Table Tennis Ireland and Ulster are saddened to learn of the death of Steve Tracey, former international player, from cancer, at the early age of 67.
I had the pleasure of knowing Steve from his beginnings at Mount YM, when he seemed to be just another promising junior. His career in Ireland lasted less than 3 years in the early 1970s but he packed so much in to it. He left Mount, joined City YM, won a Belfast and District League title there in 1972/73 with Freddie Brown and Stewart Reilly, joined a new club at Movilla led by Cliff Thompson, and won the league there in 1973/74 with David Addy and Derek Weir.
His ability had begun to show in 1972, at the start of the year he was ranked 1 in Ulster and Ireland juniors, won the Irish Boys’ Open and the Ulster County Boys’ titles, and was picked on the junior inter-pro team which won gold.
1973 was his biggest year, he won the Ulster County Men’s title (retained in 1974), he beat Irish legend Tommy Caffrey in Ballymena, that result made him an automatic selection for the Senior inter-pro team. Again the team won gold, a feat which was repeated the following year, both times he won crucial matches.
That year Steve represented Northern Ireland in the Commonwealth Championships in Cardiff, with Cliff Thompson, Alistair Cairns, and Jimmy Wilson, and then his greatest honour, selection for Ireland in the World Championships in Sarajevo with Caffrey, Thompson, and Kevin Keane.
By November 1973 Steve was Ulster No.1 and Irish 3 behind Jim Langan and Caffrey.
In the early part of 1974 he won all 3 titles at the Fermanagh Open, beating Derek Weir in the semi and Alistair Cairns in the men’s final, and was runner-up to Caffrey in the Irish Closed, losing in 3 games.
Later that year he left for England, his local career was at an end, he played from time to time in the Yorkshire area, but never with the same enthusiasm or intensity. He was well-known in table tennis circles in the North of England, more than once in the early 2000s when I was at the British Veterans’ League I was approached – “Hey, you’re Irish, you must know Steve Tracey? What a character!” And they were right.
Away from table tennis, in his youth he played guitar, sang, and entertained with his dad round Belfast clubs. When he left Belfast he started a career in financial services and was very successful. He came home in 2018 but sadly was diagnosed with cancer in October 2020.
To conclude, those of us who remember Steve will never forget his trademark shot, known as the Riddler. Slightly back from the table he would hit the ball with obvious and exaggerated sidespin, but he would manage to disguise the spin so that the ball “broke” in the opposite direction, leaving the frustrated opponent floundering, feeling and looking foolish. No other Irish player has ever played this shot with such aplomb, accompanied of course with just the slightest smile – or possibly smirk!
Steve is survived by his wife Nataly and 2 daughters Nikol age 12 and Ayleen age 6, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family.
Ps – Nataly told me that Steve reckoned one of his proudest achievements was becoming a dad again at 60!
10th January 2022