Former London Progress supremo, Jon Kaufman casts his experienced eye over London Academy.
There are so many glittering aspects about the London Academy Table Tennis Club, not least its near unrivalled record in the National Schools Championships. But today it is all about the London Academy as host. As another table tennis season gets into top gear, you can guarantee that the London Academy, under the expert directorship of Bhavin Savjani, will be busy hosting a multitude of tournaments, many official, but some which may best be described as grassroots or community based. The Academy is now a permanent fixture on the Table Tennis England tournament circuit, hosting and organising a range of British League matches and a seemingly non-stop series of 1 and 2 Stars junior events.
But today, the focus is on Round 1 of the National Cadet League, an event that the Academy has virtually made its own. In fact, so popular has the Academy become for this event, that this season saw the organisers forced to put a cap on the number of entries, leaving a number of clubs and schools to scratch around for obliging venues. Last year saw a record 48 teams compete. This year it has been reduced to a more manageable 32, consisting of 8 devisions of 4 teams. This somewhat regrettable reduction will allow for extra table availability and an ensuing earlier finish.
What, we should ask, is the secret of the London Academy success story? The obvious answer is sheer perseverance and gritty hard work. But that is not all. Instrumental to Savjani’s master plan, now we’ll into its second decade, is the creation of a network of feeder primary schools a nerwork that provides an inexhaustible supply of talented youngsters. By the time many of these young students arrive at the London Academy to begin their secondary schooling, they are already partly accomplished table tennis players with a host of skills and tournaments under their belts. Coach Hiba, herself an accomplished international player, must claim a huge amount of credit for this extensive primary school outreach work. And the charity, John Lyons should also be acknowledged for their foresight and being instrumental in funding the programme. From this solid grounding, many of these homegrown young players, along with some international recruits, go on to reach national and even international standards. And critically, the older, high performing youngsters play a crucial role in bringing the next generation up to standard.
As suggested earlier, the London Academy chapter of the National Cadet League attracts some of the big names in London junior table tennis. And not just London. Amongst this season’s combatants are Moberley, eBatt, Urban, Brighton and a large contingent from London Academy itself. Joining these well established clubs are Stanmore, Westminster Under School and Empire. The tournament is cleverly run, with promotion and relegation after each round. This way, each round has a built in climax, and no team is forced to stay in an inappropriate division. Hats off to tournament organiser, Eamon Brennan, for some much needed clear thinking, a commodity often in short supply on the official tournament circuit.
By the time you get to read this newsletter, the London Academy will be busy organising its next event, with European training and tournaments part of the regular calendar. The programme is relentless but so are the successes. And as each season unfolds, so the London Academy becomes ever more established as a regional table tennis hub. Long may it continue.
Jon Kaufman 29/10/23