Commonwealth Games -
random thoughts from afar ...
adverse publicity the media conjured up prior to the Games,
once that had subsided they hardly seemed interested in
events in India.
Maybe the forthcoming Olympics overshadowed it, but from
everything I have heard from athletes who have been part of
the Commonwealth Games it has a special feel to it that the
Olympics does not have.
It must have been heartbreaking for India's Dipika
Pallikal to have been ill during the Games in her own
country, especially as her mixed doubles partnership with
Saurav Ghosal had been showing so much promise.
Doubles at world level is clearly a problem;
it is not pretty to watch and the mixed, with its
maybe misguided preference for playing on the woman player
is the worst of the three. However with gold medals at stake
it is hardly surprising that players do what they have to do
or think that they have to do.
Kasey Brown, improving fast, withstood a relentless
battering in some of her matches and no-one will deny her
right to gold. Joelle King was another girl to emerge
with much credit and her gold in the women's with partner
Jackie Hawkes was well deserved too.
If any Olympic representatives watched the Doubles I would
doubt if they were impressed, even for 2020-not that I
Several viewers have said to me that the Palmer-Willstrop
match had everything, but I'm not sure
that would have impressed Olympic chiefs either with the
altercations and difficult playing conditions - the squash
was good though.
Nicol David looked supreme, as she is, and the
quality of her squash from her early days is not
recognisable. With her unquestioned athleticism she looks
the complete package, standing with the best women players
of all time.
Special credit goes to Joey Barrington and sidekick Paul
Johnson for their sustained enthusiasm and commentaries.
How they maintained their standard covering all the matches
I will never know, but they did. Just how like Jonah does
Joey sound and laugh? Not surprisingly he couldn't match his
old man playing, but he has a chance commentating,
though Jonah's special at that too. No doubt they
will hear criticism of their efforts - commentators can't
please everyone, but they can take it from me they did well.
England's current outstanding crop of players can be well
pleased with their two golds, three silvers and a bronze and
had Alison Waters stayed fit it might have been even better
- sad for her to have to withdraw.
Some of the Pontefract supporters have just returned with
stories of how difficult it was to get tickets to get in to
see the squash. Apparently intervention by Daryl Selby and
Saurav Ghosal managed to persuade the security to let them
in on one occasion. Small wonder the stadium was not full.
Back to Harlem
recent visit to Harlem's Streetsquash was triggered
off at the Tournament of Champions 2010 when I first met
some of the children who benefit from the system and Sage
Ramage, who is one of the prime movers, George
Polsky being the man whose brainchild it is.
Impressed as I was, I visited Streetsquash to work with some
of the children, Rakey, Lizzie and Artheu and returned the
following day with James, he to do a question and answer
session. I to work again.
Negotiations began with Sage to visit for a longer stay in
the summer and as James and Vanessa were already in America
in Colorado, training, they were happy to join me to work
with the children.
in New York on the Sunday I began work on Monday, James and
Vanessa arriving on Monday and working with me from then on.
One thing none of us had bargained for was that New York was
in the throes of a heatwave, temperatures of over 100
degrees and very humid to boot. Even the locals were
struggling and England's 70 plus , which I had left behind,
now seemed distinctly chilly.
Staying at the Harvard Club reminded me of the RAC club,
James has managed now to get turned away in both the
aforementioned institutions from breakfast for breaches of
the dress code! Staying at the Harvard Club and working in
Harlem reflects the extremes that is New York. It has to be
said though, that the funding to create the 8 court complex
was provided by members of such clubs, a strange but
After 8 years of existence, it became possible, thanks to
many sponsorships and benefactors, to build the excellent
complex that is Streetsquash. Although built round squash,
the programme caters very much for the children's academic
needs too-the whole person in fact. That is its strength and
the results are impressive, students gaining places at
The work we did was not always simple and trying to educate
any players in unfamiliar coaching methods at any time is by
no means an easy task. But there were some immediate returns
as the children quickly adapted.
was soon quickly realising that coaching is more difficult
and harder work than she imagined, whereas James, having
assisted in his earlier days at Pontefract, was probably
On one night James played Julian Illingworth and Vanessa
played Natalie Grainger for the children to watch at
Streetsquash and the men repeated the dose at Julian's club
the next night.
Eating out with Vanessa's friend Claudia and several of her
family, with George's father and mother, Richard and
Virginia and Jerry Coe, one time stand up comedian and
friend, were pleasurable aspects of the venture, as was a
visit to a show on Broadway, based round the songs of Frank
James and Vanessa left on Saturday, as James had
Commonwealth squad commitments in Manchester and I soldiered
on ,leaving on a heavily delayed flight on Monday.
We all hope our visit to Steetsquash proved valuable and I
hope in the future that it may prove possible to have some
of the children here for a culture shock. Thanks to Sage for
all his hard work to make it all possible and to the
children for coping with what must have been a heavy
experience. It was one of those times, when looking back, it
will be remembered and the hope will be that some good came
out of it.
Return to Norfolk
The ten years I spent at Gresham's school, Holt: Gawain
Briars, Richard Le Lievre, Christy Willstrop, John Cordeaux
and Richard Millman were products of that era-brought about
a recent visit to celebrate the upgrading of the Gresham's
courts and to further an impetus which Dr. Ben Aldiss, a
relatively new member of staff, has created.
At his invitation myself, James and David [Campion] headed
for Norfolk the day before we were due to work and our first
port of call was to Blakeney to see the School's famous
Headmaster, Logie Bruce Lockhart, Scotland Rugby
international, Cambridge Squash blue amongst many other more
scholastic achievements. In fact, when interviewed for the
job at Gresham's we played squash. Much to his late wife
Jo's delight I beat him, apparently the first interviewee to
do so. I suppose it could have cost me the job, but happily
Approaching ninety his brilliant mind was as alert as ever
and he was also in excellent physical shape, up and down
plying us with drink as fast as we could cope. Stories were
recounted of those heady sporting days: Nick Youngs and Nick
Chesworth, the England Under 19 half backs; Richard Leman of
Olympic gold winning fame; Gawain Briars and it was clear
that Logie followed James's career too.
On the coastal route to Sheringham now to our hosts, Jane
and Martin Pearse, their children Laura and Jack a wonderful
advertisement for their mother, but also for Gresham's where
they once attended. More wine and lots of fun and laughter
as Martin regaled us with stories of his schooldays at
Framlingham and his endless financial ventures. The ladies
of the house restored the class and after the journey and
the wine, sleeping was no problem!
So to the next morning and we were invited to the Gresham's
assembly at 8.25am where Ben had asked us to address the 600
strong gathering - a daunting prospect perhaps, but both
James and myself spoke and the audience was respectful, even
those that may not have been interested.
We managed, before coaching, to squeeze in a visit to North
Walsham, where we spent three and a half years with Lesley,
where James was born and where David went to school.
Back to Gresham's and fifteen boys and girls from the Junior
school were waiting for us. Mannered and several of them
very athletic, we all felt that progress was made and the
children thanked us, hopefully a little wiser about squash
and at least the experience might have increased their
desire to play. Another group in the afternoon after lunch,
older children this time and then hotfoot to Lime Tree Road,
Norwich, where I coached six more players, whilst David and
James prepared for the evening's entertainment before a sell
James played club professional David Youngs, who was
outplayed but not out talked; David played county champion
Ian Cox; doubles followed and then James and David played,
after which they held a question and answer session. David,
needing to be in Worcester the next day and I set off home
on the 3 hour journey: James back to Sheringham, before
flying the next morning to Edinburgh from Norwich to play an
exhibition for Lisa McKenna in aid of prostrate cancer,
which raised 3000 pounds.
No peace for the wicked, did I hear someone say? We all
enjoyed it, hope the game of squash benefited in some small
way and thank everyone who made it possible.
Lost for Words will provide the music, James
Willstrop and Joey Barrington the squash when the
roadshow resumes at Abingdon Squash Club on Saturday
It is a while since the band performed, mainly because of
the unavailability of Squash players in the frenetic first
half of the season.
Joey makes his first appearance, and happily for Abingdon
and Guy Tupper, who has masterminded the night, Diane
Charlemagne will be singing, supported by Andy Procter, Joni
Tuson and James.
Sylvan directs the music as always and original band
members,Paul Farr and Andy Kingslow will be in action.Only
Stafford Murray, on Commonwealth business and Martin
Sunderland on a stag holiday-if that is the right term-are
Projected nights for the band include one for the English
Deaf Association and one for The Injured Jockeys Fund ,both
of which just need suitable dates .Kieran Fallon and Hayley
Turner are both keen squash players and it is hoped they
will be available.
Lost opportunity for 2010
Since winning medals is what the Olympics are all about, how
bad it now looks for England's medal winning prospects that
in 2012 in London there will be no squash.
With Nick Matthew, Jenny Duncalf, James Willstrop and Alison
Waters all ranked in the top five in the world and all young
enough to be there in 2012, medals would be probable rather
Apart from the politicising of the Olympic Committee - Tiger
Woods didn't do them any favours, and I am sure he was the
reason golf was included - did the English Olympic Committee
have any input or as is more likely, were they not aware how
good England are at squash?
I find it unimaginable that the Chinese would not have
managed somehow to get a sport included in Beijing, if they
had realistic medal chances.
It's a great shame that squash is not included in London:
apart the medal prospects, the game meets all the Olympic
requirements of universality and involvement of children, as
well as being one of the most demanding sports in the world.
The medals too would have meant a great deal to the players,
hardly so for the tennis players and unlikely to be so for
the golfers. The sport has lost the financial support that
goes to Olympic sport, which would have helped to develop
the game at all levels, from children and grass roots to
professional standard and England has certainly lost chances
Ponte still top in Yorkshire
Here was a Yorkshire Premier League match to savour: James
Willstrop looking for match play, Adrian Grant happy to
oblige, David Campion and Lee Beachill lined up and,,
Vanessa Atkinson and Madeline Perry, not to mention James
Earles against Adam Auckland and new English under 17
champion Matthew Siddaway against George Wileman.
Little wonder that Pontefract squash club was packed.
Aspiring youngsters, Sam Todd, Ben Beachill, Emma Campion
and Ellen Cooper were up long after their bedtime,
Vanessa, playing very well after recent successes won the
first two very tight games against Madeline and the third
much more easily and Lee and David gave a delightful
exhibition of pure racket skills, at a slower pace than when
in their prime, but great to watch, before Lee edged home
3/1,neither looking as if a fifth was their preference!
James Earles beat Adam a tight 3/1 and George played well
after recent injuries to beat Matthew 3/1.
Adrian competed well against James for two games, but found
a tendonitis problem too much from then on.
A comprehensive win for Pontefract to keep them at the top
of the league, but nowhere near as comprehensive as 5-0
would indicate. No hint of dispute at any time, some top
class squash from world class stars to those with
potential-nights such as this make it all worthwhile.
Malcolm Who ???
Having spent time recently listening to and hearing about
one of the great egotists of modern times, whatever danger -
none, I hope - there was of me joining him has now
On my way to the London Open, to ask directions, I rang the
professional ,who had organised the event at the Cumberland
Lawn Tennis and Squash club.
I announced my name, which clearly meant nothing to him,
then spelt it for him. It still meant nothing to him. I was
reduced to saying I was James Willstrop's father. Again a
On return to Pontefract I rang the Squash marketing division
at Hi Tec to order some shoes, having been contracted to
them longer than I can remember. The main man asked me to
spell my name and then checked he'd got the spelling right.
Again, desperate, I said I was James Willstrop's father.
I think I may have to present myself with an award, chosen
The next time I get stopped by a copper, I certainly won't
be saying "Don't you know who I am?"
Fair Play ...
Maybe I'm old-fashioned, of a bygone era, when money wasn't
the god of sport, when doping wasn't so prevalent, when
sport was a contest between equal parties.
But it's hard to believe that the way some sports, one in
particular, are is a good example to children or to adults
for that matter. The worst sport of all, and there is no
doubt about that, is soccer, which lurches from one crisis
to another: Millwall v West Ham; Eduardo and his diving,
Adebayor, gloating and goading, one after the other; manna,
of course to the media, whose last interest, it seems is to
The sad thing about soccer is that, with the
disproportionate coverage it is given, it could do so much
good. Athletics and cycling are scarred by drugs, so that
you are never sure what you are watching; cricket has its
mindless and often distasteful sledging, though the present
Australian seem a much more pleasant bunch; motor racing has
its contrived crashes and Rugby Union has done itself no
good with its blood scandal. Even in Rugby league players
are talking more to the referees, when in the past they
never did and the referees are not dealing with it as they
Unbelievably Roger Federer lapsed in the US Open. So where
does it all lead us? Do we accept it all, like Platini, who
said that diving is acceptable or as one football
commentator said "That was a good foul" and say that is how
Or should coaches stand up for fair play, respect for
officials, good behaviour on and off the field, controlling
of the excuse for everything in soccer 'passion' and hope
that children are better people for that.
Naive though I may be, I will have to stick to the latter.
Disappointing, therefore, at the British Open final, it was
when Nick Matthew accused his opponent of blocking and asked
him if I had taught him to block. Disappointing, too, in his
winner's speech, that he said he hadn't played well and
referred to his back problems, which had been well
chronicled; all this when he could afford to be gracious.
The final left me despondent: the disruptions, the repeated
confrontations with officials, the repeated mouthings, the
incredible dive...what is it all about?
As Tony Smith, the Warrington and England coach, who was
there, said to me later, "If winning has to be achieved at
such a cost, it was better to be the loser" and he is a
coach I respect above all others, a man who talks about
performance and sets standards.
I hope there are some - I suspect they will all be old-who,
like me, think that sport played in such a way is valueless.
The even sadder thing is that it could have been so good, an
example to all the children watching. Sadly it wasn't.
British Open Finals
It was Nick Matthew who won the British Open for the
second time when he beat James Willstrop 12/10 in the fifth
after a final of brutal physical dimensions and no little
skill and precision.
Willstrop, who lost last year's final 13/11 in the fifth,
must be wondering what he has done to offend the gods, or
whether the sins of his father are being visited upon him.
Matthew's form against Peter Barker and Willstrop's against
Amr Shabana suggested that the final would be worth
watching, and so it proved.
Willstrop it was who took a fiercely contested first game,
seeming now to have rid himself of the slow starts that have
characterised his return from injury, but trading blow for
blow, every rally crucial, Matthew levelled at one all.
As the intensity increased there were frequent disruptions
of play on Matthew's part which, largely unchecked by the
officials, led to the flow of the match being broken. If
these disruptions were intentional, they did not have the
desired effect, since Willstrop remained detached and
focused and took a 2-1 lead.
But again Matthew, as he does, fought back, went clear in
the fourth and won it comfortably 11/3.
So the stage was set for the deciding fifth, with Matthew
disrupting less, the flow and quality of the match resumed,
reaching top world levels.
With the momentum of the fourth, Matthew took a substantial
lead, but Willstrop fought back ah he can too, and reached
match ball at 10/9, It eluded him though and it was Matthew
who took the title 12/10.
Last year Willstrop was robbed of the title by an incredible
refereeing error, not the David Palmer fluked winner Robert
Edwards would have us believe. This time he will for various
reasons feel equally aggrieved.
The champion's resolve and acquired skill make him one of,
if not the hardest players in the world to beat and if he
had adopted his Clint Eastwood approach and said nothing,
the two hour match would have been hailed as a classic and
he would have won universal, rather than partial approval.
He will be happy enough to be British Open champion though,
and Willstrop will retrospectively recognise how well he has
played in Manchester and that he is back where he belongs.
Grinham in control
Rachael Grinham's craft and subtlety brought an end to
Madeline Perry's wonderful run, which saw her dethrone the
supreme Nicol David and beat the in-form Alison Waters.
Gone was the straightforwardness and physicality of her
great wins, as Grinham weaved her spell, changing the pace,
deceptive, using the angles tellingly.
Grinham was always in control as she broke up the pattern of
Perry's game, and she enhanced her already marvelous British
Odds 'n Ends
Since the days of Jim Quigley, Yawar Abbas and Nicky
Moloney, the warmth and friendliness of the Manchester
tournaments is not quite the same, which is a pity. The
courtside introductions were protracted and some of the
interviews inappropriately timed, but there was plenty to
take from the squash, especially if you are English – a
winner and five semi-finalists.
It was good to see Ross Norman again, just how fit does he
look – he doesn't appear to have changed since those distant
days of the Stockton Open.
The squash supporter, Ellery Hanley, Rugby League legend,
was there as usual, having put on a pound or two at last,
and Tony Smith, Warrington and England RL coach, fresh from
his Wembley success was there too.
Pontefract were there in large numbers in support of their
man and disappointed though I'm sure they were, they didn't
let it show.
British Open Semi-finals
The pecking order in both the men's and women's British Open
in Manchester has been seriously challenged and James
Willstrop added to the disruption by dismantling Amr
Shabana, not only the best player in the world in recent
times, but the man in form.
Willstrop's comeback from an ankle operation in May has gone
well enough and there were signs in his 3/0 win over Azlan
Iskandar that he was coming back to his best.
The first game was quality and contested, but Willstrop
controlled it in the later stages and the second confirmed
in a similar fashion with the Englishman looking
increasingly dominant. There didn't appear to be any way
back for Shabana from 2/0 down, especially after his match
with David Palmer, with Willstrop playing as well as he was.
Shabana obviously thought so too and he offered no
resistance in the third, losing it 11/1. Never having won
the British Open and being the wondrous player he is, it was
disappointing that he didn't offer more in the third and it
was sad that the crowd saw him in such a light.
Willstrop deservedly won a place in a third British open
final and he will be hoping, that whatever happens, he will
not be robbed of the title, as he was last year.
Nick Matthew will make up an all English final for
the first time in over 70 years and despite back problems,
he was very impressive in disposing of Peter Barker, who had
his moment of glory beating Gregory Gaultier. In truth
Barker never looked likely to win. He spent the match at the
back of the court and was only in front when Matthew took
With Matthew hitting accurately and purposefully, Barker
could never assert himself and after a hard first game, it
became easier and easier for the English number one.
An all England women's final looked a strong possibility,
but whereas the men delivered, Jenny Duncalf and Alison
Waters came up short. Duncalf has had the best of recent
encounters with Rachael Grinham, but it was the
experience of the Australian which told and she won 3/1
leaving Duncalf disappointed and later seeking anonymity
under her cap.
Nor will Alison Waters be happy with her performance, since
at no stage did she look in control. Madeline Perry
deserves immense credit. Having achieved the seemingly
impossible the day before, it is not easy to pick up again.
But Perry did, finding confidence and resolution from
beating the world's best. She won 3/1 and no one will
begrudge her her place in the final after her effort here.
So to the finals, in which a clairvoyant would have done
well to name the four players. What odds for no Shabana, no
Gaultier and no Nicol David playing tonight?
That doesn't mean the crowd will be short changed: Matthew
and Willstrop are up with the best and both looked in fine
form. Their matches rarely fail to produce and they have
much to play for.
Perry will be eager to capitalise on the bonus of having
reached the final, surely unexpected when she had David in
her path. Whether she can adjust to the craft of Grinham
after the direct pace of David and Waters may well be the
British Open 2009 - 12-Sep, Quarters
rarely fail to deliver at top class professional events and
it's a pity there was no representative of the IOC to see
what the British Open offered in Manchester yesterday.
A major shock, a surprise at least, sporting quality of the
highest class and high excitement. It all demanded a bigger
stage, but did not stop the crowd having a day to remember.
Madeline Perry's win over the world's top woman was
the shock and from 2-0 down she didn't lose faith, won a
15/13 tiebreak game to stay in the match, enough to plant
seeds of doubt in David's mind. As the end drew near, the
doubts in each of them were plainly etched on their faces –
one wondering if the win were possible, the other staring
unthinkable defeat in the face.
David saved two match balls in the decider, but throwing
doubt and caution to the wind Perry smacked the next serve
into the crosscourt nick and that was that!
She will face the onwards and upwards Alison Waters, who
staved off a strong challenge from qualifier Donna Urquhart,
who will be well pleased with her efforts.
Similarly both Jenny Duncalf and Rachael Grinham
had to keep up their work to beat Vanessa Atkinson and Laura
Massaro, both 3/1.
Perry's win was a shock; Peter Barker's impressive
win over Gregory Gaultier was also a surprise, though, with
Barker's sustained improvement, not a major one. Now
embedded in the top 10, athletic and persistent, a
worthwhile combination, Barker made life difficult for
Gaultier, raised the Frenchman's doubts and in the end
achieved the win that throughout looked the more likely
In an all English Semi-Final Barker will play Nick
Matthew, who, despite a troublesome back, has, much to
his credit, reached the last four with some ease. He saw off
Daryl Selby, who is another who will be pleased with his
efforts in Manchester, 3/0.
Despite all this the match of the day and of the
championship so far, was that between Amr Shabana and
David Palmer, two players with widely differing records
at the British Open. Shabana, playing as well as ever, led
1-0 and 10-7, but then made a couple of errors, which seemed
to remind Palmer, if he needed it, why he was there.
Although the Australian lost the game on a 14/12 tiebreak,
he ran away with the third 11/4 to put himself firmly back
in the match.
The fourth game was monumental, worth at least two games and
probably more. The quality was at the highest world levels
and sustained. Neither player, though they defended for
their lives, had a negative thought in his head. the crowd
could hardly believe what they were watching and when
Shabana won it 19/17 after 86 minutes, they cheered and
applauded in admiration and appreciation.
An hour and a half behind schedule- in James Willstrop's
case for the second night in a row- he and Azlan Iskandar
had to follow two epics. To their credits they did a good
enough job. Willstrop looked back to his best, moving
fluently and more confidently, and Iskandar, despite his
hard fought win over Thierry Lincou the day before, battled
hard. Willstrop was always in control, though, and won in
So to the semi Finals:
Shabana v Willstrop
Matthew v Barker
Perry v Waters
Duncalf v Grinham
Sometimes it's difficult, the next match, after such a win
as Perry had and Waters is in high form. Perry's resilience
may be the major factor. Duncalf has done well against
Grinham in recent times and an all England final is not
Matthew and Barker will provide one English Finalist and the
outcome is no foregone conclusion for the England's No.1-
his back will need to be in order.
Nor is Willstrop without a chance. He played well last night
and though Shabana is the best player in the world
currently, his match with Palmer was heavy.
I hope I appreciate all players regardless of their
Nationality, but England should delight in their five Semi
Finalists, not forgetting Northern Ireland's representative,
British Open 2009 - 11-Sep, Last 16
It seemed oddly regressive to be in the smaller venue at
Manchester for the British Open, but with things as they
are, I suppose we should be grateful that the championship
is being played.
The last 16, despite the absence of Ramy Ashour, with the
top half of the draw looking heavier than the bottom,
provided appetising fare.
Daryl Selby always seemed in control against Adrian
Grant and only when Grant went 2-0 down did he seem to
realise how desperate his plight was. He won the third, but
Selby still looked the more likely winner and he won the
fourth to take the match 3/1.
Nick Matthew will be his quarter-final opponent and
the England no 1 coasted to victory over Cameron Pilley, who
was not helped by a swollen ankle, a result of his match
with Farhan Mehboob.
Nor did Peter Barker ever look at risk against Ong
Beng Hee. He won 3/0 without being seriously threatened,
countering everything the Malaysian could throw at him.
Holder David Palmer and Wael El Hindi was sure to be
heavyweight and so it proved. El Hindi led 2/1 before Palmer
fought back, eventually winning the fifth a touch
Palmer will now face Amr Shabana, remarkably not a
British Open champion. He began lethargically against
Alister Walker, lost the first, but then recovered to win
the next three with something in hand.
Another five setter followed when Azlan Iskandar won
in the fifth, after Thierry Lincou had had chances to win it
3/1. Lincou doesn't lose many in such situations and
Iskandar will be pleased with the big win.
He will play James Willstrop, who profited from Karim
Darwish having to retire with an ankle injury in the second
game. Willstrop began slowly, as Darwish did quickly, but
from 7-1 down in the first he got involved, losing the game
to 5 and leading 4-2 in the second when the top seed turned
So the quarter-final lineup is: Willstrop v Iskandar,
Shabana v Palmer, Matthew v Selby, Gaultier v Barker – four
Englishmen, one each from France, Egypt, Malaysia and
Iskandar will have to deal with the effects of a long match
against a fresh Willstrop; Shabana, on current form the
world's best, as he has been for a long time, will surely be
eager to win a British Open title, as Palmer will be to
defend his title and Open record.
Selby will find Matthew a lot more problematic than was
Grant, but he is not to be underestimated, and Barker, who
looks well, will relish the challenge of Gregory Gaultier.
As usual a fascinating lineup with plenty of English
interest and plenty to prove for all eight.
There have been several highly competitive matches in the
women's event and they move from the Northern to
Sportcity for the first time today. The quarter-final lineup;
Nicol David v Madeline Perry, Alison Waters v Donna
Urquhart, Vanessa Atkinson v Jenny Duncalf, Rachael Grinham
v Laura Massaro.
Lesley Willstrop doubles
in aid of the Robert Ogden MacMillan cancer trust
at St. James Hospital, Leeds
Perhaps the IOC should have been at Pontefract for the
Lesley Willstrop Doubles. If the three days of action did
not impress them that squash was worthy of Olympic
inclusion, nothing would.
From five year old Ben Beachill, the youngest of many
young players involved in the Men's, Women's and Mixed
categories, to sadly myself at the other end of the scale,
the whole range was covered.
Twice and current Commonwealth Doubles champion, Lee
Beachill, partnered Ben, Lauren Siddall, Deon
Saffery, James Earles, Kirsty McPhee and
Canada's John Cox and Hollie Naughton, all
have had international recognition and with such as Sam
and George Wileman, Katie Smith and Jack
Cooper in the draws, there was no lack of quality.
Rod Erridge, from York RI, as he always does, brought
a contingent from York in support. Other notables in
attendance on finals night were Vanessa Atkinson,
Simon Parke and Jayne, Sarah Kippax and David
Campion. Sam Wileman, who was later to entertain on the
dance floor with Kirsty McPhee, was the squash star of the
show, winning the Men's with James Earles and the Mixed with
girlfriend Deon Saffery.
The Ladies title went to Lauren Siddall and the promising
young Canadian Hollie Naughton, who has been training at
Pontefract for the past six weeks and who is under the care
of the famous Mike Way, long time coach of Jonathan
Power. In the plate competitions 15 year old Stuart Waugh
was on the winning team twice, with Katie Smith in the Mixed
and Jack Cooper in the Men's.
The squash on all three nights was played in a fitting
spirit and Kathryn Campion, Lesley's grand-daughter
and Libi Beecroft turned up in unlikely costumes for
one of their matches, a trend quickly followed by others,
including Sam Wileman and James Earles, eager to show off
their muscular development.
There was universal agreement that the event was comparable
with anything previously held at the club. James
Willstrop, amongst his preparations for a hectic
September, masterminded the event, with support from all
Terry Dudley, the king of tournament directors.
Josie Walsh, negotiator in chief with sponsoring
Barclay's Bank, Martin Sunderland of Lost for Words,
who ran the varied and excellent musical entertainment,
Bev Bertram, who established contact with St.James
hospital and John Whitfield, who provided several
raffle prizes, were all major contributors.
Top auction items were tickets to Snow Patrol in Manchester,
4 badges to St Leger day provided by Channel 4's racing
expert Jim McGrath and a long weekend holiday in the
Czech Republic. Feature of the musical entertainment was a
wonderful unaccompanied impromptu rendition of Elvis
Presley's "If I could dream" by Andy Procter, another
member of Lost for Words, which brought the club to complete
Alan Norrish's Elvis, which is as good as it gets and
Angie Abbott's outrageously funny "It should have been me".
Men's: Sam Wileman and James Earles beat James Fender
and Mark Swift: Women's: Lauren Siddall and Hollie Naughton
beat Marie Elcock and Jess Hunter; Mixed: Sam Wileman and
Deon Saffery beat Alan Norrish and Kirsty McPhee.
Plate winners; Men's: Jack cooper and Stuart Waugh: Women's:
Keeley Grindle and Angie Abbott: Mixed: Stuart Waugh and
Lee Campion, Lesley's eldest son presented the
Five for James but Selby so close ...
Mike Hallam and his team may have had problems putting
together his invited eight: Stewart Boswell, the unfortunate
Chris Simpson and Jonathan Kemp all having injuries, but he
still managed to put together a draw which had four times
previous winner James Willstrop and England teammate
Daryl Selby at 1 and 2.
The first round, on Friday night went according to plan,
except that the ever enthusiastic Scott Handley, not
long recovered from a groin operation, beat Ireland's
John Rooney 3-1 to set up a semi final line up of
Willstrop v Chris Ryder and Selby v Handley.
Unusually, and it's not something the players would relish,
especially in warm conditions on an orthodox court, the semi
finals and final are played on the same day.
Willstrop and Ryder were first on and not for the first time
since his comeback the top seed found himself playing
catch-up: Rosner in Tai Pei,2-1 down, Ashour H in Malaysia
2-0 down and once more he survived, winning the last two
11-5,11-7, as Ryder, who played well and persisted, as he
does, tired a little.
Selby was not quite as hard pressed, but he had to keep up
to the mark, as Handley won the first and only lost the
third on a tie break. Selby won the fourth 11-5, but in view
of his recent operation, Handley played remarkably well and
with his usual professionalism.
So the final was according to seeding and to most people's
expectations, but by no means easily reached. It was clearly
of interest to see how much earlier exertions would affect
matters. Willstrop had the harder time in the semis, but a
longer rest period, so there probably wasn't much in it.
John White, David Evans, Mark Chaloner and Nick Taylor are
all previous winners of the event, but Willstrop was bidding
for his 5th win at a club, where everyone is made to feel
welcome, but where he has a special relationship, built up
over many years of participation.
He began sharply and in a well-contested first game he had
Sufficient control to deserve a 1-0 lead. Although he made
the willing and able Selby work hard, Willstrop did not
convert that superiority into the score-dangerous at high
level sport- and Selby, playing well himself, led 2-1,
though he had worked the harder.
The pair have mutual respect from long association and the
match was played in commendable spirit-often not the case in
sport these days-every ball played even under duress, so
that referee John Masarella, still in credit crunch
after daughter Jayne's wedding to Simon Parke, had little to
do except enjoy it all.
Nor was the quality or intensity lessened by the spirit in
which the match was played. There were signs that Selby's
efforts were beginning to tell and midway through the fourth
Willstrop drew away to win it 11-5 and level the match. At
this stage he looked the more likely winner, but still he
could not convert his advantages, much of that down to his
opponent's sustained resistance, and he found himself 9-6
down in the fifth.
Summoning all he could from recent experiences, he then put
together five quality rallies to win the match 11-9.
It had been a final worthy of the sponsor's and the
organiser's efforts: the players were happy with the quality
of the match and the manner in which they conducted
themselves was admirable and good for the game. The full
house crowd loved every minute of it. David Service,
the sponsor, presented the prizes, Mike Hallam, his
much better half Kim, Rick Havercroft and
Brian Barrett and others involved deserve much credit
for sustaining a well-run, friendly and quality event.
Watson & Sherbini
- different ends of both scales ...
A younger friend recently said to me that age is only a
number, probably to make me feel better, but the recent
sporting events lend strength to the fact that there may be
some truth to it. Had Tom Watson, at 59,won the
British Open Golf championship at Turnberry, that would have
been the sporting achievement of all time. Sadly an overhit
drive at the 18th and an overhit putt to follow meant we
were robbed of seeing a great golfer and an example to all,
providing us with an incomparable sporting moment.
Happily I didn't see the presentation ceremony, but
apparently Stuart Cink had divine assistance; so that
if divine forces were at work they would have plumped for
Tom Watson and made us all happy. As old as I am and to
support my young friend's re-assurances, Watson was at the
right end of the age scale, but at the other end the
achievements of Nour El Sherbini, winning the World
Under 19 Girls Championship at the age of 13,is equally
If you are a coach, think of any girl player you know or
coach and imagine she is the best under 19 player in the
The difference between these achievements is that, whereas
Tom Watson was fittingly recognised for his performance, the
young Egyptian's success by-passed the press and television,
who are too busy reporting inconsequential friendly football
matches and ludicrously protracted and money-based transfer
Despite marketing departments squash remains the most
under-publicised of sports, when it seems to me to have so
much to publicise: glamorous venues, articulate players and
since 11 scoring exciting action provided by world class
Congratulations to Nour El Sherbini and it is sad that her
wonderful achievements are ignored by the media.
Olympic rejection not unexpected
Yesterday, as squash's Olympic fate 2016 was about to be
decided, I had lunch with James and neither of us thought
that squash would be accepted, despite all the optimism.
The financial clout of golf, to say nothing of the drawing
power of Tiger Woods, the appeal of Rugby sevens, seemed to
us to be more likely to meet with the favour of the
mysterious, faceless IOC, whose past is far from stainless,
whatever its present may be. It is hard to believe, in this
day of M.P.'s expenses, that favours are not still in place
and squash is hardly in a position to bestow favours.
Players and all concerned in squash were told not to tread
on IOC toes, utter criticism of other Olympic sports - Lee
Beachill was in trouble for once criticising tennis's
attitude to the Olympics - not to challenge the legality of
the 2012 voting procedure, which was very dubious in 2012.
Can you imagine Bejing not including sports at which they
were world champions/Get real! Yet our Olympic Committee
didn't appear to exert any pressure to get squash included
in London, even though England were World team champions,
men and women.
The World Games was supposed to be a showpiece for squash,
but, as I understand it the semi-final between Nick Matthew
and Azlan Iskandar was an outstanding match, which could
hardly have failed to impress the IOC, had they only been
I have heard in the past that the IOC have objected to
behavioural standards in squash, but isn't football in the
Olympics? There can hardly be a worse example of behavioural
standards in sport than that game and isn't the Olympic
flag-bearing sport, Athletics, drug-ridden to the point that
you don't know whether you are watching genuine performance
I also heard that they thought squash was not universal.
They must have researched that well!
So all the pussy-footing and subservience have got us
nowhere - we are further away than in 2012. By 2020 darts
and formula 1 will probably be contenders! Let's get real:
the Olympics are every four years and there's a lot of
squash to be played before 2020 and you can bet your bottom
dollar that squash won't get in then either!
So while we would have benefited from the funding that comes
to Olympic sport, the rest is no big deal. We, who love the
game must work even harder to spread the word, to bring the
sport to as many children from all sorts of backgrounds. If
the modern game with its high-class and articulate men and
women athletes is not good enough for the IOC, I doubt it
ever will be.
What is also clear and I am sure this was a major factor in
the rejection, is that the game's profile remains at a low
ebb and that is no criticism of the people who, I am sure
have worked hard to gain Olympic recognition.
I have said it a thousand times, mostly on deaf ears and
I'll repeat: betting is fundamental and crucial in raising
the profile of the sport. I understand there are some major
moves in that direction - I hope so.
English Tennis needs to break out
Not for the first time Wimbledon highlights the LTA's
failure to produce players of any worthwhile standard, and
not for the first time questions are being asked why.
Tim Henman and Andrew Murray are, of course, not products of
any system of the LTA, but products of a motivated
middle-class environment: Henman's family had a tennis
background and Murray's mother is clearly the driving force
in his success.
It is well-known that vast sums of money have been pumped
into tennis in an attempt to improve matters, but to no
effect whatsoever. Apart from another one-off, Laura Robson,
there is hardly a player in sight. There is one main reason
for the failure, which has not been addressed or if it has,
the efforts have failed: tennis, unlike squash, remains
Squash was the snobbiest of all games, when I was young: the
R.A.C club, Lansdowne, venues for major events, public
schools, where I learned the game and I don't want to bite
the hand that fed me, officers' messes-other ranks did not
play when I was in the Air Force, but fortunately for us
squash was liberated, mainly through Jonah Barrington, to
whom we are all indebted.
One of the results of that: we have three men and three
women in the World's top ten and the men are World team
champions. I hope the tennis playing authorities don't think
the game isn't universal: Qatar, Hong Kong, New York,
London, Cairo, Bermuda, Nigeria, Malaysia all stage major
events, to name only some venues.
The assistance given to England's best squash players is
money well spent and greatly appreciated and Sport England
are well rewarded by their successes. In Pontefract where
there is apparently no shortage of racket players, Paul
Hutchins, a then official of the LTA once gave that as a
reason for tennis's failure - there is nowhere for a young
player to play tennis, let alone be coached.
So any aspiring youngster will need to be transported to
Leeds and pay for lessons, which don't gome cheaply at
tennis. Since any young player, if he or she is going to
make the grade we are talking about, will$need to be coached
more than once a week, it is clearly going to be well out of
the financial reach of many.
Some five years ago I wrote to a Mr Crowther, the then chief
executive of the LTA, offering, through Mick Todd, the
opportunity to build a tennis centre next to the squash
club, with obvious benefit to both, but more especially to
aspiring young tennis players in the area.
He sent a local minion, who, as I remember, thought it a
good idea. It seems Mr Crowther didn't, since the minion
said they would put in 500,000 if Mick Todd did the same.
How he worked that out I will never know.
So there was nowhere for children to play tennis in
Pontefract and there still isn't. Somehow tennis needs to
break down the class barriers and make the game accessible
to everyone, not just those that can afford it. Wimbledon
helps to provide a lot of the funding, but in many ways it
represents just what is wrong with tennis in this country.
Above all the LTA should face facts and recognise what the
problem is, which is what they have failed to do. Maybe we
were just lucky that Jonah happened along!
Acquaintance at Queen's ...
slightly less personal note it was a real pleasure to meet
Sir David Thomas at the Super Series at Queen's club,
I knew him from the times, many moons ago, when I was
involved with the coaching of England under19 teams.
He is now in charge at Queen's and seemed pleased to see me,
though I realise it is part of his job to be nice to people.
It was good to meet his mother again, too.
How re-assuring it is that long-standing relationships and
friendships are preserved.
I stand back, take my time and thank my lucky stars that I
am a part of a game which makes such things possible ...
Beachill honoured in Club Awards
Lee Beachill was given a quite marvellous send-off in
Manchester in February after a knee injury forced him to
realise that playing at the highest world levels was no
It was fitting, though, that at Pontefract's annual club
dinner, a further tribute was paid to him, since it has been
his home from the age of nine.
It was an impressive squash gathering: Vanessa Atkinson,
James Willstrop, David Campion, Simon Parke and Paul Hornsby
were all in attendance and there was international
representation: Harinder Pal Sandhu, Vikas Jangra from
India, Erin Roberts from Canada and Claudia Schurmann, well
known in New York Squash circles.
Lee's playing achievements were recounted in what has been a
remarkable career: World no. 1,double Commonwealth gold
medalist, twice in England's world championship winning
side, the second as captain, three times British Champion,
many times capped for his country, all on the back of a
wonderfully successful junior career.
He had a style uniquely his own and when he played at the
height of his powers, his accuracy, control and ability to
hold the ball were as good as anybody's.
David and Paul gave a personal view of Lee and his father,
Malcolm, thanked the club for all the support they had given
Lee over the years. Lee himself thanked everyone eloquently
and it is good for the sport that he has readily assumed his
role as C.O.O. with P.S.A. with enthusiasm and diligence.
Main awards at thge dinner were:
Player of the year: Woman, Vanessa Atkinson, Man, Saurav
Ghosal. Improved players: Man, Chris Emmerson, Woman, Katie
Juniors :Boy: Jack Cooper: Girl:Jessica Beachill.
Veteran: Mark Binns.
Clubperson of the year; Lee Beachill.
Other awards went to club owner, Mick Todd, Terry Dudley,
club captain and assistant coach, Kirsty McPhee.
The Lesley Willstrop doubles in aid of Ovarian Cancer, will
be held August20-22 and in 2010 Pontefract will stage the
European Club Championships.
14 May 2009:
Lost for Words roadshow
go to Edgbaston
With James Willstrop not yet back in full training after his
ankle operation, able deputies were found in the shape of
Mohammed El Shorbagy, World Junior champion and
Saurav Ghosel, India's leading player.
Mohammed had impressed me in Sweden when helping to provide
final day entertainment when Karim Darwish was injured and
he is a welcome addition to the team. He and Saurav, with
not a little help from Lee Beachill, provided various
squash entertainment for the crowd, showing practices,
playing condition games with two Edgbaston players, Mike
Edwards, assistant coach at the club, and Rob Alger,
and playing two juniors, Oliver Palmer and the very
promising Alicia Meads, and doubles, before finishing
up playing each other.
Saurav and Mohammed were in good form, both with the racket
and as entertainers.
Richardson's band, Lost for Words, cosily ensconced
in the bar area, were also in fine form.
With keyboard maestro, Andy Kingslow, John on bass guitar
and Sylvan on drums, the professionals, ably supported by
Stafford Murrray, Lee and vocalists Martin Sunderland and
Joni Tuson they provided an enthusiastic crowd with a
miscellany of music, Stafford, Joni and Martin all in
Rob Saffery, whose daughter Deon is a Pontefract player, was
the man behind the scenes at Edgbaston and since the British
Racketball Championships were happening at the same time he
was a busy man. That also meant there were "faces" in the
crowd, notably Jim Lord and Rob Owen, one face of the
present, one of the past.
Pontefract's rugby league connection
Pontefract's association with Super League is well known,
Leeds Rhinos in particular and Castleford Tigers
having previously used squash to provide a break in their
normal training programme.
Recently Bradford Bulls and Hull F.C. visited
the club for squash purposes on successive days.
Twenty or so players were introduced to the game and put
through their paces by Pontefract's top girl players: Kirsty
Mcphee, Lauren Siddall and Deon Saffery with assistance from
Sam Wileman and Karan Malik, visiting Indian player.
Tony Smith, the former Leeds coach, Richard Agar, the HUll
coach and Terry Matterson, the Castleford Tigers coach are
all keen players and Andy Lynch, the Bradford prop, is a
regular at Pontefract.
Add Rugby League great Ellery Hanley and Neil Cowie, the
former Wigan and Great Britain prop, and the rugby league
connection is a strong one.
Lee Beachill, James Willstrop, Kirsty McPhee and Mick Todd
are all frequent spectators and Ben Taylor, marketing man
from England Squash was at a recent game at Headingley.
The Giles Smith business
of this site will be aware of the
gratuitous assertion of a certain Giles Smith, a Times
columnist, that no-one wants to watch squash.
This, despite the fact that the Canary Wharf Classic and the
Super Series at Queen's were packed out and presumably only
a stone's throw from his office. It is a certainty that he
did not attend either and also that he has never been to any
top professional squash event, since then he would see how
stupidly inaccurate his opinion is.
I have e-mailed The Times twice and also spoken to a
squash-playing sports writer there, whom I know. He was far
from impressed by Mr Smith.
What's worse The Times have chosen not to even acknowledge
either of my e-mails or one sent by James. I hope and dare
say other squash enthusiasts have also e-mailed them in
protest and I would suspect they have not received a reply
either. Not only, it seems, do The Times approve of wildly
inaccurate statements, but they don't have the grace or
manners to reply...not the standards once associated with
such a newspaper.
Last few tickets
Another Classic at Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf Classic is one of the best events on the PSA
tour. Expertly and congenially run b} the Eventis team,
Peter Nicol, Tim Garner and Angus Kirkland, alongside Alan
Thatcher, it has given appreciative crowds many memorable
matches in its five year existence.
But not in their wildest dreams could Eventis have imagined
that the 2009 entry would be the top world class draw it is.
Karim Darwish and Ramy Ashour are missing, but Amr Shabana,
Gregory Gaultier, James Willstrop, David Palmer, Thierry
Lincou and Nick Matthew are all there.
There are heavyweight clashes in the first round, notably
Willstrop v Laurens Anjema and Lincou against Borja Golan,
but the potential quarter final line up would do justice to
any event in the world: Shabana v Matthew, Willstrop v
Lincou, Palmer v El Hindi and Gaultier v Barker.
After coming off against Matthew in New York, Shabana will
be looking to put things right, but my guess is that the
last person he would want to meet in the last eight is
Matthew, who is in the form of his life and is devilishly
hard to beat just now.
Willstrop and Lincou played the first ever final at Canary
Wharf, best of seven that was, and with question marks over
the well being of the Englishman, the match is hardly going
to be easy for him, remembering that both have to overcome
severe first round obstacles.
Palmer and El Hindi is a heavyweight clash and Barker, another who has been unwell, will find
Gaultier, who has claims on form to being the world's best,
hard to get past.
All those associated with the event must be rubbing their
hands in glee and it is nothing more than they deserve. I
know that there is a credit crunch and we are in financial
heartland, but the entry certainly warrants a hike in prize
money, if there is a beneficent fair godfather or godmother,
of course, on hand.
It wouldn't seem appropriate to let
Lee Beachill's retirement
from the PSA world tour to pass without me paying a personal
tribute to him - though I have to emphasise this is no
Just that sportsmen have their time and Lee's has been
reduced, sadly, by a couple of years because of the severity
of his knee problems. There had been no other signs, other
than the knee, that his powers had diminished in any way;
indeed he hits the ball as well, if not better than he has
ever done. I had hoped he might make the next Commonwealth
Games in a bid for a third gold medal, but he took his leave
in Manchester, the scene of some of his greatest triumphs,
with a record in the British Championships second to none.
The Early Days
Lee was sent to me at the age of nine by Tim Heeley,
who was Lee's first coach and recognised his potential. Tim
was right, too, because he quickly showed he had unusual
ability. I remember clearly, when working with him that he
always seemed a move ahead.
He soon started challenging the best players in his age
group and after I banned him for a month - most of my best
players get a ban - for a display of petulance after a loss.
He came back and for the rest of his career hardly put a
foot wrong in behavioural terms.
Lee won every British age group Junior title, the
European U19 championship, but in the World Junior
Championships in Cairo in 1996 he was physically abused by
El Mistakawi, an Egyptian, receiving no protection from the
referee, losing in the quarter finals. Amr Shabana, Anthony
Ricketts and Stewart Boswell all played and none of them
won, so he was in good company.
began a magnificent senior career: World no.1,
British champion twice in a row - never before achieved
- double Commonwealth gold medalist and England
captain when they won the World Team Championships in
Chennai. Amidst all that many other successes at the highest
levels and missing out on the World Open by the narrowest of
margins, losing 3-2 to Thierry Lincou in the final.
His successes have been achieved in the most competitive
era: Peter Nicol, Jonathan Power, David Palmer, Thierry
Lincou, Anthony Ricketts, Amr Shabana, John White, Karim
Darwish, Gregory Gaultier, James Willstrop, Nick Matthew and
Family ties & the Future
Close as has been, and still is, my relationship with Lee,
players do not succeed at world level without the support of
many: Peter Nicol, David Campion. James Willstrop, Ian
Horsley, Mick Todd .... and ,of course parents Sue and
Malcolm, always supportive, Nicola, Jessica and Ben....
The name Beachill may not be missing long on the playing
front: four year old Ben and ten year old Jessica are both
showing much promise.
Where to now? Well he did enough as President of PSA
to show he has much to offer the game; he will be available
more often to play top league squash and that will be a boon
for Pontefract, so not totally lost as a player. I am sure
he will find a way to stay involved in the game, which will
be mutually beneficial.
As his coach he has given me some of my very best moments in
squash: his control of the ball [and opponents], his ability
to delay, the ease of movement and production of the racket
all made him a player on whom young players can model
I have much to thank him for, not least his faith in me, his
loyalty, his steadfastness and example to others around him.
It is by no means the end, just an end or bettev the
beginning of the next phase of his squash life.
Think of Emma
Sport may be one of life's trivia, but for those striving
for excellence or personal fulfilment, it involves much
heartache, losing, at least for a while being hard to take.
So it should be, for if losing doesn't hurt, it is unlikely
there exists a winner. I suppose it reflects life in
dramatic form, but the British Championship was lightened by
the presence of Emma Pearson, David's daughter.
Wheelchair bound, she greeted everyone by name with a smile
and obvious delight.
David, stressed, watching Jenny, his step daughter in her
semi final, grew more stessed she tells someone:
"He needs to relax". and then in his nervous agitation, as
he heads for the toilet she asks, "Is he going to the toilet
David told me in the week running up to the championship she
rang him frequently, inquiring about his well being.
She clearly sees him as the one with problems and she may be
right; she is uncomplaining, delightful, indeed beautiful,
accepting life's cards as they have been unkindly dealt, an
example to us all.
So next time you lose, remember Emma ...