The formula for legendary status consists of two things: an unrivaled accomplishment and a contribution to future generations. Few players will achieve both within their careers. But one player who exemplified the winning formula was Irish Badminton Hall of Famer Frank Devlin.
Frank Devlin was born and raised in Dublin, Ireland. He’s famous for being one of the most successful badminton players at the All England Open Badminton Championships. With 18 All England titles, he’s the second-most successful All England player, next to Sir George Thomas. Frank Devlin also won the most Triple Crown victories at the All England Open, winning all three events in 1926, 1927, and 1929. Also among his achievements are four Irish Championships and two Scottish Open titles. Frank Devlin retired in 1931 following his 18th All England Victory and moved to Canada, then to the United States. He later returned to Ireland to coach future players and author several books on badminton tactics and techniques. In 1988, Frank Devlin passed away. Nearly a decade after his passing, he joined the second batch of inductees in the Badminton Hall of Fame.
Frank Devlin achieved much during his career and passed his knowledge on. Join me as we shine the spotlight on one of badminton’s greatest achievers and contributors — Frank Devlin!
Frank Devlin was born in Dublin, Ireland, on January 19, 1900. He belonged to a small family consisting of himself, his father, and his mother. Frank’s Devlin’s parents were instrumental in introducing badminton as the family played recreationally on their home’s lawn. In a memoir collected by the Badminton World Federation (BWF) Museum, Frank Devlin recollected playing badminton at the age of four with his father, mother, and aunt.
Frank Devlin loved badminton so much that a debilitating illness did little to prevent him from hitting a shuttlecock. When he turned 12, he received a diagnosis of osteomyelitis — a nearly incurable disease during the early 1900s.
Bedridden, Frank Devlin needed ways to pass the time. Given his inclinations for the racket and shuttlecock, it was only natural that Devlin gravitated to badminton.
Devlin would hit the shuttlecock hundreds of times toward his wall and to his heart’s content. However, his condition prevented him from using his entire body to generate force and momentum. It was during his bout with osteomyelitis that he discovered the use of the wrist.
Frank Devlin discovered that using the wrist didn’t just make generating power possible. It also allowed a badminton player to direct shots more effectively.
The effectiveness of his discovery didn’t just give him a new weapon to use on the court. It also planted the seed of thought that blossomed into a fascination with badminton’s technical side.
Eventually, Frank Devlin recovered from his affliction. Even though he lost 50% of one heel to osteomyelitis, his new insight would make him a force to be reckoned with on the courts.
The First World War did much to punctuate the growth of badminton from 1899. For this reason, he couldn’t play competitively until after World War 1.
His first outing was in 1921. Frank Devlin competed at the 1921 Irish International in the men’s doubles event. At the tournament, he paired up with fellow Irishman Robert Plews. The pair won the event, giving Frank Devlin his first badminton title.
In the same year, Frank Devlin also competed at the Scottish Open. He played in the men’s doubles event with R.A.J Goff and won the men’s doubles event. It was Frank Devlin’s first Scottish Open title — a title he’d defend two years later.
A year later, Frank Devlin debuted at the 1922 All England Open Badminton Championships. As he did at the 1921 Irish International and Scottish Open, he played in the men’s double event. His partner during his first All England Open was Guy Sautter, a Swiss-born badminton player of English nationality.
Devlin and Sautter won the men’s doubles event of the 1922 All England Open. Frank Devlin didn’t just win his first All England title. His victory also cemented his place in badminton history as the first Irish badminton player to win the title.
With Frank Devlin winning his first All England, he’d have his sights set on more titles and in different divisions.
A Dominant Run at the Irish Open
The Irish Open or Irish International is one of the tournaments Frank Devlin dominated in his early career. With his first title victory in 1921, he competed in more Irish Opens and other divisions besides men’s doubles.
After his Irish Open victory in 1921, Frank Devlin returned at the 1923 Irish International. In his return, he played in the mixed doubles event, pairing with E.F. Stewart. The Irish mixed doubles duo dominated the competition, winning the title. By winning, Frank Devlin chalked up his first mixed doubles title. It would also be his last mixed doubles title, with Devlin’s next Irish Open outings being in the singles events.
Frank Devlin returned as a singles badminton player at the 1924 Irish Open. Frank Devlin won the men’s singles event that year. He competed again as a singles player at the 1926 Irish Open, winning the title in a similar fashion.
In Devlin’s final year in competitive badminton, he partnered with Gordon Mack at the 1931 Irish Open in the men’s doubles event. Emerging victorious, Frank Devlin chalked up one last Irish Open title before he retired from the sport.
All in all, Frank Devlin held five Irish Open titles during his career. As well, he held titles at the prestigious open in different divisions. With four Irish Open titles to his name, Frank Devlin became one of the most successful players at the Open, alongside Sir George Thomas, Willoughby Hamilton, and Margaret Tragett.
Nine-year Dominance of the All England Open
After debuting and winning in 1922, Frank Devlin held dominance on the All England Open for nearly a decade. Within his career, he bagged 18 titles at the prestigious European tournament — the second-highest in the sport’s history. Frank Devlin also won titles in all three events.
Following his victory in 1922, Frank Devlin won the 1923 All England Open in the men’s doubles event. He won the men’s doubles title with fellow Irishman Gordon Mack. A year later, Frank Devlin returned at the 1924 All England to win the mixed doubles event with Kitty McKane.
In 1925, Frank Devlin won two events at the All England Open. With Kitty McKane, Frank Devlin dominated the mixed doubles event. Adding to his accolades for the tournament was his first All England singles title.
Winning two titles in an edition of the All England, Frank Devlin set out to claim a hat-trick victory at the 1926 All England. Winning the singles event, Devlin also bagged the men’s and mixed doubles titles that year.
Not only did Frank Devlin become the first player to achieve this feat. He also became the first player in history to do this three times! Frank Devlin successfully defended his Triple Crown title a year later and in 1929.
Nearing retirement, Frank Devlin won two titles at the 1931 All England. He won the singles event, along with the men’s doubles event. His title haul in 1931 brought his All England medal count to 18. With this many medals at the All England, Frank Devlin became one of the most dominant players in All England Open history.
Frank Devlin’s Retirement
After a title-filled run in 1931, Frank Devlin retired from competition. Nevertheless, he didn’t retire from the sport as he pursued other badminton-related passions following his retirement.
After his retirement, he went overseas. He traveled to Canada to take his knowledge of badminton and pass it on. His first stop was Winnipeg, Manitoba, where he coached for some time. Experiencing success in the Great White North, Frank Devlin took his craft stateside.
When Frank Devlin arrived in Baltimore, MD, he decided to coach full-time. He became one of the first full-time coaches in the history of the sport and a prolific one.
Coaching in the US, he moved back to Ireland to coach. But on top of coaching, Devlin took to writing as a way to convey his knowledge to a broader audience.
Frank Devlin the Writer
Frank Devlin then spent the next several decades writing books on badminton. Some of his books on tactics and badminton skill development became canon of the sport, particularly his 1937 magnum opus entitled “Badminton For All.”
In Badminton For All, Frank Devlin presented an in-depth look into the different ways to grip a racket. He also went into detail on topics of singles matches and footwork.
Devlin followed up his 1937 masterpiece with “Shortcuts To Good Badminton.” Frank Devlin wrote Shortcuts To Good Badminton to be a comprehensive guide to developing skills for the sport. He wrote it in 1939 with the avid badminton enthusiast in mind.
Much later into his coaching and writing career, Frank Devlin authored another masterpiece. In it, he combined all of his teachings into his past works into one comprehensive and illustrated guide. In 1973, Frank Devlin wrote “Sports Illustrated Badminton.”
Sports Illustrated Badminton outlines everything from Badminton For All but with an added section on doubles play. Along with the strategies mentioned in Shortcuts To Badminton, illustrations of movements and equipment are included in Sports Illustrated Badminton. Frank Devlin also wrote about the conditions that make for an ideal badminton court.
Besides authoring some of the most detailed guides on badminton, Frank Devlin was also a renowned content contributor for early badminton publications. The most famous publication he wrote for was the Badminton Gazette.
Death and Hall of Fame Induction
Well into his 80s, Frank Devlin balanced life as a coach and as an author. He passed away on October 27, 1988, at the age of 88.
After his passing, his legacy lived on in his unparalleled accomplishments and canonical works. He also lived on through his daughters, Judy and Susan, who took after their father, dominating the All England on six occasions in the women’s doubles event.
In 1997, Frank Devlin posthumously joined a select group of legends by being one of the inductees into the Badminton Hall of Fame. Alongside him were fellow inductees Ralph Nichols and fellow Irishman, Major John McCallum. Also among the inductees was his daughter Judy Devlin-Hasman.
Frank Devlin: Successful in the British Isles, Impactful the World Over
Frank Devlin’s dominance of the All England Open is the stuff of legend. Unbeatable in his decade-long professional career, Frank Devlin will forever hold achievements that may remain unrivaled. His nine-year dominance of the All England and his hat-trick Triple Crown victories will be feats today’s players may not be able to achieve.
However, beyond his success in the British Isles, Frank Devlin made significant contributions to badminton felt the world over. As an author and coach, Frank Devlin was instrumental in the technical evolution of badminton. Through his books and the players he has coached, there’s no doubt that Frank Devlin influenced badminton after his retirement and passing.
A success in his career and a great teacher outside of it, Frank Devlin is a pioneer of the sport.
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