Great Britain Are World Team Champions! (…in Racketlon)

As someone with his finger on the pulse of world squash (no, really), I have to admit that a recent article in The Times came as a bit of a surprise. It drew my attention to the existence of the multi-event sport of racketlon which not only incorporates squash as one of its four racket-based activities but also has a global governing body vying for its inclusion in the 2024 Olympics. Not only that, but a bit of digging around the racketlon press revealed that the 2019 World Team Championships had just been held in Germany.

Well, so much for fingers and pulses.

The Rules

In racketlon players compete individually, or as part of doubles pairs, in each of four racket sports: table tennis, badminton, squash and tennis. One ‘set’ is played in each sport, the sequence of sports beginning with the smallest (table tennis) and ending with the biggest (tennis) racket. Squash slots in at number three in the sequence.

In singles matches each of the four sets is scored to 21 points, with a margin of two points needed to win a set tied at 20 points all. In team competitions, sets are played to 11 points with setting coming into effect at 10 points all.

The winner of a match is the player or doubles pair accumulating the highest number of points in total. If the score is tied after all four sports, a single extra tennis  point is played to decide the match winner, the server being decided by drawing lots.

In doubles matches, the squash set is played by one member of each team until one player reaches 11 points; the set is then completed by the two remaining team members.

Simple, eh?

Racketlon sports

The Tour

Racketlon originated in 1980s Finland and Sweden but it wasn’t until 2001 that its first international tournament was held in Gothenburg. Now, its governing body, the Federation Internationale de Racketlon (FIR), oversees a World Tour which, in 2019, consisted of 20 tournaments held at venues in Europe, the US and Asia. These included an inaugural London Open, held in August at the prestigious Roehampton Club, and, in November, the World Singles and Team Championships in Leipzig. And it was in Leipzig that Great Britain lifted the World and Nations titles for the first time with India winning the Challenge Cup tournament.

Racketlon has obviously come a long way in the thirty years since its first appearance. With its format modelled on other combination Olympic sports such as the triathlon and pentathlon, and with squash again being passed over, perhaps racketlon can help to raise the profile of the soft-ball game.

Maybe it’s time to add to our racket collections.

Sources

Thanks to The Times, Wikipedia and tournamentsoftware.com.

Retreat (2017) – Short Film

A man on retreat calls home.

Retreat (2017)

Created by STIR and FRY (Thomas and Samuel Thorogood

Thomas Thorogood – Co-Producer, Co-Director, Camera Operator, Composer, Models, Additional Voices

Samuel Thorogood – Co-Director, Co-Producer, Writer, Editor, Performer

Source

Thanks to Stir and Fry and Vimeo.

Broken Strings (2018) – Short Film

What does it take before somebody’s resilience breaks? Sam Halford is tested when his coach pushes him and his classmate, Matt, to their limits. But when does pushing somebody beyond their limits become too much to handle?

Broken Strings (2018)

A Dunley Productions film.

Directed by Alfie Drakeley and Connor Dunham

Written by Alfie Drakeley

Cast: Jake Vermuelen (Sam Wilson) Josh Beardmore (Coach) and Alfie Drakeley (Matt Wilson).

Business Squash (Comedy Sketch)

Well “better late than never” I always say, or at least I occasionally say when I’ve fallen down on whatever job I’ve set myself; in this case spotting squash-themed comedy sketches.

This latest offering comes from Irish comedy trio Foil Arms and Hog who, for reasons unknown (to me, anyway) choose to omit a comma from their stage name, assuming that stage names still exist nowadays.

The group comprises Sean Finnegan, Sean Flanagan and Conor McKenna and performs on TV, radio, the stage and online. Formed in 2008 while all three were students at University College Dublin, the group’s name evolved from the nicknames each of the members had for each other; Foil (Sean Finegan) so-called because was the ‘comedy foil’, Arms (Conor McKenna) because he was ‘All arms and legs’ and Hog (Sean Flanagan) because he ostensibly hogged the limelight. All very well, but I’m still concerned about that comma.

And the “better late than never?” Ah, yes, well the sketch does date from 2013 but, in my defence, I’ve had a lot on recently.

P.S. Do check out the Foil Arms and Hog website for tour dates, merchandise and downloads.

Lahore Squash

After two weeks travelling along the Karakorum Highway, arriving in Lahore in late June can be quite a shock. With bustling streets, noisy traffic and pre-monsoon temperatures in the mid-40s, life in the city stands in stark contrast with that found along the cool mountain roads winding north towards the Chinese border.

Punjab Squash Complex

Posters stuck on telegraph poles opposite my hotel announced the Pakistan International Squash Circuit-II tournament being held at the city’s Punjab Squash Complex. Unfortunately, I’d missed the finals by one day but decided to visit the venue on Lower Mall Road where all three recently-renovated courts were in use. There, I met Khurram Shehzad whose coaching pedigree extends to Dubai and Malaysia.

Compared to the glory days of Gogi Alauddin, Hiddy Jahan, Qamar Zaman and the Khans, Pakistan’s international squash presence is now relatively low key. Its two highest ranked male players, Asim Khan and Tayyab Aslam (both from Lahore), currently occupy positions 88 and 95 respectively in the PSA world rankings. In the women’s rankings, Sialkot-born Faiza Zafar, currently resident in Lahore, is the country’s highest ranked player at 99. Both Aslam and Zafar featured in the Circuit-II finals, Aslam going down 3-2 to Peshawar’s Farhan Mehboob and Zafar 3-0 to her younger sister Madina.

Pakistan International Squash Circuit II Awards

But it’s the restricted access to visas, said Shehzad, that, together with limited funding, continues to limit the opportunities for home-grown players to develop through international competition.

In a recent exception Mehboob, Aslam, the Zafar sisters and Peshawar’s Farhan Zaman all featured in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, held on Australia’s Sunshine Coast. Aslam and Zaman reached the last 16 of the men’s doubles with Aslam also reaching the last 16 of the mixed doubles with Madina Zafar. Zafar also reached the women’s singles plate semi-final, losing to the eventual winner, Barbados’s Meagan Best.

****

The day after my visit was the last I spent in Pakistan. It was also the first day of the monsoon.

Sources

Thanks to The Nation, the Khilari sports website, the Squash Info website and, as always, Wikipedia.

Squash and the Syrian Girls

Hot on the heels of news that Serbia’s Cricket Federation has established a government-sponsored programme to encourage migrants and refugees to play cricket, comes an equally inspiring story from the world of squash.

The source of the story is the Kingdom of Jordan which, by early 2017, had seen over 650,000 Syrian refugees seeking shelter from the civil war raging in their country.

In 2016, US charity Reclaim Childhood, in partnership with the Jordan Squash Federation, announced an initiative to introduce Syrian girl refugees to squash. Fast forward a year and fifteen girls are now playing the sport coached by some of Jordan’s top-ranked players.

One of them is eleven-year-old Raghda Hasriyeh who practices with two of her sisters in the Jordanian capital of Amman and now dreams of a career in squash. Her father, Nizar Hasriyeh, says: “I don’t understand anything about this sport but I am so happy to see my three daughters playing squash. I hope to see them become world champions one day.”

Raghda Hasriyeh

With its costly rackets and purpose-built courts, squash might not seem an obvious choice for children displaced from Syria. But Reclaim Childhood says that getting the refugee girls involved in the sport can be invaluable in helping them deal with the hardships they face.

Life for Syrian refugees in Jordan is difficult but the families of those girls taking part in the squash programme have been able to move out of crowded camps to accommodation on the outskirts of Amman. At least in a small way, squash has proved a godsend for them and their children.

Sources

Thanks to The Gulf News, NAIJA Squash Media and The Daily Mail.

Note

You can find a French language article on Jordan’s Syrian Girl Refugee squash programme on the IP Reunion website.

From The Bubble To The Opera

A lot of water has flowed under the proverbial since I last wrote about the end of year World Series Finals. At that time (January 2011) the finals had the unique distinction of being held in a (temporary) inflatable venue in the grounds of The Queen’s Club in London, a location best known as the home of a grass court tennis tournament held a fortnight before Wimbledon.

The Finals that year were also unique in a different way in that they terminated, unexpectedly, at the semi-final stage. This was due to the unfortunate manifestation of gale-force winds over and, sadly, through the tournament venue causing it irreparable damage.

As I remember, the colour schemes for both the show-court and the night-time illumination of the outside of the bubble-shaped venue both incorporated pink. For this year’s tournament (held in Dubai in June) I’m glad to see that the former colour scheme, at least, has been retained.

However, with regard to the outside of the venue (the state of the art Dubai Opera), I suspect that pink may have proved to be a step too far.

Sources

Thanks to PSA Squash TV.

London Squash: The Claridge Courts

Although the game of squash was invented in Britain, the first squash governing body in the world was founded, in 1904, in the United States. In fact, it was not until 1928 that an equivalent organisation, the Squash Racquets Association (SRA), was formed to agree standards for the game in Britain, including those for court size.

By that time, however, many squash courts had already been constructed which did not meet the new standard. Two of them were built in London during the period 1919 – 1921 to the same specification as the squash court on The Titanic which had sunk in 1912. The courts, known as The Claridge Courts, formed part of the premises of a service club in London’s Piccadilly.

They were to remain in use for almost a hundred years.

RAF Club, Piccadilly

The RAF Club

The Claridge Courts were seventeen inches narrower than the 1928 SRA standard. During their post-1928 lifetime, this feature was to add what has been described as “a certain measure of eccentricity” to the games played on them.

RAF Squash

The courts were located on the premises of the RAF Club, established in late 1918 for the use of members of the Royal Air Force. The RAF itself had been founded only on April 1st of the same year and was the first such national force in the world to become independent of army or navy control. The RAF Club’s buildings, still in use today, were acquired by the middle of 1919, their Piccadilly frontage being originally that of the Ladies Lyceum Club.

The RAF Club was officially opened by HRH The Duke of York in February 1922 and was visited the following month by Their Majesties King George V and Queen Mary. This association with the Royal Family continues to this day, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II being the Club’s Patron.

The Bath Cup

The Claridge Courts were amongst the first in London to host matches in the Bath Cup, the oldest squash league in the world. Established in 1922, the Cup was named after its founders, the Bath & Racquets Club, and is still one of the most prestigious squash competitions in Britain. The Cup is contested annually by the oldest clubs in London including: Queens, RAC, Hurlingham, Lansdowne, Roehampton, Oxford & Cambridge, MCC, Cumberland and Lloyd’s of London. The RAF Club has been represented in the competition since its inception, pausing temporarily in the early 1940s whilst its players were otherwise occupied in the Second World War.

Over the years the Claridge Courts have also been used for internal competition between Club members and their guests, as well as for inter-service competition with representatives of Britain’s other armed forces. The Club also has a long tradition of friendly competition with other London-based clubs such as Jesters, Escorts, Swans, Wine Traders, John Lewis, Old Wellingtonians and Civil Service, all of which have been able to experience the “eccentricity” of playing on The Claridge Courts.

The End Of An Era

Sadly, in 2016, a decision was taken to renovate the interior of the RAF Club in response to increasing demand for additional accommodation. One of the consequences of the decision was the removal of The Claridge Courts, marking the demise of two of the oldest squash courts in the world.

One of those campaigning to save the courts, Squadron Leader Philip Tilstone, a member for 30 years, said: “Whilst I understand the commercial reasons for the decision to close the courts I find it extremely disappointing that no other arrangements have been proposed.

“By representing the club in the prestigious Bath Cup league as well as in many friendly matches during the season, players have been able to educate many of our opponents on the way the military works and become better informed about the challenges faced by those in the commercial world.”

Sources

Thanks to the RAF Club, the Royal Air Force, Wikipedia, The Times, West End Extra and The London Evening Standard.

London Squash: The In & Out

Dating from 1927, the oldest private squash court in London has a remarkable history. Situated on the top floor of a mews building attached to No.4 St. James’s Square, the court was built by The Army and Navy Club which had outgrown its premises on the corner of Pall Mall and George Street. After 3 years of development the new mews building provided chambers, bed-sitting-rooms, bedrooms, a ladies’ drawing-room, a dining-room and ground floor shop premises in addition to the squash court.

The Army and Navy Club

Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

The Army and Navy Club had been founded in 1837, the year Queen Victoria acceded to the Throne. It had been formed to meet the needs of the many army officers wanting to join a Service Club, most of which were already full. Its first president was Arthur Wellesley, First Duke of Wellington, who accepted the post on condition that membership was also open to officers of the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines.

The In & Out

By 1862, London boasted three Service Clubs: the United Service Club, the Junior United Service Club and The Army and Navy Club, all of which were at full capacity. To meet demand, a fourth club, The Naval and Military Club, was founded in March 1862 by a party of officers who at that time were quartered at the Tower of London.

94 Piccadilly

After several changes of premises, The Naval and Military Club moved, in 1866, to 94 Piccadilly, also known as Cambridge House. There, it came to be known as “The In & Out” from the prominent signs on the building’s separate vehicle entrance and exit gates. In 1996, having failed to agree terms for a new lease in Piccadilly, the club purchased the freehold of 4 St. James’s Square and finally moved into its new home on 1st February, 1999.

The Squash Court

In And Out Squash Court

As part of its freehold, The In & Out gained access to the squash court formerly used by The Army and Navy Club. Now in its 90th year of use, access to the court is a key part of the club’s fitness and leisure programme.

Evidence of the historical use of the court can be seen in the form of an honours board in the clubhouse where the winners of a Squash Challenge Cup for the years 1936-56 are listed. The competition was not contested for the years 1939-47.

Squash Honours Board

The Naval and Military Club is now advertised as a St James’s private members club for ladies and gentlemen, and officers of the Armed Forces.

4 St. James’s Square History

4 St. James’s Square was built in 1726–28 during the reigns of George I and George II. Amongst its distinguished occupants were Waldorf and Nancy Astor who made it their London residence from 1912-42. American-born Nancy Astor was the first woman to sit as a United Kingdom Member of Parliament in 1919, later becoming Viscountess Astor.

In 1942, the house was requisitioned by the government and was used as the London headquarters of the Free French Forces led by General Charles de Gaulle.

In April 1984, St. James’s Square became the centre of world attention as the setting for the 11-day long Libyan Embassy siege triggered by the fatal shooting of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. The Libyan Embassy occupied 5 St. James’s Square.

Sources

The websites of The Army and Navy Club, The Naval and Military Club and British History Online. Thanks to Wikipedia as always.

Squash Ω (2014) – Short Film

A short film that explores the abstract narrative of an enthusiastic and passionate “squash” player.

Cast

Tim Patterson as Tommy Williams
John Hill as Jon Hill

Credits

Written and Directed by Derek Goulet and Tyler Chauncey
Director of Photography – Tyler Chauncey
Editor – Derek Goulet
Producer – Jill Bailey, Derek Goulet, and Tyler Chauncey

Crew

Gaffer – Ben King
Sound Recordist – Davis Bannister

****

There’s a lot to like about Goulet and Chauncey’s short film, not least the bewildering number and variety of ‘that’s not really squash‘ references, possibly referring to the ‘Ω’ of the fiilm’s title.

There’s the actual squash reference, of course, namely the main character’s narrative tribute to his hero Jahangir Khan and his astonishing 555 match unbeaten run. But then the film introduces a series of images which, whilst not distracting from the story, kept this viewer at least wondering where the plot was heading. There’s Tommy’s training regime which shows him roller-blading whilst playing air-shots with a  racquetball racquet. Crossed badminton racquets adorn the wall of his room above a photograph of Jahangir. When the on-court action begins, Tommy and his opponent, Jon, enter a giant glass-backed court with no wall markings or tin. The court’s floor bears several sets of markings, including (possibly) badminton, whilst an on-court umpire completes the surreal setting.

Finally, having been knocked unconscious during his match, a dream sequence (Tommy’s sitting fully-clothed in a milk-filled bath being sponged down by the umpire and two assistants) is intercut with unsuccessful on-court attempts to resuscitate him.

I, for one, can’t wait for the follow-up.