Behind the Scenes at the Citigold Wealth Management Canary Wharf Squash Classic
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Reporter
As a PSA Foundation member, I was able to be among the first to secure Quarter Final tickets for this year’s Canary Wharf Squash Classic, purchasing 5 tickets for myself and 4 club mates. However, when the suggestion came from Alan Thatcher to come down to discuss plans for World Squash Day and then pick up an ‘all areas’ media pass, I promptly found another club mate to buy my premium back wall ticket!
In return for the media pass, I agreed to bring my half-decent DSLR camera with me to profit from the ‘all areas’ access and take some snaps of the action and venue from a variety of angles. I also took the opportunity to talk to some of the hard-working PSA staff and tournament volunteers to find out a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes to bring an event of this stature to fruition, as well as to our screens.
I arrived at Canary Wharf an hour before the meeting with Alan, making my way to the Jubilee shopping mall, located underneath the venue. Chris Baird from the PSA staff was manning a tournament exhibition stand, complete with large video screen showing the Squash TV action, as well as the famous ‘Batak’ reactions testing machine. I won’t talk about the score I achieved …
I then entered the venue to take in the court, which always looks so resplendent underneath the domed glass roof of the East Wintergarden. 2 decent level non-pro players were having a knock and once finished, asked me if I wanted to go next. With no one there telling me I was not allowed, and seeing a group of school children filing in to seemingly have a session on court, I thought to myself it was ‘now or never’! Luckily I had come dressed in sportswear and with a racket to hand (funny that!), and so enjoyed a quick 5-minute solo session, cracking that white ball against the glass better than I normally would a black one against plaster I thought. Being on that court certainly seemed to inspire something in me.
Alan and I then held a very productive discussion with Andrew Shelley of the World Squash Federation, with the seeds being sewn of some great ideas for World Squash Day and how participation can be built up in the future – further details will soon emerge.
It was then back to the media room, which acts as the nerve centre and office for most of the PSA staff working to support the event. My first chat is with Jordan Jefferies, whose main role is to support the PSA Foundation, which undertakes squash community support initiatives across 3 themes: community involvement, equal opportunities and player wellbeing. Jordan has been coordinating the Dunlop ‘Chuckaball Challenge’ this week and proudly reveals that they have already raised over £400 over the first 3 days of the tournament.
The media room is a hive of activity ahead of the evening’s action, including acting as the warm-up area for the players! Alan is now busy putting the finishing touches to his MC notes, ensuring that he always has interesting facts and figures about each player at his disposal. Nathan Clarke, the PSA’s Head of Media and PR, seems to be busy working on the PSA World Tour website but takes a bit of time out to show me around the impressive set up for the Squash TV coverage.
Parked right outside the venue by the water’s edge and linked up via some heavy duty cabling is the media truck, housing all the technology that brings the action to our screens. Here the whole operation is directed, cameras are remotely controlled, sound mixed, replays and graphics put together and finally, the commentary is also undertaken. Joey and Parkey don’t have the luxury of a line of sight to the court for this tournament and are huddled at in a room at the back of the media truck, watching the action unfold on three screens.
Nathan leads me back to the court to show the camera set up. As mentioned, the vast majority are what are called ‘hotheads‘, which are remotely controlled from the truck. There is only one manually operated camera, this being located at the front right-hand corner. This camera is also the roving one used to go on court for the player interviews etc.
I also get to meet with what can only be described as a squash legend – court attendant Ken Nairin, who not only has been keeping the glass court walls and floor sparkling clean since the start of Canary Wharf in 2004, but has also often been seen at British Opens and Super Series Finals, stretching back to the days of the Lambs Club and Wembley Conference Centre. A professional masseur and keen squash player himself, he proudly tells me he is 78 years old. He definitely does not look it and without doubt should become a ‘poster boy’ for the health benefits of squash. He should also seek a sponsorship deal with Mr Muscle in my opinion!
The doors to the venue have now opened and I then see a very familiar face on the meet and greet ticket desk – serial squash volunteer and experienced squash coach Alison Insley. Alison herself has earned the affectionate nickname ‘Glass Court Ali’, due to also often being seen on Squash TV looking after a variety of glass courts during key events. I reckon a court cleaning competition between her and Ken could be quite interesting! Alison this week is working alongside Judy Williams, who herself is a long-time supporter of squash events and is also a Masters squash player.
Alan announces that people should now take their seats as the action is about to get underway, so for the first match, Tarek Momen v Ryan Cuskelly, I take my allocated media seat next to Alan on the side wall, towards the front left-hand corner. The side wall view is a different viewing experience for sure but definitely allows you to better appreciate the incredible movement of these professional athletes.
It is not easy photographing from this angle, particularly as the glass vertical supports tend to spoil the shot, so you are left waiting for something interesting to transpire within the nearest pane of uninterrupted glass. During the Shorbagy v James match, I move from my seat to crouch down by the front left corner, hoping that this does not serve to distract the players in any way, and am rewarded with some reasonable shots.
For the Castagnet v Dessouky match, I decided to take in the view from the VIP area from high above. From up here, you are rewarded with a great view of the overall venue, the court and can better appreciate the general atmosphere generated by the full house. It was good to see a contingent of French fans cheering on the French Warrior with shouts of “Allez Mathieu”, which I am sure helped spur him on to his great comeback victory.
At the start of the final match of the Quarter Finals, the much-anticipated Coll v Makin encounter, I am initially back in my sidewall seat, but then decide to experience the front wall view, the one exploited to great effect by the bank of professional photographers. There is a portion of clear glass towards the right-hand side of the front wall, but there is no room for me, meaning that initially I have to take some shots through the speckled effect glass, which is not ideal, especially as it tends to confuse the camera’s autofocus. However, one of the pro photographers kindly then takes my camera from me to snap a few shots through the clear glass.
It is definitely an interesting perspective viewing the game through the front wall, especially as you really can appreciate the pace with which the ball is hit, which is reinforced by the loud thwack sounds that reverberate behind the front wall. It is also good to see the players up close and front on all the time and thereby better appreciate their emotions and exertions.
As a huge squash fan, I always love coming to Canary Wharf for the excitement and special atmosphere that it generates. However, this has to rank as the most fulfilling experience ever of any squash tournament I have attended and I feel privileged to have been able to enjoy it. It not only allowed me access to areas and views that squash fans don’t normally get to experience but also to appreciate the hard work that goes on behind the scenes by the PSA staff and volunteers to put on these professionally organised and welcoming events. Thanks to everyone who took the time to show me around and chat with me. You all deserve the utmost respect from the squash community for the work that you do.
A larger selection of photos that I took is available on the Squash Mad Facebook page by clicking here.
Pictures by: James Roberts