18 March, 2008

Table of Fury

Pop quiz hotshot: what do Premier League stars do with their 23 hours of free-time a day? Learn to read? Libelous but probably true. Test-drive sports cars? Unfortunately yes. Go whoring? Oh, most definitely. Play table tennis?? YES!

That’s right, the game affectionately known as ‘ping-pong’ is the recreational activity of choice for many current and former professional footballers, and last night at London’s illustrious Albert Hall, Glenn Hoddle, John Barnes and Reading midfielder James Harper joined part-time triple-jumper, full-time evangelist Jonathan Edwards in a celebrity charity challenge. The event was a special treat for all those table tennis aficionados who trekked over to this country for the Dunlop Masters, the ‘World Cup’ of ping-pong if you will.

Obviously table tennis is a sweet sport (limited physical exercise, you get to hit stuff with bats) but it seems strange that footballers have taken to it the way they have, with most top flight clubs these days offering tables at their training grounds. According to Rio Ferdinand, perhaps the Premier League’s most vocal fan, the table tennis contests that take place after training sessions are no less competitive than the actual football itself. Good to hear that the £100k a week isn’t being wasted on trivialities and these guys have to really work for it then.

I, of course, jest because like brother-from-another-mother Rio, I too enjoy a game of ping-pong, so cynicism goes out the window on this one. According to the intrepid Times sports writers, many footballers have genuinely reached a pretty high standard despite any sort of formal training whatsoever. Unsurprisingly David Nugent is top of the Portsmouth pile; a touch unfair maybe given the amount of time he has to practise compared to some of the club’s actual players. Long-term Arsenal injury Robin van Persie was also singled out as something of a ping-pong prodigy, encouraging one overly-enthusiastic onlooker to ejaculate: “The Arsenal striker combines formidable power with lightning reflexes… he would have reached international level had he chosen a different path in life!”

It goes without saying though that Rio fancies himself as the league top gun and has reportedly even had a huge tattoo of a large monkey with a bat saying “King Ping-Pong” etched over his entire back. His main competition is reportedly Cristiano Ronaldo, and the United dressing room is currently split by their allegiance to one or the other. Alas Rio wasn’t able to back up his big words at last night’s throw-down as Alex Ferguson had to step in: “The management won’t allow me to come down because we have games Saturday and Wednesday and obviously training every day in between,” Rio sobbed. “I’m gutted because I like a game of TT and was hoping to come and put a few people in their places.” Another time then, we all look forward to it. Perhaps the English players could make use of their time off during this summer’s European Championships to host their own charity ping-pong tournament, that’d be fun wouldn’t it!

So finally, what exactly is it that specifically attracted Rio to the game in the first place you might ask? He had these illuminating words for us this morning: “the size of the ball makes me feel like I’m a giant, it’s great!” Er, thanks Rio.