The Clacton & District League’s most senior Vice-President, Brian Baines, died last week, just a few weeks after celebrating his 90th birthday.

As a player, supporter and official, Brian had been associated with the Clacton & District Table Tennis League for over 70 years, the only person still connected with the League who could trace his table tennis heritage back to the post-war era of the early 1950s.

It was a lifetime of dedication to local table tennis, yet without any great fuss or ostentation. But that was Brian’s way. Quiet, gentle, modest. His loyalty and service to the League was recognised in 1993 when he was awarded the Bob Phillips Trophy for services to the League, and he was further honoured in 2001 when he was made a Vice-President of the League, a position he held until his death.

When Brian started playing League table tennis, circumstances were so different from now. He would tell of playing in away matches when, at a time of few private motor cars, players would travel by bus in the early evening from Clacton to Walton for League matches – and return on the last bus home when the match had finished.

Brian would never claim to have been a table tennis player in the classical style, but he was a competent performer on the table who could hold his own in Division One without ever hitting the heights. He was a steady player, compact in style, determined in defence with the occasional burst of aggression. He was certainly neither flashy nor overtly aggressive in his play, but that only reflected his reserved and modest nature.

Because Brian’s links with the League go back so far, records for that time are either incomplete or no longer in existence. But, for a number of years in the 1960s and 1970s, at a time when there were four or five divisions, Brian played for the GPO Club (or Post Office as they later became) where he won trophies alongside regular team-mates Terry Walker and Ron Ridgeon. It was only in the mid-1980s that he transferred to the Brotherhood Club, where he stayed for the rest of his table tennis career.

For a number of those years, Brian see-sawed between the top two divisions, and the records show he was a Division Two winner in 1969, 1975, 1981 and 1986, and a runner-up in 1965, 1979, 1984 and 1991. However, it might be the trophy in 1991 which gave him most satisfaction in that it was achieved as a three-man team alongside his good friend, Barry Howe, and his son, Paul, who also played in the League for several seasons.

Throughout his career, Brian rarely achieved success outside the League, although 1994 was something of an exception, when he won the Handicap Singles Trophy for the first and only time and, with Brian Rowlen and Sylvia Meakin, finished as a runner-up in the Senior Combination Tournament.

As time went by, Brian stepped down a division, now see-sawing between Divisions Two and Three, but he still had his successes. A Division Three winner in 1999 and 2002 and, after finally moving permanently down into Division Three as late as 2009, he was still good enough to win a Division Three runners-up medal in 2014, aged 81 and still averaging over 60%.

But that only emphasised how committed Brian was to his table tennis. Whereas some players would be deterred by losing to players who, years before, they would have easily beaten, Brian preferred just to ‘carry on playing’. In some seasons towards the end in Division Two, he won only a handful of matches, but he was always there for his team, always encouraging his team-mates, and always with a friendly smile on his face.  

Brian hung up his bat after the 2014/15 season. Whether in the highest or lowest divisions, his enthusiasm for the sport never waned, even at the end of his playing career when his mobility was limited and he sometimes found it physically difficult.

When he stopped playing, Brian enjoyed coming to tournaments and the Brotherhood Club as a spectator and supporter whenever he could, even though he struggled at times to do so. Eventually, even that became too much, and it disappointed him that he could no longer come.

But beneath all the records and statistics is one undeniable fact. Brian was a genuinely nice man. Quiet, reserved, neither boastful nor pushy, he was an eminently likeable person, and he was well-respected among the table tennis community. Indeed, he was one of those rare people you occasionally come across in life about whom no-one has a bad word to say.

We send our deepest sympathy to Joan and her family, our thoughts are with you all. Rest in peace, Brian. A true gentleman.