50 years ago this week, Ormesby TTC in Middlesbrough achieved the greatest feat an English club has ever achieved by becoming champions of Europe.
The Middlesbrough club, represented by England international Denis Neale, Trevor Taylor and Nicky Jarvis, defeated Swedish side Falkenbergs BTK home and away to win the Europe Club Cup.
It was a remarkable triumph, sinking a club spearheaded by the then world champion, Stellan Bengtsson, and clinching the title in front of a rapturous crowd crammed into the small Ormesby HQ.
Having driven to the away fixture – Taylor would not fly – Ormesby won the first leg 6-3, losing all three matches to Bengtsson but winning every other match.
Back on Teesside on May 11, 1972, Taylor brilliantly beat Bengtsson 21-14, 21-19 in the first match to knock the stuffing out of Falkenbergs. Ormesby opened up a 5-1 lead to win 11-4 on aggregate when the match was halted.
Ormesby remain the first and only English club to rule Europe – and did so when up against some of the best players in the world. To illustrate the strength of the competition, when their reign ended the following year, beaten 5-3 in the semi-finals by Yugoslav side Vjesnik, their opponents included world No 12 and former European champion Dragutin Surbek and the world No 9 Anton Stipancic, both of whom were beaten by Neale.
The club celebrated the anniversary of their victory at the weekend, co-inciding with the final match of the Senior British League Premier Division season, at which they made it a double celebration by beating Ormeau to clinch the title.
Below, the three players and club captain Alan Ransome OBE share their memories of that momentous occasion 50 years ago.
We had a lot of top players who lived in the area – Denis and me were the first to come through and we had a series of youngsters come through. They weren’t all boys, we had Carole Knight as well.
We had five of the top English players living in the area and then Trevor Taylor moved up there because it was the best place to get practice.
Ormesby were England club champions about 10 years in a row, prior to the British League it was the Ormesby Cup we played for.
We had a second team that could beat pretty much any team in England, but when we compared with clubs in Europe, we never really looked like winning the Europe Cup before 1972 – and then in 72 we actually won it.
We wouldn’t have been one of the top sides in that competition, yet we beat the top teams. It was an incredible performance.
We played the final in our club, which was relatively tiny, it was only a four-table club, but it was packed with spectators and a few important journalists were there too – and we had the local BBC coverage.
Before every match there was a two-hour team meeting to discuss tactics. Denis Neale was brilliant at knowing how to beat players, he had it all worked out, whether it was a technical weakness, a tactical weakness or something mental. His knowledge of how to win table tennis matches and how to beat everybody was in a different league.
Trevor Taylor was so consistent and hardly ever used to miss. He kept the ball on the table longer than his opponent and he was another genius in himself. And of course Nicky Jarvis was a brilliant player as well.
The team worked together perfectly. The way they combined as a team was brilliant and the enthusiasm in the group was limitless.
When we played, we had the 1-2-3 in England and all highly ranked in the world and the other teams we played were like that – they were all international matches, really.
In the quarter-finals or the semi-finals we beat the Hungarian team which had Jonyer – that was a strong side.
In the final, they had Bengtsson, who was the current world champion, and I think the number 4 and 5 in Sweden, so they were a strong side, but we beat them 6-3 over there.
In the first match second time around, Trevor Taylor beat Bengtsson and that was it really.
When we won, it was a massive thing at the time – it was huge news in Middlesbrough and big news for English table tennis.
No English club since has come anywhere near and it’ll probably be another 50 years – it’s virtually impossible now to do what we did.
When I was at the World Championships in Japan, Alan invited me to come to Ormesby to stay there and practise. At the time, the game was changing and I needed to go somewhere they had a concentration of good players.
I stayed there about two years and it was very good for me. They were a lively bunch of lads, a lot of good players, and it was a great atmosphere. We even played on Christmas Day!
We had a good team, it was more or less the England team, so we felt we had a good chance of winning it.
We beat the Hungarians in the semi-finals and in the final we played Falkenbergs over two legs. We played there first and we went by car, which suited me because I didn’t like flying.
We beat them, although I remember Bengtsson hammering me and playing very well. I think he won all three matches, but we beat the other players.
Then they had to come to Ormesby and I managed to beat Bengtsson. I knew him well and he’s a really nice guy and he wasn’t big headed in any way, but sometimes it was like playing a machine.
I don’t think any English clubs have got much chance of replicating what we did. It was all down to Alan – he was the dominant force and if it wasn’t for him and his tremendous enthusiasm, there wouldn’t have been that area where table tennis flourished. He helped me quite a lot.
It was a momentous occasion for everyone involved at Ormesby – a real club effort with the players training with other club players. It meant a lot to everybody.
We beat quite a few decent teams on the way and for the first leg of the final we drove there because Trevor wouldn’t fly. We had to travel about 36 hours in the car and we got there early in the morning.
We just felt confident when we went there. We just felt we were playing well enough to win the competition and we managed to win 6-3 – Bengtsson won three for them.
The return leg had a massive atmosphere and in the small hall, it was packed to the rafters and it was a great occasion.
Even though it’s so many years ago, it’s still a massive achievement and we were beating international stars – some of the clubs had top players.