Alpha Badminton Club’s Junior players showed early promise
Whilst it is often easy to reflect on the past wearing those rose-tinted glasses, there have been numerous occasions since Alpha Badminton Club was founded back in September 1933 when things were not advancing as quickly as some may have wished.
They had lived something of a nomadic existence in terms of a venue in those early years and had moved to the British Legion Hall in Sackville Street which was certainly a better hall for playing badminton in the years leading up to the Second World War.
However, the Army was then to take over the Legion Hall and the club returned to the Temperance Institute until 1945, before returning until 1958, though a badminton mat had to be rolled out before and after play each Tuesday evening as it had also become a popular dance hall too.
Those who can remember back to the glorious 1960s would have found Alpha Badminton Club settled in their home at the Royal Black Preceptory Hall on the Hillhall Road, having celebrated their 26th AGM the previous year with the treasurer’s report showing a credit balance of £39 9 shillings and 5 (old) pence!
Without a doubt one of the most enlightened decisions taken by the Club came with the launch of a junior club in September and a decade later Alpha were to celebrate their FIRST All-Ireland Junior Cup title, with an All-Ireland Senior Cup being captured a decade later in 1981.
There are very few players who grew up in the period from 1966 to 1990 who had not taken part in the Christmas under-age tournament run by the club initially under the sponsorship of Pinta and later Yoplait.
It met the needs of the rapidly growing sport of badminton with early rounds being played right across the province with over 700 players in its later years and I was one of them!
Winners - and a few losers - were to go on to win international honours and in 1966 the Under 14 Boys Singles champion was none other than John Scott who went on to lift the U’18 Boys Singles crown in 1971 before becoming one of the finest doubles specialists of his particular era.
Scott may have lifted the Irish National singles title on one occasion (1976) but was a four-times winner of the coveted national mixed doubles title with Barbara Beckett in 1976, partnered Dorothy Cunningham in 1977 and Nikki Lane in both 1982 and 1983.
Rikki Keag and Bill Thompson were multiple champions in the Pinta with Keag, an U’10 Boys Singles champion back in 1970 but had to wait until 1978 to get his hands on the coveted Under 18 Boys Singles title such was the dominance of that event by Thompson his doubles partner.
In 1972 the Pinta was played in three venues Lisburn Racquets Club, the McCallum Hall and the Antrim Forum and Thompson who went on to lift the national singles title in 1978, 1981 and 1985 had to stave off the challenge of one Trevor Woods in the semi-final of the Under 18 Boys Singles, having lost the opening set 9-15, before recovering to book his place in the final against Victor Collins 15-2 15-10 and won the final in straight sets.
Current Alpha manager Trevor Woods lifted the Under 18 doubles with Thompson in both 1973 and 1974 while he was to partner Linda Andrews to the U’18 mixed title in both 1973 and 1974.
Woods indeed is one person who can recall that early period in the club’s development recalling back in 1969 when his family bought a house in Llewellyn Drive.
“I walked down to the bottom of the Avenue and saw the old red clay tennis courts,” he said.
He had never heard of the sport of badminton at that time.
“I joined the club at the age of 12 and was to be selected with Linda Andrews to compete in the U’18 Junior European Championships, reaching the quarter-finals of the Men’s Doubles and the semis of the Mixed,” he remembered.
Although ending his association with the club aged 21 Trevor has, of course, since returned to the club and has witnessed so many of the club’s successes.