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Welcome message from

Don Davies

Chairman of the Liverpool & District Table Tennis League

Liverpool Butterfly Grand Prix

A sincere welcome to competitors, officials and spectators to the City of Liverpool Grand Prix Open, one week earlier than usual; the change of date, hopefully, easing the hotel situation in the area. The annual Bank Holiday Music Festival, which opens next week, is just one of many sporting, educational and cultural attractions provided by Liverpool City Council. In this respect, table tennis has been well served over the past decade, as the Grand Prix Open is one of those events.

The tournament continues in its present form, due mainly to the involvement of Liverpool City Council, this being the ninth successive year the tournament has enjoyed its financial support. Major sport is flush with sponsorship cash, while the so called Cinderella activities scrap for financial backing. Venue costs, hotel accommodation, prize money plus other sundry expenses, take a huge chunk of tournament income, and without this help, events on this scale would prove difficult to stage. Although credit must go to the City Council, I use this message to affirm the League's thanks for the assistance given by Sport Development Manager, Dick Johnson, who, for more than a decade, has supported table tennis in Liverpool. As a footballer (he played in 397 1st team matches for Tranmere Rovers, and was in goal in a famous 1-0 League Cup victory at Arsenal in 1973) he knows all about money and sponsorship. His interest in ensuring sport continues to flourish in the City has enabled this tournament, together with the Junior Grand Prix, an international Top 12 event plus an England versus Israel senior international match, to be staged in the city over the past few years. For this the League and the sport are very grateful.

This is the tournament's 76th anniversary, the first coming at the end of the 1929-30 season as the Merseyside Open, thereby becoming the first open tournament to be staged in Lancashire. Below is a brief early history of the event which hopefully may be of interest.

Fifty years ago this November, the men's singles was won by the then reigning World men's singles champion, who earlier that year lifted the St. Bride Vase for the fourth year in a. row, and the fifth time in all, his first in 1930, when only 19. Victor Barna, born August 24th 1911, was that man and in the 1934/35 season he collected all four possible World titles. He amassed an impressive total of 22 world titles, his seventh and last Swaythling Cup success for Hungary coming at Wembley in 1938. He continued to visit Liverpool and collected three more 'Merseyside' men's titles in 1937, 1946 and 1948, while winning three men's doubles titles.

In the week leading up to the 1935 'Merseyside', Victor, Michael Szabados and Laszlo Bellak (The Three Musketeers) kicked off the first of many exhibitions on November 25th, in Leek (Staffs). One of his opponents was the 13 year old Lancashire Junior Champion Ken Stanley, who in the next three years won the 'Merseyside' Junior title before going on to play for the England senior side. Two thousand turned out in Leeds, the tour then calling at Bolton and Liverpool, on the eve of the 'Merseyside' where Barna was seeded at one to meet Szabados in the final. His opponent though turned out to be Bellak, who had ousted Szabados in the semi-finals. Barna won the first two games, Bellak taking the next two very easily, before Barna stormed back, 21/15 in the fifth. He teamed up with Szabados to win the doubles and reached the mixed final with Liverpool's England International Joyce Bartholomew, but they were beaten by Bellak together with another Liverpool England player, Nora Norrish, who is still the only Merseyside player to represent England in the World Championships' Marcel Corbillon Cup.

Liverpool League Life Member and England Swaythling Cup player, St. Helen's born Ken Hyde, who turned 90 last month, now living in the same town as ETTA Chairman, Alex Murdoch, became the first 'local' man to win the 'Merseyside' men's title. He beat holder Alec Brook in the 1934 final, and added another in 1936.1 spoke to Ken a few weeks ago, and he seemed to think that Richard Bergmann was his opponent in his second triumph, who a year later won the first of four world men's singles titles.

Johnny Leach was another World champion to enter the 'Merseyside', and was the last British man to take the title, winning in Stockholm in 1949 and again in 1951 in Vienna. The second of his four 'Merseyside' wins came in 1949 and after retaining the title a year later, took it again in 1953 whilst adding the doubles and the mixed titles three times each.

Just to finish off the nostalgia, that 1935 'Merseyside' attracted an entry of 410 which was double the 1929/30 total, when only three tables were used, to the fourteen in 1935. To my knowledge, the only local player from that 1935 event still with us is former England international Peter Rumjahn, a current Life Member of the Liverpool League.

A year ago we were treated to a couple of tremendous encounters, when players from four different nations lined up in the men's semi-finals. Scotland's Euan Walker overcame a 2-1 deficit against England number one junior Paul Drinkhall, before recovering to win the next two, 11-9, 13-11. In the other half, Michal Rogala, from Poland, who plays in Division Three of the Liverpool League, accounted for Fabio Mantegazza (Italy), winning 11-9,13-11,13-15, 11-8. Walker then became the first Scot to take the cup north of the border, in an enthralling final clash against the then Polish number 30, he won 11-9, 5-11, 12-14, 11-9, 13-11.

Ryan Jenkins, seeded at one, missed the 2004 event but having lost to Bradley Billington in the 2002 final, he again went down to the Derbyshire man in the last four a year later. He has however, for the past two years, ended the season as the overall Grand Prix champion. The Pontypridd man, ranked at 227 in the world, made up for the disappointment of losing in the Manchester Commonwealth Games doubles final, by again teaming up with Adam Robertson to win the gold medal last season in the Commonwealth Table Tennis Championships.

Top seed Helen Lower, the current England number one, won the English National title for the first time last season and has appeared many times for England in Commonwealth, European and World championships. A year ago she won this event, beating Markka Myskova in the final 11-8, 11-9, 11-13, 11-7, to add to the title she collected in 2000.

I'm sure many of you witnessed the tremendous scenes in May when Liverpool brought home the European Cup. This triumph injected a great spirit into the City, and hopefully, you will again enjoy the Liverpool hospitality, which will make your stay a pleasant experience.

Don Davies


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