Squash Willstrop

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


July 2011:
Olympics Again

The question most asked by people not in the squash world is "Why is squash not in the Olympics ?", and as 2012 approaches, it really is remarkable that, without denigrating any other sport, the Olympic committee, in its wisdom or in this money orientated sporting world, have managed to exclude it.

It came very close to inclusion for 2012 when it topped the list of sports to be included, but was excluded on a vote which one of the most eminent Q.C.'s in the land considered illegal and was prepared to challenge. However the sport's governing bodies preferred not to challenge so as not to upset anyone.

Much good that did, since here we are in London some four years later, overtaken for 2016 by golf and rugby sevens, splendid enough sports, but hardly fulfilling some of the principal Olympic requirements, such as universality and involvement of the young - two criteria that squash certainly does, played in 140 countries and with massive child participation. Golf clubs hardly encourage children and no doubt the attraction was Tiger Woods before his personal and now playing demise.

It is difficult to conceive that the Chinese would not have gained inclusion for a sport in which they excelled in Beijing and since England excels at squash: Nick Matthew [world no.1] James Willstrop [world no 4], Peter Barker [world no7], Jenny Duncalf [world no 2], Alison Waters [world no 5], and Laura Massaro [world no 7], it is disappointing that the British Olympic committee did dot exercise some influence.

The game is simple enough to stage: the O2 arena along with any number of other buildings in London could easily have housed the glamorous glass court. The standard at the top of the world game is better and more entertaining than it has ever been and since the reputable American Forbes magazine rated squash the second most demanding sport in the world after boxing, no-one can doubt the athletic and physical requirements.

What countries want most, of course, is medal success and the inclusion of squash would almost certainly have guaranteed England of medals. Ironically sporting bodies are now seeking athletes with slim English qualifications to increase their prospects. Yorkshire and England could have provided three with serious medal chances, whose English heritage and allegiance could hardly have been questioned.

July 2011:
Lancing revisited.

It was some thirty years ago that Gresham's School, Holt, travelled to Lancing College to play in the quarter finals of the National Schools championships, run by Major Ted Millman, father of Paul.

Some the players involved in the match were: British under 18 champion Richard Le Lievre, brother of John; Christy Willstrop, British udner 16 champion; John Cordeaux, England Junior international; and Captain of Lancing James Barrington, now senior executive of Cathay Pacific and main mover behind the wonderful Cathay Pacific Hong Kong Open.

The schools had two famous Headmasters at the time, Cambridge contemporaries and International rugby players Logie Bruce Lockhart and Ian Beer, later to become President of the R.F.U. The controversial match, controversy which was a product of the concrete floored courts, has remained a central topic whenever James Barrington and I meet in Hong Kong, and truth to tell, since he knew what was afoot that fateful day, he should be ashamed of himself, especially as he now holds such high office.

However some good recently came out of it all when James and I, at James B.'s request, visited Lancing to coach their players for a day.

In the days when Public Schools produced the top players: Jonny Leslie, Phil Ayton, John Easter (father of Nick), Peter Verow ... Lancing were dominant, to be followed by Barnard Castle and later by Gresham's, all having runs of success in the Londonderry Cup, the championship for old boys of Public Schools.

Graham Stevenson coaches extensively there now and he, Chris Crowe, Director of Sport at the school, and Dominic Harman all made us feel very welcome.

One of the courts, which was the focal point of attention many years ago, is still in existence and James, highly suspicious of slippy and dangerous courts, could scarcely believe his eyes: the dark concrete floors, a grill to help with condensation all along the sidewalls where a worthwhile angle would be played.

As someone who has suffered with slippy courts - on the glass floor in Bermuda at the World Championships and more recently at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi - he now saw that the story I had given him over the years, which I suspect he thought was exaggerated, was in fact the truth.

No longer will he give any credibility to the aforementioned James Barrington, who will surely regret that he engineered the Lancing visit.

Anyway we enjoyed our stay in Sussex, staying with Ann Kerrison, who did so much for Sussex girls squash in days gone by and we hope that some of the boys we coached took something out of it. Maybe the ghost has been laid, but surely it proves that the game of squash creates lasting memories and friendships, even out of adversity!

May 2011:
Finding out from Rugby League

Tony Smith, Warrington Wolves, the outstanding coach in Super League, is a keen squash player, who, whilst in charge of Leeds Rhinos, brought his players to Pontefract for a morning's squash on several occasions as a break from their normal routine.

He has continued the practice since moving to Warrington, who have been twice recently, and having won the Rugby League Challenge Cup for the last two years and currently heading the Super League after a barren 25 years, it was time to visit their training ground at Chester University to see what David Campion, James Willstrop, Mick Todd and myself could learn about the process of performing to capacity.

It's an early morning start and arriving before nine, things were already in full swing in the gym. Star names abound: Adrian Morley, Lee Briers, Michael Monaghan, Brett Hodgson, Matt King, but as players moved from gym to running track, to training ground and to the lecture room for other purposes, one thing was for sure: here is a happy, cohesive team enjoying their work.

There was some intensity and seriousness, but plenty of fun and laughter, Tony in the background as his staff, Willie, Richard and Bubble put the players through their paces. He is close to the players, so much is obvious, but when he draws attention to the videos relating to Friday's match against Leeds at Headingley, there is no doubting who's in charge or the respect the players have for him.

No stone is left unturned as the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition are revealed and Tony makes it quite clear what is required to exploit the weaknesses and gainsay the strengths. Players are invited and do offer their observations: Michael Monaghan and Lee Briers, playmakers in chief are main contributors and the affable Matt King has his say, unable from all accounts to speak without the odd expletive.

Tony clearly has winning in mind on Friday, but he never talks of winning and losing, only performance. The frequent interchanges of activity keep everyone happy and alert and the first class facilities at the University are a major plus, as are the friendly and welcoming staff there.

After lunch back with Tony to his office, where the work done by computer wizard, Emma, relating to players' performance, emphasises the professional thoroughness of everything we have been privileged to witness.

David is engrossed, despite his ignorance of Rugby League; embarrassingly he didn't know who Lee Briers was! He will no doubt carry back to his National squads some of what he has learned today; James has watched Tony work before at Leeds, but remains fascinated and Mick, deeply impressed declares it a wonderful experience.

Let no-one doubt the value of such experiences: different sports have various requirements, but they share common ground and to watch a master craftsman at work is always a privilege.

One thing squash and rugby league do have in common is that the players of both sports at exalted levels are modest, friendly and approachable. Odd to think that the best of them will earn in a year what many soccer players earn in a week! What a strange sporting world we live in.

March 2011:
Rugby League link as strong as ever

The link that has been established between Squash and Rugby League, since the days of John White and Ellery Hanley and when Tony Smith was at Leeds Rhinos, remain as strong as ever.

So far this season Super League teams Bradford, Hull and Warrington have all visited Pontefract for a morning's squash as a break from their usual training schedule.

Bradford's captain, Andy Lynch, is a member at Pontefract and is a more than competent player and Hull's coach, Richard Agar, plays whenever time allows.

Tony Smith, who was first to introduce his then Leeds team to squash is a keen player and is often at squash events, most recently at The Chapel Allerton-Pontefract National League match, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Now, as successful at Warrington as he was at Leeds, he thought it worthwhile to bring his squad of 30 players to Pontefract and since that visit Warrington are unbeaten, having won their last three matches, seeing off St.Helen's and Leeds in style.

He has always followed the careers of Lee Beachill and James Willstrop, who is soon to go to Warrington with David Campion to watch Warrington in training.

There are always some of the players who show promise and there are some who have already played a little. There is no doubt that if they were able to play more, several would make up into team players. Danny Tickle always seems to enjoy his time on court and new Hull signing, Sam Obst, had played a bit and looked useful.

Warrington's Micky Higham, never having played before, took an immediate liking to the game and Lee Briers, as might be expected showed promise, as did several of the Warrington outfit.

Andy Lynch, with his regular involvement was in a different class from his Bradford team.

The Rugby League men have had the benefit of Beachill, Saurav Ghosal, Kirsty McPhee and Deon Saffery coaching them and were quick to acknowledge the physical demands of the game.

One thing's for sure that if The Rugby League players look big on T.V they look even bigger in reality. The Kiwis are monstrous and when I'm giving out instructions they are told that they can please themselves!

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