The ITTF European Para Table Tennis Championships 2023 are taking place in Sheffield from September 4-9, the first international Para table tennis tournament outside of a multi-sport Games to be held in the UK since 2011. Here the 18 athletes that will represent Great Britain give their thoughts on the tournament.
Aaron McKibbin, 32, London/Epsom
Events: men’s singles class 8, men’s doubles class 14 (with Martin Perry)
“I’ve had a very good year and preparation in the last few months has gone really well. It is exciting to have a home tournament after such a long time since London 2012 and it is nice that family and friends will be able to come along and watch. They support us all the time through our careers and never really get to see us play ‘live’ so I’m excited and can’t wait to get started.
“I think over the last few years I have cemented myself as one of the best players in class 8 and my opponents give me more respect than they used to which helps me with results. I don’t go into majors worrying about the draw I just focus on myself now and I believe if I bring my best game it’s going to be good enough to do the business on the day. Taking a singles medal at the Worlds definitely helped me as it was one of the things I wanted to achieve and now that pressure is off me. I think at my age I shouldn’t be getting better but I keep improving and have that inner belief. I can usually bring a certain level to the majors and that is generally enough to get me into the later rounds. It’s on me to deal with the pressure and that is part of elite sport.
“I feel I’m a good doubles player and I’m excited about playing with Martin. We have won a tournament already this year and I think we’ve got a good chance to potentially win the Europeans. Having Billy (Shilton) and Paul (Karabardak) in the same event is great for GB and I wouldn’t be surprised if we were both in the final. Doubles is a different game and with Martin in a lower category I need to think how I can bring the best out of him and highlight his strengths and I find that exciting. We get on really well and have very honest conversations, so I think that helps as well. There are some very strong teams so it will be tough, and we’ll have to be on it from the get-go to have a chance.”
Ashley Facey, 28, London/Sheffield
Events: men’s singles class 9, men’s doubles class 18 (with Will Bayley), mixed doubles class 17 (with Grace Williams)
“I feel that my season has been a bit up and down, but it is good to be back. Italy was a learning curve but every tournament since then I’ve improved given the situation of not being here for a year so I’m happy with my performances. I’ve taken some top players close and although there were some matches where I could have done better that is sport. I’m happy with how I’ve played and I’m looking forward to the European Championships in Sheffield. It’s not my hometown because I’m from London but I train here, and it is good to have a major championship in the UK. It’s also really nice that my friends and family can come along and support and see what I’ve been doing all my life.
“Coming from another sport (cycling) back to table tennis has been amazing and I’ve really enjoyed it since I’ve been back. I appreciate it more and want to win more and it is all coming naturally and I’m playing better table tennis. I missed the last major so I’m really looking forward to playing the Europeans.
“I’m excited to play both doubles events as well. Will is a big fighter and he won’t give up which is a bonus. It will be interesting because he is class 7 and I’m class 9 and I’ve never really played with someone in a lower class, but we have a good friendship and hopefully that comes across on the table and we play well together so I’m looking forward to it.”
Billy Shilton, 24, Stonehouse (Gloucester)/Sheffield
Events: men’s singles class 8, men’s doubles class 14 (with Paul Karabardak), mixed doubles class 14 (with Fliss Pickard)
“I don’t think it has been the best season for me individually. I feel that I’ve been working hard in the hall and doing the right things although I don’t think it has showed yet, but I feel that I’m in the best shape of my life so that’s exciting and I can’t wait to get going. It’s the first time I’ve ever played an international in the UK and it can only be a positive with all the home fans and my parents, family and friends coming to watch. It will help me even more - if I’m playing well or struggling it will be nice to see them there supporting me.
“It’s always so enjoyable playing with Paul and I’ve had one of the best moments of my career playing with him so that gives me confidence and gives him a lot of confidence as well. Obviously, we don’t see each other much with Paul being in Wales and me being in Sheffield but when we do play practice matches in Sheffield and in tournaments we’ve been playing really well. I don’t think it creates additional pressure being World champions – it’s a completely different tournament and there will be different opposition and some new pairs we’ve not seen before so it’s exciting.
“Fliss and I both train in Sheffield so we can work on doubles every day. We’re definitely in a better place than we were at the Worlds so hopefully we can change the colour of the medal this time.”
Bly Twomey, 13, Brighton
Events: women’s singles class 7, mixed doubles class 14 (with Will Bayley)
“I feel so happy because I’ve only been playing two years and I didn’t think I would be part of this massive tournament now. If it was in a different country, there would be less people and less support, but my club (Brighton TTC) is going and everyone I know is going so it is going to be so much better to have all the support. Going to international tournaments has helped me to be more confident and know what is going to happen. I’m hoping that I can win a match and get a world ranking but I’m not setting myself any targets - I’m just hoping to play my best and have fun.
“Will has been coaching me once a week in Brighton and because he won a gold medal I think, ‘yes I can do that’. He knows what I need to do to get gold in a Paralympics, so it is really nice to have someone like him at the club to help me. I’m so excited to play mixed doubles with Will because I never thought I would be playing with a gold medallist. We’ve practised quite a lot together and I feel that we have a good chance.”
Chris Ryan, 32, Welwyn Garden City
Events: men’s singles class 2
“It’s really exciting to be selected. I wasn’t expecting it, so I feel proud to have got to this position as quickly as I have. I don’t think the coaches have put me in to win a medal but because I might be able to achieve that goal in the future so it’s hugely motivating. I’ve been training as hard as I can - you have self-motivation which drives you but that extra kick from coaches, players and staff telling you that you can do these things is great. Sometimes you play people, and you think ‘wow they are a step up from where I’m at’ but they’ve given me that assurance that I can get there.
“It’s hard because I don’t feel that I’ve got better when I’m training because the change is so gradual. I played someone in Spain and lost 3-0 and then I played him in the USA and won 3-1 so it is at times like that you feel that your game has improved a lot.
“It does make it more special being able to play in a home championship - I’m really lucky to have that so soon in my journey and support from friends and family will hopefully be there for me. The same friends and family supported me in wheelchair rugby for eight or nine years travelling round the world. Coming here will be different because they are used to me winning more games in rugby, but they will support me whatever.”
Felicity Pickard, 29, Burnley/Sheffield
Events: women’s singles class 6, women’s doubles class 14 (with Grace Williams), mixed doubles class 14 (with Billy Shilton)
“I’m really looking forward to the Europeans and excited to be able to play all three events - it’s a privilege and I can’t wait to get going. For me I think what works best is to take one match at a time and focus on what I can do. I believe I can take on anyone in the world so I’m going in with that process and go and enjoy it, play the way I can play and hope for the best. I want to get among the medals and who knows?
“It’s really exciting to be going out there again with Grace. It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a year but that is sport, and you have your highs and your lows. We’ve done a lot of work in the last few weeks, and I think we are in a very good place at the moment. We’re both really excited and looking forward to getting out there especially with Shaun (GB coach Shaun Marples) back in our corner, so the dream team are back together.
“I also really enjoy playing with Billy – we’ve grown up through the programme together and he’s a good lad and always had my back. We’re good friends and it’s great to be able to play with him especially in a European championship on the biggest stage so it’s going to be fun.”
Grace Williams, 20, Llanfyllin/Sheffield
Events: women’s singles class 8, women’s doubles class 14 (with Fliss Pickard), mixed doubles class 17 (with Ashley Facey)
“To be honest the start of the season was the worst ever and then something clicked in Slovenia, and I beat the world number four which was the best win I’ve had in my whole career. That was a turning point in that everyone said they believed in me, but I didn’t really believe in myself and beating the world number four and taking silver in Poland – all these things give me so much confidence especially on the back of the Worlds. Training has been great – I’ve been working on my strengths but also my weaknesses, so preparation has been good and I’m really excited.
“Fliss and I haven’t had the greatest season in our doubles but at the same time we know what works and we know what we need to do. Because of our timetables we didn’t do a tournament together until Slovenia, so we didn’t have a lot of time and we were out of sync a little bit. We’ve worked on that in training in our singles and doubles – we’re on the same page at the moment and I’m looking forward to trying to do as well in the Europeans as we did in the Worlds.
“My family came to watch me in the Commonwealths last year in Birmingham and it’s great to have that support because no matter what happens they are always going to be proud of me so to have them in the crowd will be nice.”
Jack Hunter-Spivey, 28, Liverpool/Sheffield
Events: men’s singles class 5, mixed doubles class 10 (with Megan Shackleton)
“I think my preparation has been great and I feel like I’m in a good position and playing very well. I can’t wait to play in another home championships and I’m really looking forward to the experience. I think playing in front of a home crowd in the Commonwealths really helped me and I feel I can use all the experience I’ve got from taking a medal in Tokyo and winning gold in the Commonwealth Games. I’ll be fourth or fifth seed, but I’ve beaten everyone above me so I’m feeling confident and I’m going for a medal, but I think I can definitely bring home the gold.
“It’s a mental battle as well because everyone is thinking about the Paralympics so it is at the forefront of my mind knowing that a good performance will put me in a very good position for qualifying for Paris and winning it would put me in the perfect position. I feel that I thrive under pressure so I want to relish the experience and I’ve just got to fight as hard as I can.
“Megan and I are best mates and playing mixed doubles should be a really good experience for us both. I feel that we have a big chance - we get on so well on and off the table and we really do fight hard for every point. We’ve beaten some good pairs this year although we’re a new partnership so it’s all to play for in the mixed doubles as well and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Joshua Stacey, 23, Cardiff/Sheffield
Events: men’s singles class 9, men’s doubles class 18 (with Ross Wilson)
“I think this season has been a bit up and down but having had the time off I needed to sort my body out I’ve just accepted that my level and how I’m playing may not be exactly where I want it to be. The plan has always been to try and peak and feel that I am playing my best stuff come September and I think I’m in a good place to do that.
“The sparring partners that we’ve been training with have been really good and have got me more accustomed to playing a higher level of table tennis and I definitely feel I’m in a stronger position going into the Europeans than I was at the Worlds last year. I’ll take it one match at a time, but I think I’ll be less than satisfied with anything else less than two gold medals.
“Ross and I have got a good understanding of each other, and we both know one of us can pull the other out of trouble if its ever needed. Last year before the Worlds we hadn’t practiced too much together because of our schedules so the fact we’ve been able to do more going into the Europeans means I’m feeling confident about our chances of getting gold rather than just being stood on the podium.
“I think my mum and sister will be there to watch. I don’t usually hear much of the crowd when I’m playing but my sister is rather loud so if I’m going to hear anyone, I think it will be her.”
Martin Perry, 29, Paisley/Dumbarton
Events: men’s singles class 6, men’s doubles class 14 (with Aaron McKibbin)
“I think I’m playing really well and hopefully I can keep this form going for the tournament. Back home everyone in Drumchapel has been really supportive as always and I feel that I’m playing at a good level at the moment so it will be exciting to see what that brings at the Europeans. It’ll be good to have my wife Siobhain there as well because she’s never really seen me play that much unless it’s on YouTube. I’m so excited that she will get a chance to come and watch and see what I am so passionate about and understand why I’m always halfway around the world while she is stuck at home. The fact that we can perform in front of our friends and family at a home championship is going to be amazing.
“Winning a medal at the Worlds was incredible but that is in the past and I have to focus on what is in front of me. This will be my third European championship so I can’t say I’m lacking experience anymore and I think having that medal has filled me with confidence. I’ve proved to myself more than anyone that I can perform at that level but now I need to be a consistent performer and that’s the mark of a true athlete, so the goal is to medal at the Europeans. However, class 6 is incredibly strong in Europe and there will be no easy matches but as long as I can perform to my best, I should be in with a great shout of hopefully bringing home a medal.
“In the doubles Aaron and I should be one of the top seeds so there will be an expectation to medal. We are really close on and off the table and I think our styles complement each other. It’s a new experience for me playing doubles in an event like this and it’s something I’m incredibly excited about.”
Megan Shackleton, 24, Todmorden/Sheffield
Events: women’s singles class 4, mixed doubles class 10 (with Jack Hunter-Spivey)
“I had quite a slow start to the season still building back into things after not playing for a year but I’ve started to find my feet again and I’m feeling really good now. I’ve found a bit of extra confidence just from seeing the results building all the time so I’m excited to be playing another major especially my first one back since Tokyo. After so many years of competing when my family and friends haven’t actually been able to see me in person it is nice to have a home championship, especially being in Yorkshire. I’m sure there will be quite a few people coming to support which is nice.
“Obviously everyone wants to take a medal and I want to improve my qualification towards Paris but without focusing on outcomes for me a successful Europeans would be bringing what I’ve been working on in the training hall and building that solid base, just feeling good on the table, thinking clearly and enjoying the competition.
“Jack and I have gone from strength to strength as a partnership through the season and as well as working well together on the table we do have a great friendship. We know how to communicate well with each other and help each other out in some of the trickier situations so we’re just excited to have the opportunity to play together on a major stage and fingers crossed we have some good performances.”
Paul Karabardak, 37, Swansea
Events: men’s singles class 6, men’s doubles class 14 (with Billy Shilton)
“I’m training as hard as I can and I’m in a good place and preparing well so I’ll be as good as I can be going into the Europeans. I’ve been playing 22 years and I’ve played a handful of competitions in GB so it’s really exciting to be able to play on home turf and have your family there and it will give me and the whole of the GB squad a major boost to go out and deliver our best performances.
“I’m really looking forward to playing doubles with Billy. I think we’ve improved since the World championships, and it is going to be exciting to see what we can do in another major championship. Aaron and Martin are another top team and will be ones to look out for and could be our biggest rivals when it comes to trying to win the competition. It’s really exciting to have two good British teams in the competition and hopefully we get to play each other in the final.
“I’ve been playing for a long time but I still really enjoy the sport and find it really exciting and that’s why I’ve done it for so long. I’ve still got that hunger and drive - that’s why I train so hard. To get another major medal would mean an awful lot to me and I’m going to try and do that.”
Rob Davies, 39, Brecon
Events: men’s singles class 1
“I’m feeling excited for the tournament. Obviously having it in Sheffield is a great opportunity and hopefully there’ll be plenty of Welsh supporters. We haven’t had a Europeans for four years which has been good for me because I’ve been out injured a lot of the time, so it has given me plenty of time to work my way back into it. I’m still on the road but I’m hopefully nearing the top of the road rather than at the bottom. I try not to think too much about going for my fifth consecutive title because you can’t think about the outcome you just have to take it match by match. Every match is difficult so I’m looking forward to the challenge and we’ll see how it goes.
“Tom and I are both competitive guys – he’s a youngster coming through and if he can get to the final it will be brilliant and if we could both get there it would be perfect. We’ve got to take each match as it comes, and we might not face each other. We’ll think about that if it happens but at the moment I’m just looking forward to each match.
“I can’t think about Paris yet. I just want to keep improving. I’ve got a way to go to be at my best but I’m going to keep training hard and think about each match as it goes.”
Romain Simon, 34, Leyton/Chigwell
Events: men’s singles class 3, men’s doubles class 4 (with Tom Matthews)
“I was surprised to be selected and it has given me great motivation. The coaches see something in me and sometimes I struggle to see it myself. It gives you renewed energy to know that people who know what they are talking about can see the potential in you. I just need to relax and show it.
“I’m very excited and proud that I’ve been given the opportunity to compete in front of friends and family. I’m a bit nervous but that is expected and I’m just going try the best I can and see what I can do. I’m at the stage where it is not really about trying to set myself goals to try and win medals because I’ve still got a lot to learn.
“At first I was a bit daunted about playing doubles with Tom because I didn’t want to let him down. He is very good at speaking to me during matches and just telling me to relax and focus on my strengths. It helps me to know that even if things are not going well, I have someone beside me who has confidence in me and says, ‘keep on doing what you’re good at’. I need to build off his energy and the more confident I feel the better it will be for both of us.”
Ross Wilson, 28, Minster/Sheffield
Events: men’s singles class 8, men’s doubles class 18 (with Joshua Stacey)
“I was really proud of how I played this season, taking back-to-back gold medals in the Czech Open and US Open. I picked up a bit of a hip injury during the Czech Open which is a bit frustrating but that is sport and I’m used to dealing with injuries now. So, it’s not been the best preparation for the Europeans, but it has been as good as I can do at the moment.
“Home championships are always special. London 2012 and Birmingham were both amazing events and I really hope this one is as well. Friends and family are coming along to watch, and you do this for so long it is nice for them to come along and see why you do all the hours of practice. Previously I’d probably have said I want medals but it’s a home championship and I’m just going to enjoy it. I’ll take each match as it comes and just try and have as much fun as I can and enjoy the experience.
“I definitely think my partnership with Josh has progressed this year and we’ve both been working hard. Josh is coming on in leaps and bounds and I’ve been putting the work in so we’re doing well and we’re in high spirits. Our form seems quite good so I’m looking forward to going out and competing with him.
“Paris is always a bit in your mind, but it is a nice thing to have there. If you can qualify for the Paralympic Games that in itself is very special so if I can do that and then go out to Paris and compete it will be an amazing achievement but right now, I’m just focused on the Europeans.”
Theo Bishop, 20, Rossendale/Sheffield
Events: men’s singles class 7
“It was hugely exciting to get selected. I wasn’t sure if I would be selected or not so as the day got closer, I was getting more and more nervous – I was trying to play it cool, but I don’t think I pulled it off. Now I can’t wait to play. To be honest the selection is a success in itself and at this stage in my career I’m mainly going for the experience so that in the coming years when I’m there for the medals it won’t be a big new stage that I’m not used to. I’ll have been there, done that and be able to bring out my best performances on the day.
“I’d say that I’m a highly motivated person anyway - I’m always trying to be the hardest working person in whatever room I am - but just to see that the coaches do believe in me is massive and makes me feel I’m going in the right direction and if I carry on doing what I’m doing then I can do what I believe I’m capable of doing.
“Most of my family are going to be away but my grandmother will be coming to watch me which is massive for me. Most of my life she’s lived in Ireland so she’s never seen me play and it will be exciting but nerve wracking for me because I want to show her what I can do, and it will be nice for her to be able to watch me.”
Tom Matthews, 31, Aberdare
Events: men’s singles class 1, men’s doubles class 4 (with Romain Simon)
“I’m really excited to compete in the Europeans – I think it’s my third or fourth one now. I usually do well in the majors, so I like to back myself and I think this time I need to win the gold – that ticket to Paris is very colourful and I want to get it. I’ve been working really hard in training with Neil (Robinson) my coach, working a lot on my psychology with Andy (BPTT team psychologist Andy Hill) and I’m feeling good going into it this time.
“The win in the Czech Open against Rob gives me massive confidence. Obviously, Rob is a big match player - he’s won a lot of tournaments, he’s been there and done it - so it was good to come out on top. We know each other’s games really well, but it gives me massive confidence going in and I feel that I have the edge after that win. Hopefully we can make it an all-GB final and I can win the gold. It’s always a close game between us both but we’ve got to take it match by match and see how it goes.
“I obviously train in Sheffield regularly with the full squad so it will feel like a home tournament. I think some friends and family will be coming and I’m excited to play in front of them and excited to see how it goes.
“In the doubles I’ve just got to be consistent and work with Romain. He’s quite a new player so it is a new partnership, but we’ve done two tournaments together and won a couple of matches, so it is just about getting confidence in each other, working with each other and working on communication. Romain is a really good player and I’m excited to play with him and hopefully we can take home a medal.”
Will Bayley, 35, Tunbridge Wells/Brighton
Events: men’s singles class 7, men’s doubles class 18 (with Ashley Facey), mixed doubles class 14 (with Bly Twomey)
“I’ve played a lot of matches this year which has helped me a lot and I feel I’ve had good, varied preparation for this tournament. Every match is going to be a big battle, but I feel really excited to play. It is a chance for my family to watch me and my friends and people who have supported me all my career to come and watch me so that’s why it makes it extra special for me.
“Every major competition means everything to me and I live for those moments and especially in front of a home crowd. I haven’t won the European title since 2011 so it is difficult to win these tournaments and I have to be at my very best to have a chance. I wouldn’t say I’m a better player in terms of my training level, but my match level is better and as high as it has ever been. I’ve always relied on work rate and aggression but now I’m getting a bit smarter and learning how to adapt my game and that has improved me.
“I take nothing for granted and I’ll be really focused for every match. I think that’s what I’ve improved the most in the last few years - not getting too carried away thinking about winning a tournament just taking it one step at a time and trying to get through the rounds. It’s going to be very tough and there are some amazing players who all want to beat me. To win the Europeans at home would be probably one of the best moments of my career.
“Bly is an amazing player, and she would be amazing without me. She is so good to work with and she actually motivates me because she is training so hard. She is really hungry and really wants to win so it makes me motivated, and I owe a lot to her. I sometimes forget she is 13. To be playing at this level as a 13-year-old is amazing and there is no way I could have been anywhere near her level when I was 13. We’re just going to have fun and enjoy every single minute.”