The Good Old Days

22 January, 2018

Tell it to your knowledgeable grand-children - and they won't believe you. "Get on with you! You're pulling my leg! They can't have played together!

Roger Mills was only a junior when Eddie Choong was leaping 10 feet tall; Swedish blonde bombshell Eva Twedberg never hitched up with Japanese doll Etsuko Takenaka, the only unseeded player ever to win the All-England! You're dreaming!"

A dream indeed. But a dream come true in England's most famous club, Wimbledon Squash and Badminton Club, 30 of the world's all time greats met in friendly combat as part of the I.B.F.'s 50th anniversary celebrations. What a birthday cake for the privileged spectators!

Eddie Choong, a youthful 54 and with a leg injury, legacy of one of his 500 car races, played with a little less bounce but all the old flair and bubbling good humour. Brother David, the strategist, watched from the side-lines, talked shrewd, enthusiastic tactics. "The modern breed are no better than the old. A faster game, yes, but more error prone, less playing the percentages. Fitter? Eddie and I practised or played, often on these very courts, 6 hours a day, 6 days a week". Frank Peard, the brain behind the laughter of Ireland's Peard and Fitzgibbon duo, chatted to rotund David Bloomer, the Scottish master of the "bon mot", the after-dinner speaker par excellence.

Wolfgang Bochow of the booming backhand, Delfs' forerunner, the man who fought cancer and beat it; Kiwi Richard Purser not an ounce heavier than in his hey-day; Bob McCoig, Scotland's pride,hair thinner but feet still dancing; big Ade Chandra, imperturbable as ever, smash-proof defence still as solid as he himself; smiling Joe Alston, looked remarkably unlike the conventional picture of an FBI man; such were the "greats" assembled for combat.

Tan Joe Hok (now known as Hendra Kartenegara) the new Indonesian team coach, more rotund but no less amiable, "retired" early from the fray, played the fruit machine implacably, took quick defeat cheerfully, but with another handful of silver told the machine "I'm still hard to beat".

Tom Bacher supplied delicate touches on court - and free Carlsberg lager off. Jim Poole, square built as a rock, showed the skill and determination that made him an American legend of the West. Natekar of lndia taunted the passing years with strokes of breeding, elegant and fluent as of old.

What of the ladies? No whit less distinguished. Off court, Margaret Varner, the "Texan Bronze", who represented the States at all three racket games, and thereafter ran race-horses "Half Smash" and "Wembley Blue". Margaret Dupont too, her partner in a Wimbledon tennis final, one of the greatest of her day, Wimbledon and Forest Hills champion, invincible in 18 rubbers of the Wightman Cup, 1946-57. On court, the Devlin sisters, Judy and Sue, refurbished the gleaming skills of old. Swedish export, Eva Tweberg, all bronze and gold, surely straight from the ski-slopes, still looks as sleek as a Volvo. Mary O'Sullivan, a broth of a girl, as lively as when 25 years ago the defeated Welsh, still breathing fire, took on the jaunty Irish shamrock at hurley in the hotel ballroom in night attire in the wee small hours. Heather Ward, talked and played as animatedly as when, just 19, she restored English pride with an All­ England singles win over Judy Devlin. Etsuko Takenaka, slender as an English willow wand but with slant-eyed Japanese charm, moved and hit with easy grace. Canada's Dorothy Tinline regally accepts the years, plays and wins evermore veterans' events, and helps keep Canada's administration running clockwork smooth. And without its own "Three Graces", Wimbledon would be incomplete - June White of the gossamer touch; Iris Cooley who, with her, put English post-war Badminton into top gear - and a TV serial. Angela Bairstow, still all cat-like never-say-die aggression, crouched beneath the tape.

Flashes of genius still shone bright, brighter now perhaps against the backdrop of human fallibility. And the fun of the game was there too. England's former chief coach, Roger Mills, showed all his cheeky charm as he instructed a giggling Takenaka in the mysteries of mixed net-play, and was reproved by Imre Rietveld Nielsen for a withering knock-up smash with "What are you trying to prove?" and, more to the point, a first service return off the frame!

In mock disbelief, laughing opponents spurned Bob McCoig's generous avowal, "It touched ma hair". Tom Bacher, temporarily bereft of his beloved cigar, but using 5-minute breaks for a cigarette, sternly reproved an errant server as an intended down-the-centre-line, heat-seeking shuttle homes in on his body, forcing it into startled evasive action. "You trying to frighten me?".

Who won? Does it matter? All that need be said is "There was fun and fight and flair".

Maiden names, names under which they first found fame are given, but today you may know them better as: Mrs. E. Stuart, Mrs. E. Toganoo, Mrs. M. Varner-Bloss, Mrs. G. Hashman, Mrs. F. Peard, Mrs. M. Bryan, Mrs. E. Nielsen, Mrs. J. Timperley, Mrs. W. Rogers, Mrs. A. Palmer.

  -- By Pat Davis - World Badminton, June 1984