England international Alan Hydes’ part in the famous Ping Pong Diplomacy tour of China has been celebrated by a blue plaque at the venue where he learned the sport.

The plaque has been fixed at the Barnsley YMCA, where Alan started playing aged 12, with his brother Michael.

By 1964, he was an England Junior international and he made his Senior debut in 1967, going on to represent his country in more than 100 international matches and at three World Championships.

The plaque reads: Alan Hydes played table tennis here in the 1960s. He went on to lead the Ping Pong Diplomacy tour to China in the 1970s.

What was Ping Pong Diplomacy?

In 1971, Ping Pong Diplomacy fostered a new understanding between east and west as English players were among the first in a generation to visit China.

The invitation stemmed from American player Glenn Cowan who, after practising with China’s Liang Geliang prior to the start of the 1971 World Championship, inadvertently boarded the bus carrying the Chinese team. 

It set in motion a train of events which ended up with the US team being invited to visit China after that World Championship – an invitation which was also extended to England, Canada and Nigeria.

The English players who made the trip along with Alan were Jill Parker, Pauline Piddock, Trevor Taylor and Tony Clayton, plus support staff. They entered China on April 10, 1971.

It was a trip which was reciprocated later in the year as a Chinese team visited these shores, when matches were held in Wales and Scotland as well as England, and there was a visit to 10 Downing Street and an audience with PM Edward Heath among the cultural programme.

Ping Pong Diplomacy remains a key landmark in world table tennis history – and its influence was felt in wider society around the globe and is still being felt in our sport. You can read more about this by clicking here.

The England and China squads on the Ping Pong Diplomacy tour. Alan Hydes is back row, fourth from left. Inset: The blue plaque in Barnsley