Originally published by SportsByte on January 23rd 2013.
Gateshead plays host to international table tennis next Tuesday as England take on Spain in a crucial European Qualification match hoping to secure survival in the Championships Division.
Team GB stars Joanna Parker and Kelly Sibley, who both appeared at London 2012, and England international Hannah Hicks will face Spain at Gateshead Leisure Centre on Tuesday 29 at 7PM.
England have struggled in the Championships so far, losing to Germany, Romania and Russia in their three games, and currently sit bottom of Group B but face a Spain side who have also lost all three of their games.
The fixture is England’s last of the campaign on home soil, with them needing to avoid defeat against the Spaniards to to ensure they remain in the top tier of European competition for the main event in October.
It is a Spanish squad, though, which includes World Number 8 Yanfrei Shen, who stormed to ITTF German and Japan Open wins in 2012, and was a losing finalist in the Spanish Open last week.
Chinese-born Shen, who is ranked at number one in Europe, is joined by Sara Ramires (ranked 75th in the world) and Galia Dvorak (137) for the trip to the North East.
But, while Diccon Gray, Competitions Events Manager at the English Table Tennis Association, admits Spain will provide a tough test for England, he insisted they have every chance of winning in front of the Gateshead crowd.
He told SportsByte; “They’re gritty, our players. We’ve got two defenders (Parker and Hicks); It could be a clash of styles.”
“It could be that an average defender beats a good attacker because the attacker isn’t good at playing defence.”
There will also be events surrounding the game aimed at stimulating interest in the sport and giving local people the chance to play as part of London 2012’s Legacy project.
Gray believes the event is much more than just a table tennis match, adding; “We think there’s no better opportunity to inspire people to either play, officiate, or generally get excited about the sport, so we use it (the fixture) as a bit of a tool.
“The (Gateshead) council showed a desire to do some development of legacy activities around the match to generate interest in the sport.”
The ETTA is keen to give Gateshead ‘the full experience’ of table tennis, with the squad set to visit three Tyne and Wear schools in a bid to promote the fixture and the sport to the local community.
English number 1 Parker said: “It is greatly important to promote our sport in as many different regions as possible. The more people that get involved in table tennis, the greater our level as a nation can be.
“Table tennis is a highly skilled sport that takes years to learn. The younger we can start, the more years we have to develop our skills. It is a great way to promote discipline and teamwork to children.”
The current reigning National Champion, Sibley added: “Table tennis is really popular in schools and it’s a great way to publicise the sport. The kids can see us in the flesh and say, ‘she’s done it, why can’t I?’
“With us not being from the area it’s a great opportunity for them to see us and see how table tennis should be played so I hope it will inspire them.”
The players will visit Cardinal Hume Catholic School, The Shipcote Centre and Joseph Swan Academy before their Joola European Qualification fixture on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, there will be a ‘Come and try it’ session at the Leisure Centre from 9am to 6pm on Saturday and Sunday 26/27th, while head coaches Nick Jarvis and Alan Cooke will be leading coaches’ workshops in the same venue on Monday.
Head Performance Coach Jarvis said: “We’re trying to reach out to all the coaches and help them understand what levels the players need to reach locally before they can embark on an international career.
“We’ll be talking about ‘the winning way’, which is the sort of regime we should be developing from a training point of view. It’s about what attainment the players need and the level of commitment required to be an international.”
Stay tuned to SportsByte for all the build up and live coverage of the match.