YOU could tell a Cliff Booth player a mile off.

The perfect loop action, body behind the ball on the backhand, crisp chop, rolling push shot, standard smash.

Textbook table tennis. Regulation some might say.

Get two players trained by Cliff and you got a good match.

The best I ever saw was between Rob Freely and Steve Scowcroft in the final of the Bury Table Tennis tournament.

A packed Castle Leisure Centre was enthralled. The quality was amazing.

I played First Division in Bury and Bolton and for Bury in the Lancashire and Cheshire League, but they were playing a different game.

They, like me, had been trained by the great Cliff Booth at his little hut in Elton where he managed to cram in eight tables for the regular 25 to 30 players to practise on for two hours on a Monday and Friday.

For your 20p you also got five minutes with Cliff when he would hone your game to his methods.

The trouble with Cliff’s players – and it hurts me to say this because he was, and remains in my mind, something of a hero – was that they were not hard to play against.

Nothing unorthodox to mess with your mind. You knew what the player and the ball were going to do.

It was another story when you came up against non-Cliff players in a game, players with wooden bats or weird actions that seemed to give the ball a mind of its own.

Suddenly the easiest of shots would fly off the table or into the net.

I was reminded of this watching England in the World Cup.

Our players are Cliff Booth players. They’ve learned their football in professional club academies from the age of eight.

They do things in a standard, orthodox fashion. Regulation. And as a result they’re not hard to play against. Ask Costa Rica.

They have no street in them. Why should they? They never played in the street like those of us who honed our skills and style on the roads outside our houses for hours on end every day of our childhoods.

I’m not saying England were any better back then. But we were no worse either and at least we had the Frank Worthingtons, Tony Curries, Chris Waddles and Paul Gascoignes who gave the opposition something out of the ordinary to think about.