ZIPPING from one side of the table to the other, Chris Town plays a series of quick-fire returns in a game of table tennis.

It is hard to believe he is 80 this year as he nimbly covers the ground to place his winning shots.

Chris, who grew up in Bradford, has been coaching in the sport for 56 years. “I don’t think anybody anywhere has been coaching for as long as I have,” he says. “I’m still going strong.”

A former top table tennis coach in South Africa, for years he played internationally and still competes in matches across Yorkshire.

Chris, who lives in Tong, first played table tennis with his mum across the kitchen table. “We had a net across the table and that’s how I started,” he says. “A schoolfriend had a proper table at his house in Allerton. We lived nearby in Thornton so I played there,” he recalls. “I also played at youth clubs.”

Chris’s father was superintendent at Allerton Methodist Church, where one of the church members introduced table tennis, so he played there too, later joining Hermits Table Tennis Club in Bradford, where he was encouraged by other club members.

“A man called Arthur Bowers got me playing with him and it went on from there,” he says.

A pupil at the former City High School and School of Commerce, Chris was a talented cricketer, but table tennis was his passion. Over the years he has won dozens of trophies, through which he fondly remembers the people he has played against. “When I look at them I remember all those people who I played and knew.”

Incredibly, Hermits is still going strong. Founded in 1946 by former player Ron Hart , it is one of the oldest table tennis clubs in England, perhaps even the oldest.

The club began as the tax office’s table tennis team, from which the name ‘Hermits’ was derived using the first letter of His Majesty’s Inspector of Taxes (HMITs, pronounced Hermits), which, when the Queen took the throne, became Her Majesty’s Inspector of Taxes.

As coach at the club, Chris is an inspirational figure, although he is not the oldest player - that honour goes to the club chairman John Rawnsley, who is 81.

Chris, who is a Table Tennis England-accredited teacher, loves to see a player come from nowhere and become a champion.

“I have coached many people who have achieved that. I love seeing someone who does not know how to play getting better and better. I have a six-year-old at the moment who is amazing, with brilliant footwork.

“My greatest achievement has been coaching youngsters. They have kept me going.” They start off not knowing a forehand, backhand or anything.”

He begins coaching youngsters without the use of bats. “I ask them to go to the other side of the table and I bounce the ball across and they move around. They have to make contact with the ball with their tummies. This helps to develop their footwork. We start off with this and work from there.”

The octogenarian has also coached wheelchair-bound players at Pinderfields Hospital.

“The best way to teach is if you get into a wheelchair yourself. You then see what sorts of things you can and cannot do, for instance you can do a backhand flick, but you have a shorter forehand drive.”

Chris is thrilled to receive cards from children thanking him for teaching them to play. “That is wonderful - so rewarding.”

He has not always lived in Bradford. For 21 years, his home was South Africa where he built up businesses including supermarkets and an engineering firm.

He did not leave table tennis behind, however. During this period Chris became chief coach for the province of Natal - now known as KwaZulu Natal - and the former province of Eastern Transvaal.

“While there I coached a girl who at first could not get the ball over the net, but became a champion.”

Footwork, Chris says, is 60 per cent of table tennis. “If you do not have good footwork you can’t play table tennis at all. “I always ask people what sports they play. Nearly all sports involve footwork.”

Chris admires the clutch of Chinese players on the circuit. “They are incredible, and very disciplined.”

But he does not like the way the game is played at a high level, believing that it is not as interesting to watch. “You used to get long rallies of between 30 and 40 strokes, with players attacking and defending, but now with such fast balls you are lucky if it goes beyond six or seven strokes.” Balls can reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour.

Chris names as his inspiration Les Darcy, from West Yorkshire, the famous veteran table tennis player and star of the film Ping Pong, who sadly died in 2013 aged 91.

Chris also admires the Hungarian and British table tennis champion Viktor Barna, a record five times singles world champion.

He loves the fact that table tennis can be played and enjoyed at any age. “That’s one of the great things about the sport,” he says “I had a pupil the other day aged 83.”

Chris may be fit and active, but he has overcome major health problems throughout his life. Recently, he spent more than two months in hospital after suffering from bowel cancer and also contracting the super bug MRSA.

“I spent almost 60 days only drinking water and lost six stone - I am only 12 stone as it is,” he explains in a jovial manner that belies the seriousness of his illness. “In hospital they called me Mr Happy because I was always laughing and smiling.”

Aged 63, while living in Australia - where he also coached table tennis - he had an accident at a carpentry firm where he was working. He slipped on some sawdust, falling on to a four-sided planing machine. He lost two fingers and a thumb and irreparably damaged his remaining two fingers. “I had to learn how to pick things up. It took me six months to be able to hold a spoon,” he says. “I have two claw-like fingers and a home-made thumb created by surgeons. “Thankfully it was my left hand, not the hand I use to play.”

A year in hospital and 26 operations later, he was moved to a rehabilitation centre where he ended up being in charge of its sporting activities.

Chris has overcome other personal setbacks. He suffered huge financial losses after his businesses collapsed in South Africa due to the economic climate. When he returned to Bradford in 1986 he was homeless and penniless.

“The sport has kept me going,” he says. “I don’t think many people are as passionate about a sport as I am about table tennis. I still love playing as much as ever - there’s life in the old dog yet.”

For more information on Hermits visit