Alex_MurdochJanuary 17 - The English Table Tennis Association has urged spectators to spare a thought for volunteers at the 66th Pro Tour English Open Championships later this month.

The 150 die-hards who make the competition happen will see very little of the action as they carry out a range of tasks, from showing fans to their seats to sorting out often complex transport arrangements and even umpiring.

A team of results people will also work well into the night to make sure everything is in order for the start the following morning.

"Volunteers are vital to any big event such as this one," said ETTA Chairman Alex Murdoch (pictured).

"Without them there wouldn't be an English Open, that's for sure.

"The hours they put in are priceless, with many of them taking days off work to be part of this major event.

"Because they often take on backroom jobs, it's easy to forget what an important part they play - we owe them a huge vote of thanks."

The championships, voted the best in the world in 2009, take place at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield from January 26-30.

Around 255 players from 44 different countries will converge on the city from all parts of the world.

Champions China will be sending a particularly strong squad including their men's and women's champions.

The host nation will have the largest contingent with 29 players and England's number one Paul Drinkhall heading the medal charge.

In contrast a single entry has been received from Guatemala.

Referee Stuart Sherlock will have a real headache overseeing 500 matches from qualifying rounds to the final - in all 2,500 games.

All his qualified umpires will have their eyes peeled as 42,000 points are won and lost.

During the five days of competition 500 table tennis balls will be used, and 8,000 bottles of water and hundreds of bananas will be consumed by players and officials.

And of course the players will be aiming for a share of $172,000 (£108,000) prize money.

Jill Hammersley (now Parker) was the last English player to win the women's title which she did twice in 1978/79 and 1979/80.

Alison Gordon and partner Jill Grundy took the women's doubles title in 1985/86.

Desmond Douglas and Denis Neale won the men's doubles title in 1975/76 and Douglas was the last Englishman to win the singles title in 1983/84.

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