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Malcolm Willstrop
  
presents his views and reports
from the world of squash ...

Malcolm Willstrop Week
Major feature by Framboise

  2008 Archive     2007 Archive      
2006 Archive

 

Commonwealth Games -
random thoughts from afar ...


Considering the 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 should worry!

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.

 


www.streetsquash.org

July 2010:
Back to Harlem

My 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.

Arriving 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 fruitful combination.



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 reputable universities.

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.

Vanessa 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 forewarned.

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 Sinatra.

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.

 
May 2010:
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 it didn't!

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 out crowd.

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 13th March.

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 missing.

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 than possible.

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 of medals.

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, justifiably so.

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.

 

2009 Columns

27-Nov-09:
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 evaporated.

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 blank.

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. Another blank.

I think I may have to present myself with an award, chosen by me!

The next time I get stopped by a copper, I certainly won't be saying "Don't you know who I am?"

 
25-Sep-09:
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 report performance.

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 did.

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 sport is.

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 Open record.

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 him there.
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 issue.
 
 
 

British Open 2009 - 12-Sep, Quarters

Quarter-finals 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 outcome.

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 some style.

   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 impossible.

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, either!
 
 
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 comfortably.

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 his ankle.

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 Australia.

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.

 

05-Sep:
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 quarters.

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 silence.



Alan Norrish's Elvis, which is as good as it gets and Angie Abbott's outrageously funny "It should have been me".

Results:
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 Katie Smith.

Lee Campion, Lesley's eldest son presented the awards.

Aug 2009:
Technical Absorbents
Cleethorpes Invitation:
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 explains everything.

Surely 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 remarkable.

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 world. Unimaginable!

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 deals.

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 athletes.

Congratulations to Nour El Sherbini and it is sad that her wonderful achievements are ignored by the media.
 
14-Aug-09:
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 present.

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 or not?

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.

 
02-Jul-09:
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 securely middle-class.

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!



Old Acquaintance at Queen's ...

On a slightly less personal note it was a real pleasure to meet Sir David Thomas at the Super Series at Queen's club, London.

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 longer possible.

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 Smith.
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.

Sylvan 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 excellent voice.

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

Readers 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

11-Mar-09:
Another Classic at Canary Wharf

The 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.

Dream on............


              www.cwsquash.com
Lee Beachill

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 obituary!

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.

Senior Success

So 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 Ramy Ashour.

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 themselves.

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.

As 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 again?"

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 ...



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