THERE is probably no greater inspiration than seeing 90-year-old Bert Paice turn up to play Isle of Wight League table tennis each week and give his much younger opponents a tough game.

Bert, a retired company secretary and senior accountant at the former Westland Aerospace site in East Cowes, plays for the Ryde Rustics, in Division 3.

He is undoubtedly the most senior player in the Island League — and quite probably the oldest to play league table tennis ever on the Island. Bert, of Palmer’s Road, Wootton, has been playing the sport competitively for 53 years (bar an interruption due to Covid).

He came to the Island in 1968 and joined the British Hovercraft Company. That’s where it all started on the Island for Bert.

Isle of Wight County Press: Bert Paice relaxing on an Alpine holiday.Bert Paice relaxing on an Alpine holiday.

After a 20-year hiatus of not playing table tennis, due to work commitments and raising a family, he decided to pick up a bat again and joined the former Ryde Table Tennis Club, based at the Vectis Hall in Melville Street.

The hall is dilapidated now, but it was once a hive of activity at a time when there were seven Island League divisions.

“The roof leaked and you could get a free shower while you played there,” joked Bert.

“We used to have to put a shilling in the meter to keep the lights on. Sometimes when you were in the middle of a game, the lights would go out.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Vectis Hall, Ryde.Vectis Hall, Ryde.

Bert played in Division 5 for a while, before he moved up a level to Division 4 which, at that time, was considered a decent standard.

He played in Division 4 for several years — a far fry from when he started to play the game, from young boy to teenager, in Gillingham, Kent, where he grew up.

“Clubs started to drop by the wayside, so with fewer leagues, the range of abilities between top and bottom was quite a gap,” Bert explained.

Bert, a keen amateur astronomer, who built his own telescope half a century ago, knows a star when he sees one.

Isle of Wight County Press: Carl Prean.Carl Prean.

He once played Carl Prean. He won’t reveal the result, but he once played the Islander, who later became England’s number one, who had Commonwealth Games and European success.

It was not much of a battle, however. Carl was just a six-year-old learning the basics of the game. “We had a knock around and had a little game. Carl could barely see over the top of the table,” Bert recalls.

It was the only occasion Bert ever played him, but it is a memory he clearly treasures, against one of the best table tennis players England has ever produced.

Fast forward to 2021 and Bert is showing his experience by still winning matches and showing younger, presumably fitter players, how to do it.

Isle of Wight County Press:

He practices at the Isle of Wight Table Tennis Centre at Smallbrook Stadium, Ashey, once a week — normally on a Wednesday, the day of a league match, as his preparation for it.

“Even at my age, my standard is very much the same as it was all those years ago, I’m glad to say. I’m a bit slower perhaps,” said Bert.

“I had a bet with my GP ten years ago I would still be playing table tennis when I reach 100.”

Bert jokes about the challenge, but he remains fighting fit with a clear target in mind to reach it.

“Well, I’m half-way there. I see no reason why I can’t still be playing the game when I’m 100. Come and interview me in ten years’ time,” Bert quipped.

Bert encapsulated exactly what sport should be all about, by saying: “Table tennis is an extremely pleasant game to play — and you get to meet all sorts of lovely people.

“It is a very social environment in which to play and it keeps me fit and active. “I always look forward to playing.”