Desmond Douglas: Britain's most successful post-war table tennis player
Table tennis great Desmond Douglas features in our Hidden Figures online series, bringing to life the stories of under-the-radar sporting pioneers throughout Black History Month
Last Updated: 16/10/20 11:08am
Arriving in England from Jamaica in the early sixties, table tennis was the furthest thing from the mind of a bright-eyed, five-year-old Desmond Douglas.
His family would settle in Handsworth in Birmingham and it was just before his teenage years that Douglas first picked up a table tennis bat at Birmingham's Aston Park Play Centre.
- Bill Richmond: From slavery to sporting stardom
- Ralph Rowe: Britain's first black Paralympic athlete
- Clive Sullivan: The first black Great Britain captain
He only played more table tennis when it rained at lunchtimes and he was unable to play football or cricket. Douglas and his schoolmates would rearrange desks, chairs and blackboards, and jockey for space to huddle around the table.
That is how Douglas, who would go on to become an 11-time English champion, utilised his lightning reflexes to develop a style of playing close to the table. That unorthodox style of taking the ball early stayed with him throughout his career.
Douglas started playing competitively at 15, and by 18 he had risen to the top of the national junior rankings, also claiming his first European junior title.
In 1976 he won a clean sweep of singles, doubles and mixed doubles titles at the English National Championships before an emotional Rothmans International win in Jamaica the following year.
Finding it difficult to make a living from the game in England, Douglas pursued a life-changing opportunity in Germany in 1977, joining Borussia Dusseldorf, who played in the country's professional Bundesliga.
After winning English and Welsh Open titles in 1978, Douglas took bronze at the European Championships and rose to number seven in the world rankings.
He won several titles in Germany before returning to England in 1985, two years before he was honoured with an MBE for his contribution to sport.
Douglas still had an Olympic adventure to come as table tennis made its debut at the Seoul Games in 1988. He played in the singles and earned a ninth-placed finish in the doubles where he partnered Skylet Andrew, who would later become Britain's first black football agent.
Douglas retired in 1989 but made a comeback a few years later and continued to play competitively well into his forties. He remains a tremendous player by all accounts and now coaches table tennis hopefuls who form part of Britain's Youth Development Squad.
Black History Month
Keep across all our features, news stories and video content on Sky Sports News and our Sky Sports platforms. Check out the latest Black History Month content here