WHEN Carl Prean was just seven he made his Isle of Wight table tennis debut as a reserve for Columbia against Havenstreet in Division 6.

He could barely see over the table, but he did manage to win a game against his own milkman, who promptly retired.

As the years went by, that result must have seemed easier to digest.

Isle of Wight County Press: Carl was an England star at a young age.Carl was an England star at a young age.

Carl became Britain’s number one, was ninth in the European ratings and was included in the world’s top 20 player rankings.

He played so many games for England and appeared in three Olympic Games.

Sadly, table tennis has never been classed as a major sport in Britain.

Despite this, 40,000 people regularly played the game up and down the country.

To be the number one was a fantastic achievement.

Ironically, during this current virus scare, table tennis tables have been in great demand as everyone has more leisure time.

Who knows? A budding new Carl Prean could yet emerge from the Island.

Isle of Wight County Press: Carl was touted as a future British and European star at a young age.Carl was touted as a future British and European star at a young age.

When Carl was young, some locals felt he had been pushed into the game by his enthusiastic parents, John and Erica, who both played the game.

That idea was way off target, as Carl once explained: “I loved table tennis and began playing when I was six.

“We had a table at home and at Columbia Products, my dad’s factory.

“In the summer, talented players came from the mainland to practice with me and improve my game.

“I probably played three or four times a week.”

Was he a good loser when he was an Island League regular at the age of eight?

“No I don’t think I was in those days. I learnt the hard way and it got better.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Carl Prean played in three Olympic Games.Carl Prean played in three Olympic Games.

I admired Carl’s personal attitude to the sport he loved.

He always set his own goals throughout his long career.

In the early days it was just to beat the Island’s top player of the era, Jim Daly.

Carl will never forget that night.

“For me, it was like beating a real star. It was a cup match against Ryde” Carl explained.

“In that same match I also actually lost to Steve Harris, the Island’s number two.”

Isle of Wight County Press: Carl Prean beat some of the world's best in his amazing amateur career.Carl Prean beat some of the world's best in his amazing amateur career.

Before too long his career went way above our local game and he became the European under-14 champion and a member of the England senior men’s team.

The year, 1983, was pure Prean vintage.

He helped England to unparalleled success in the Tokyo World Championships.

They came third and he had the amazing average of 80 per cent, out of all the players in the team event.

He also brushed aside some former European champions.

There was also success in the Commonwealth Games.

At that time, with his one-colour bat, with two different surfaces and a ‘hide the ball’ service, he was often virtually unplayable.

Isle of Wight County Press: Today, Carl coaches table tennis on Carl was an England star at a young age. the mainland. Today, Carl coaches table tennis on Carl was an England star at a young age. the mainland.

That dramatically changed when new rules were brought in.

He quickly had to rebuild his game.

In the late 80s, Carl was in a superb England team and they reached the European final.

They beat Russia 5-4 in the semi-final after being 4-2 down. He won all three of his games.

In the final of the Belgium Open, he beat Hideo Gotoh, a Japanese world champion.

On another occasion, Carl beat the reigning world champion, Jorgen Persson.

In 1990, two million television viewers saw him beat deadly rival, Desmond Douglas in the final of the Daily Telegraph Masters.

He was the English champion on three separate occasions.

Carl, who was probably better known around the world than in Britain, was a much sought after player and became a professional in the German Bundesliga, where he regularly played some of the world’s other top players.

He also learnt the language, which made life easier.

Crowds of up to 3,000 watched the key matches.

Later he moved on to play in the French League.

He also competed in three Olympic Games — Seoul, Barcelona and Atlanta.

In Atlanta, Carl reached the last 16.

He finally retired in 2008. The Island can be proud of his phenomenal career.

Carl was thrilled when they named a Smallbrook table tennis centre after him, which has since been renamed the Isle of Wight Table Tennis Centre.

In recent years, he has been coaching on the mainland and, occasionally played cricket for Shanklin, Brading and Ryde.

He is also an avid Hampshire cricket fan.

Carl loved coming on my radio show, John Hannam Meets — particularly as I let him choose up to five of his favourite soul records — his great relaxation away from table tennis.

Why did he retire at such a young age?

“I finally retired because I’d had enough of the game and had played it for well over 30 years.

I did exceed all my expectations and travelled all around the world,” said Carl.