What’s all the racquet about?

In her latest column on local sports clubs, Bobbie Makoni has her day on court

Walthamstow Whackers

Walthamstow Whackers, who play at Walthamstow Leisure Centre in Markhouse Road

We’ve all seen at least one of those mind-boggling badminton rallies which have gone viral on social media. While most of us could only dream of such mastery over the racquet and shuttlecock, badminton remains one of the world’s favourite pastimes for people from all walks of life.

The modern version of the game is believed to have been developed in the 19th Century from the earlier game of battledore and shuttlecock. The Danes were initially standout performers until the sport developed an Asian following.

Here in Waltham Forest, we have a club that seems to have replicated the sport’s worldwide success on a local level. Every Tuesday evening at 8pm, the Walthamstow Whackers pile into Walthamstow Leisure Centre, formerly known as Kelmscott. What started as a council-run beginners’ course has now become one of the most oversubscribed activities in the borough.

As I enter the gym I pass courts full of doubles play, with people of all ages and abilities engrossed in rallies. There is also a contingent of players waiting in the wings for their turn on court.

After months of visiting local clubs, I’ve learnt that what makes many of them so special are the people that hold them together. And through the Whackers I met my favourite volunteer to date. At ’80 something’ years old, equipped with two hip replacements and a pacemaker, John Chester is the man pulling the strings here (sometimes literally).

A certified badminton coach for more than 25 years, John manages the busy session with ease and efficiency each week. While players are itching to get on court, John maintains his cool and calm demeanour, keeping people in good spirits and making sure no-one feels short-changed. Rashal Liddar, who has been playing at the club for 15 years, stated that while he enjoys the informal and friendly nature of the session, “my favourite part of the club is John”.

But for John, it’s all about keeping people participating: “As long as we get a good crowd through the door each week, to keep the sport going, that’s all that matters. Everyone mixes despite their level of ability and this only drives improvement across the board.”

Players are paired up on arrival and tend to get between nine and ten games per session. The programme is so popular that there is a waiting list in operation! Those tempted to play are encouraged to sign up sooner rather than later.

For more information on the Whackers:

Visit walthamsoft.com/badminton