Tributes paid to Corby's much-loved 'Mr Table Tennis' Tom Cardwell

Tom died last week at the age of 86
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Tributes have been paid to Corby’s ‘Mr Table Tennis’ Tom Cardwell, who has died at the age of 86.

The popular and player and coach was involved in the sport locally for about 50 years and was president of Corby Town Table Tennis Club.

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He could still be found having the occasional ‘knock’ until last year at the Kingswood Neighbourhood Centre, where he helped many junior players.

Tom Cardwell, left, pictured with son TerryTom Cardwell, left, pictured with son Terry
Tom Cardwell, left, pictured with son Terry

His son Terry said: “Wherever I went, whether I was with him or not, I was always aware of the love people had for him.

"People I had never met and didn’t know would come up to tell me how much they loved him.

"I think in Corby that is how a lot of people saw him – a lovely man who always had time for everyone.”

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Tom was born in Liverpool in 1938 and played table tennis as a boy at Bootle YMCA, but it was a family holiday to a wet Butlin’s camp in the 1970s that kick-started his involvement in the sport after having a game with his son.

Tom, right, played and coached in the town for many yearsTom, right, played and coached in the town for many years
Tom, right, played and coached in the town for many years

When they returned to Corby Terry said he wanted to play table tennis more so they looked for a club, but initially struggled because of Terry’s young age. Eventually they found that the council ran a coaching session at Lodge Park Sports Centre on a Sunday night run by top local players, which Terry attended, and a few weeks in Tom also started having a ‘knock’ before playing regularly.

One of the coaches ran what was the Stewarts & Lloyds table tennis club and she invited them along – Tom, followed by Terry, then started playing competitively in the Kettering League.

Under Tom’s stewardship the club morphed into the current Corby Town Table Tennis Club after the closure of Corby’s steelworks. He found his calling in later life as a table tennis coach where he not only coached juniors but helped keep some on the straight and narrow.

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In 2016 he won Northamptonshire Sport’s lifetime contribution award for his decades of work.

Tom presenting the 'most improved junior' award in his name to Jonathon Lane just before Christmas.Tom presenting the 'most improved junior' award in his name to Jonathon Lane just before Christmas.
Tom presenting the 'most improved junior' award in his name to Jonathon Lane just before Christmas.

Terry, 60, said he was proud of his dad’s achievements. He said: “He really cared about people and they could see that.”

Tom was a talented cricketer and footballer – playing at Anfield as a schoolboy – but all he wanted to do as a youngster was go to sea and he had pictures of ships on his bedroom wall.

His dad told him he had to learn a trade so he started an apprenticeship in ship repairs in Liverpool when he left school, training as a marine engineer, before joining the Merchant Navy aged 21.

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It took him all around the world, going to Australia, New Zealand and America, and he got to play cricket in some unusual places.

Terry recalled the time his dad was able to play at New York’s Central Park.

He said: “He was playing for his ship’s team and they were invited to play against a USA team in Central Park.

"They turned up thinking it would be easy as Americans didn’t know how to play cricket. They arrived and the team were all from the West Indies – they got hammered!”

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In 1961 Tom married his wife May, a professional dancer who he had met when he was 16. They moved to London and when there was a problem with his ship he left the Navy, before taking a job at Battersea Power Station where he worked until 1965. That year the big Liverpool fan managed to witness his side’s first FA Cup final triumph.

Tom saw an advert in a paper for a job at Corby’s steelworks which guaranteed a house – and after looking the town up on a map, because they hadn’t heard of it, he took it on. He worked there as a maintenance fitter until the closure of the steelworks in 1980, before becoming an Anglian Water engineer until he retired at the age of 58.

Tom lived on the Beanfield estate for about 17 years before moving to the Shire Lodge area. He then moved to Brigstock, where he lived for almost 20 years, until his death on Thursday, March 21. He died of mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, something he was exposed to while an apprentice and during his work in Battersea.

Tom knew thousands of people from his time in Corby and not just through his work or table tennis.

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He also helped out at what is now Corby Shape Dance, which was run by May for many years. She is still involved now, with her daughter and grand-daughter running it.

Tom would drive for them, help to make scenery, operate the curtains, run raffles and for quite a few years he used to be in their Christmas shows, playing Father Christmas.

Terry said being his son was almost like being famous.

He said: “He loved to talk to people and he was always really friendly.

"Mum used to see him in the street and go ‘there he is, he could talk for England’. He was always very well-liked.”

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Tom is survived by wife May, children Terry and Julie and grandchildren Maya and Emily.

Chris Haynes, from Corby Town Table Tennis Club, paid tribute to Tom and said he has been the pivotal driving force behind the club for 48 years.

He said: “We are absolutely devastated by his passing. In the last couple of years we have seen less of Tom due to his knees getting the better of him, but despite this he still engaged with the club and particularly the junior section. We have the Tom Cardwell Award for most improved junior which is presented in December each year and this was one of the last times we saw Tom at the club.

"Our heartfelt feelings go out to May, Tom's wife, Julie and Terry and all the family. Tom will be sorely missed by the whole table tennis community across the district, not just Corby.

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“Tom will be fondly remembered. In 2016 he won the Northamptonshire Sport lifetime contribution award for all his work and time he had given freely to table tennis and Corby Town Table Tennis Club.

"As part of the preparation for this presentation members of the club and local community were asked to make a video. During this video, Lynn Johnston who runs the Kingswood Neighbourhood Centre, our club's home, called Tom 'Mr Table Tennis' and this very much sums Tom up. He was a fantastic man who loved his sport and who everyone loved.”