Obituary: Derek Schofield, World Champion and VETTS Founder
It is perhaps just as well that Tiviot Dale Sunday School had a table tennis club, otherwise one of the greatest team-men the English game has known might never have discovered table tennis. Derek Schofield discovered the club and was invited to pick up a bat and try his hand.
The Stockport Champion , Herbert Airey, was a member of the club and the young Schofield set his sights on perhaps one day being as good as that. He didn’t have to wait too long.
In 1947-8, he was recognised by the town selectors and was chosen to play against Bolton. Although he didn’t fare well in that first representative match, it inspired him to get better. In 1948-49, he won the Stockport Closed singles and a hasty recall to the representative team against Chester.
In 1949-50 season, Derek heard about Open Tournaments, and immediately the challenge of playing so many people who shared his joy of the sport, together with the atmosphere and congeniality was irresistible to Derek.
By 1952, Derek was representing Cheshire, and with his team mates of Eric Johnson, Vince Hankey and Arnold Shepherd, they won promotion to the Premier Division. After losing both his matches in the first match, including to the redoubtable Harry Venner, Derek was dropped. Over the next 10 years, the team were called the Yo Yo team, constantly being promoted and relegated. But this sharpened his game, as every set was vital.
During one season in the mid 50s, he reached 19 finals, winning 4. It was a terrific performance for a player without an International badge and speaks volumes for his consistency, ability and fitness.
Derek met Doreen when she attended a Cheshire Trial. His great friend Eric Johnson was seeing Doreen’s partner in crime Diane. Doreen was selected for Cheshire, and they would all travel together in a Morris Traveller. Doreen tells the tale that Derek took her hand (rather forwardly) in the back of the Traveller, and the rest is history. They married in 1960 and became one of England’s best known table tennis couples.
Derek pinpointed the turning point in Cheshire’s fortunes to the end of the 1963-64 season when the county, with no chance of promotion, brought in two young players – Roger Hampson and Mike Johns. It proved to be a master stroke. The team won promotion to the Premier Division the following year, after a cliff-hanger of a play-off with Warwickshire, and stayed there for many years.
In 1965-6, there was a play off for extra places in the European Championships at Wembley. Only the top players were allowed to enter and Derek astounded many people, but not those who knew him well, by finishing 2nd, losing to Ralph Gunnion in the final. On that day he beat Alan Ransome, Roger Hampson, Tony Piddock and Kevin Forshaw. In the Europeans he justified his inclusion by beating Osario (Portugal) 3-straight and narrowly losing a 5 setter to the Austrian, Duschanek.
In 1969, the role of Player representative was introduced into the National Selection Committee. Derek was appointed to the role and could not have been a better choice. He had attended over 150 tournaments and had become one of the best known players on the circuit.
In his hey day, juniors seeing Derek play for the first time would wonder how a player seemingly so limited could beat so many players. One reportedly said at Skegness: “I can’t figure out how he can beat any good players”. 20 minutes later, when Stuart Gibbs shook the hand of the victorious Schofield, the junior had his problem solved. The answer lay in his brilliant variation of chop, his ability to probe his opponent’s weaknesses and his tight play. He played like a miser and gave nothing away.
Throughout the 70s Derek was a regular for Cheshire, even beating Chester Barnes one year – spoiling his record. But as Derek acknowledges, Chester got his own back many many times. These were the heady days of the county matches with 100-200 spectators.
It was at Derek’s suggestion that the Premier Division should be played over a weekend. He made the suggestion to the Essex team when they played at Vymura. He thought it would create a good atmosphere, and so it proved to be.
Derek is very proud that he was asked to be non-playing England captain on 2 occasions when Chester and Dennis Neale were in the team. With a wry smile, Doreen shares that the captaincy was short-lived as he had a tendency to allow the players to ‘go out’ at night! But there could have been more occasions, as he had to turn down a captaincy trip to China due to work commitments.
Moving forward to 1982, Mike Watts rang Derek to say that Hans Westling was organising a veteran’s tournament in Gothenburg, which looked like a great idea. England were well represented, and Derek won bronze in the O50 singles and doubles with Matt Sheader. This initiative triggered a series of events…….
Following the successful “Unofficial” World Championships in Gothenburg, a call was made by those attending for more Veteran’s activity. A paper entitled the ‘Veterans Scene’ was written by Mike Watts in Sep 1983, and over 150 players responded. Because of this popular demand a meeting was called. In January 1984, the inaugural meeting of the Veteran English Table Tennis Society took place in Coventry. Maurice Golstein was duly elected as President, Derek as Chairman, and Mike Watts as Secretary.
And so the VETTS was born. Derek, with Doreen, became well known figures in the English and International veterans circuit. Derek won 19 medals in the Worlds and Europeans, including 5 golds and 4 silvers in the doubles, and 2 silvers in the singles at the World Championships.
Derek was instrumental in bringing the World Veterans Championships to Manchester in 1998.
We have lost one of the true legends of our wonderful sport, and one of the founding fathers of the VETTS. We will miss you Derek.
Jan Johns, Chair of VETTS