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ALAN’S ARCHIVES: What the Kneipps thought of Liverpool

Alan Thatcherhttps://squashmad.com
Founder of World Squash Day, Squash Mad and the new Squash 200 Partnership, building clubs of the future. Founder of the Kent Open and co-promoter of the St. James's Place Canary Wharf Classic. Author and Public Speaker.

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Liverpool’08 Report Card

May 16, 2006: by Dan Kneipp (kah-nipe)  

[See also: Liverpool Draw and Liverpool Final]

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Next Year’s Venue?(Photo city of Liverpool)

We have never played squash in Liverpool, and have no knowledge of the city ever hosting a major tournament. The reason they’re now hosting a tournament is that Liverpool is gearing up for a major cultural festival in 2008. One of the goals of the squash tournament was to reach a unique audience in squash players and fans and present a side to Liverpool not known. We haven’t spent enough time in England to know or understand the different stereotypes associated with regions and cities, but we were quickly made aware that Liverpool’s image isn’t held high.

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How the Auditorium Looks Now (Photo © Dan Kneipp)

Alan Thatcher is the man behind the Liverpool 08 Tournament. He is part of the Canary Wharf Classic team and has had a lot to do with squash and obviously loves the sport and is passionate about it. He certainly succeeded with this tournament in staging a magnificent event, and undoubtedly presented a very favourable image of Liverpool. He also may have found the most beautiful squash tournament venue. Grand Central Station in New York, the old stock exchange in Antwerp and the Boston Symphony Hall are the most amazing venues I’ve seen, but for actual beauty of surroundings I think St George’s Hall beats them all.

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The Old Law court (Photo © City of Liverpool)

A lot of the hall is closed for refurbishment, but Alan gave us a tour of the venue, which included the old courthouse. It’s main use these days other than for tourist viewing is as an authentic movie prop. The building is over 150 years old and was used for a fund raising event during the American Civil War. Liverpool was described as possibly the most pro-confederate city in England, and in 1864 they held a Confederate Bazaar in aid of the Southern Prisoners Relief Fund.

Alan Thatch is planning to host the same event next year and again in 2008 to coincide with the cultural festival. The magnificent venue poses one problem for him. In the bowels of the building is a small music auditorium.

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The Grand St George’s Hall with squash court. (Photo © Dan Kneipp)

It’s mostly a maze of scaffolding at the moment, but you’re still able to see how glorious the viewing boxes, stage and generally how ‘gezellig’ the space is, as the Dutch would say. Apparently a squash court fits perfectly in the space, and with a small audience that can all virtually reach out and touch the glass. Leaving him with a tough decision as to where to host his tournament. Personally I think he should stay with the main hall.

The tournament organisation was a huge success, here’s how the players rated.

Champagne & Strawberries

Lincou

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The Grand St George’s Hall . (Photo © City of Liverpool)

Normally we write a report card a few days or a week after an event. It’s not normal that another major tournament has been held directly afterwards; the Super Series Final; meaning finalists Lincou and Palmer have had a marathon fortnight.

Lincou was two games down and struggling in the 3rd against Palmer in the final and staged a magnificent comeback. Palmer rarely loses when he has the finish line in sight, this result just as much a testament to Lincou’s fight. The last couple of years we’ve been treated to some amazing battles as the #1 position has been fought for, and held, by seven different players. It seems unlikely that that tussle will stop or become uneventful, even with the retirement of Messrs Power and Nicol.

Palmer.
Palmer was displaying some of the best movement on a squash court we’ve ever seen. He’s about to become a father for the first time, which he thinks may help his squash (certainly didn’t do Lincou or Beachill any harm), a scary thought for everyone else. It’s rare for him to lose a match from the position he was in, but that kind of tournament hiccup will probably merely fuel the intensity of his training over summer, leaving the rest of us wishing he had won the tournament and relaxed a little.

Local talent.
We were watching a quarterfinal match and there was a break between matches.
A performer using a portable keyboard was playing and singing as entertainment. I’m a big fan of this courtside entertainment and think the jazz bands that John Nimick uses at his events is wonderful for the atmosphere. I didn’t think the standard of the performer in Liverpool was that great, but later found out that he was a busker working the underground tunnel between St George’s Hall and Lime Street – the city’s main train station, when Alan Thatcher walked past him and recruited his services, more as a benefit to the busker than to his squash audience. What a top bloke.

Ramy Ashour
The world’s youngest ever World Junior Champion progressed in the tournament as was expected of his seeding. We had never seen him play before and it was a treat. He has a badminton grip with his thumb positioned along the handle, rather than around it. This enables a fast flicking action and gives extra strength on overhead backhands. I’m not sure what damage he’s going to do to his thumb over the long term, considering a badminton racquet weighs around 80 grams, compared to the bulkier 140 of squash, but his flicky, style of play that centres around winners was entertaining to watch. He still has the junior squash style of ten short balls for one length, rather than the senior ten lengths to one short ball (not actually a precise figure but you get the idea), and he has to be more disciplined to beat the likes of Palmer, but it’s scary that he’s still a junior and will be ranked in the top 20 for next month.

Ong Beng Hee
We wrote a story a few years ago about how often matches hinge on one or two crucial points, not necessarily in the 5th game (read that report ). This was the case for Bengy in Liverpool. He was a couple of points away from upsetting Lincou.
Next time.

Karim Darwish
Darwish got past Willstrop to make the semis in Liverpool. Something has obviously changed in his game (he cites better fitness). Liverpool is the second time this year that he has made the semis of a major tournament (also TOC). Prior to this the last time he progressed that far in a major was the 2003 World Open, a long time ago. He’s obviously playing more consistently and better.

Vinegar and Rotten Tomotoes

John White
McWhitey lost to Tuominen in the second round. It wasn’t great squash from either of them, with it being a bit of a hack-fest, rather than great length setting up good short play. Whitey’s squash at the Commonwealth Games was breathtaking and depressing to be on the receiving end of. At the moment he tends to play brilliant or ordinary, with some of his consistency gone.

Nick Matthew
Matthew lost to Beachill in the quarters. This is only a bad result on paper, with most pros shaking their heads at the situation of Beachill being ranked 11 – an incredible example of how strong the men’s game is.

Willstrop
Seeded 2 he lost to Darwish in the quarters. Like Palmer this result will probably help his summer training motivation.

SRA
The highlight of the tournament had to be Bronstein’s SRA fiasco. Having some drinks after the quarterfinals with Martin Bronstein, Colin McQuillan & tournament Director Alan Thatcher, Bronstein was giving us an anecdote that involved the SRA (Squash Racquets Association – the former name for England Squash). The only problem was every time he went to say SRA in the story he said IRA instead. About five times! Not a mistake you should make.

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