached the latter stages of all these events listed and are far too many to record here.
Helen was nominated President of the Commonwealth Table Tennis Federation twice in 1997 and 2008.