Squash Mad

Remembering John Easter, a true gentleman of squash

From the 1973 Wold Championships: John Easter, Stuart Courtney, Robert Anjema and Bryan Patterson

From the 1973 World Championships: John Easter, Stuart Courtney, Robert Anjema and Bryan Patterson

John Easter (1945-2015) 
By STUART COURTNEY

 

Squash has lost one of its true gentlemen with the recent passing of John Easter. A tall, stylish player, he epitomised the effortless ability of the naturally-gifted player and was one of the early pioneers who crossed the threshold from amateur to professional squash. The father of England rugby international Nick Easter, he holds a special place in the hearts of all who knew him. Former England team-mate Stuart Courtney has kindly written a fitting tribute to truly great English icon.

John Easter (1945 – 2015)
John Nicholas Cave Easter was born in Shawford, Hampshire on the 17th December 1945, went to school at St Edwards, Oxford, where he excelled at most sports, and then to Christ Church College, Oxford, where he got an honours degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. His latter life was spent in the financial world.

Whilst at Oxford (1966 – 1968) he was awarded blues for cricket and squash. He was a right-arm medium pace bowler and he took 58 first-class wickets, the highlight being his 5-62 taken against Northants which included a hat-trick.

At squash he got ‘blues’ in 1966 and 1967, the latter being a high quality match against another very good player, Philip Ayton from Sussex. John was a good volleyer; his height giving him a big advantage, and between 1971 and 1983, he played 31 times for GB and England, turned professional in the 1973-74 season after leading GB at the World Championships in South Africa, where they came a very close second.

He reached No. 9 in the world and, along with Jonah Barrington, was one of the British professional players who were responsible for raising the profile of the sport at that time.

Described by Rex Bellamy, the doyen of squash writers, as a ‘matinee idol’ (John had done some male modelling), he was everyone’s favourite player.

In both senses of the word he was a gentleman; loved by many, had humility, was humorous, gave his time willingly, helped up and coming players, and was a very fine player himself.

Stories abound about his love of food and, at mealtimes, John could always be found at the head of any queue.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2006 and throughout the rest of his life, he always made light of his illness and was happiest when he was with family and friends.

He leaves his wife Glynis, Nick, Gemma and Mark, the boys being very fine professional rugby players, and three grandchildren. He will be sorely missed and never forgotten.

A personal memory:
In the late seventies and before the game was played all year round, the end of season tournament was always the Isle of Wight. It was a very laid-back affair with lots of revelry and with doubles and mixed doubles often played in the early hours of the morning.

John was there on a crammer weekend for his accountancy exams but decided to enter the tournament, saying to me that if we both got to the semi final, he would withdraw at match point as he had an exam when the final was being played.

He and I duly got to our seeded spots and sure enough at nine all in the fifth, and him serving, I thought he would walk across, shake my hand and retire. Now, whether he had forgotten about the exam I don’t know, but he decided to serve and so I thought I would have some fun.

When he served I missed the ball deliberately expecting to take it off the back wall but to my horror but not John’s at the time, it hit the nick and rolled along the floor. Game and match to Easter.

Reality didn’t dawn for what seemed an eternity but then suddenly the expression on his face changed to one of horror as he tried to explain to the referee that he couldn’t play in the final as he had an exam and that really I was the winner.

The referee was having none of it and for about the fourth time declared him the winner. After a lot of heated discussion with the tournament organiser and lots and lots of apologies, I was eventually awarded the match. Easter was saved.

However, it didn’t end there of course as the Egyptian (can’t remember his name) who had already reached the final, refused to play me. High drama.

In the end it was played and I won 3-0.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you, Stuart. A lovely, warm tribute to a great player of a generation that paved the way for today’s professionals. Readers are invited to share their memories of John Easter in the Comment section below.

 

Posted on January 24, 2016

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8 Comments

  1. Alan Thatcher January 24, 2016 at 9:36 am

    Stuart, thank you for writing such a fitting tribute to John. I first got involved in organising tournaments during a wonderful time when my career took me to The News in Portsmouth.
    John was leading a very strong Hampshire squad that included John and Richard Le Lievre, Martin Shaw, Bryan Patterson and Aubrey Waddy.
    It was a golden era for the game, with so many large clubs, millions of players and the sport taking its first tentative steps into television.
    I remember John presenting a Squash Coaching programme with Hiddy Jahan. The court sprints were not the fastest ever recorded!
    It was such a strong region for squash, with Portsmouth flanked by the excellent Chichester and Lee-on-Solent clubs, with Beechdown coming on the scene in Basingstoke. With neighbouring clubs like Trojans, Winchester, Fareham and Abshot, Seacourt at Hayling Island, and Seaview, Ryde and Newport on the Isle of Wight, the game was so strong. And who remembers tournaments at Meon Valley and National League squash at the Tyrella Club at Bishop’s Waltham?

  2. David Pearson January 24, 2016 at 10:41 am

    Hi Stuart,thank you for taking the time to write this tribute for John.I was fortunate enough to play with John in the early eighties when he made a comeback for a couple of years before the end of his career.For a young player like me to have the privilege to play such a great player and spend time around him taught me so much about how to approach the sport,he oozed class as a player and more importantly he oozed class as a person.He took time to spend with me and give me advice,the abiding memory for me was playing him in the British Closed,I lost 3-2 but the way he played was pure class,in a way from a by gone era.I was one of the young players who had the opportunity to experience the great players of the Amateur Era and the Professionals of that time,these players taught me how to approach the game in the right way.In my coaching career John was always in the back of my mind talking to me to put others first and teach an artful way.As Stuart says he was an Icon who we will never see the likes of again.

    David Pearson

  3. Ian Robinson January 24, 2016 at 3:05 pm

    John Easter – RIP
    With the sad passing of John Easter, English squash has lost one of the founding fathers of the professional game. He was both an outstanding player and ambassador for the sport in the days before the phrase ‘role model’ was so frequently coined. As a friend and mentor, he was second to none.
    Tall and charismatic, he had a reach that seemed to mean he was everywhere on the court most of the time. At his best he controlled the court with a mixture of great skill and exemplary tactics that took him to a highest world ranking of 9. He was a class act.
    I came across John when he made a foray to the North of England, in the days when there was a regional circuit of tournaments. I was a raw young player from Yorkshire and he was the foremost English player of the time. The first time I watched John play, I recall thinking that I wanted to play like him. Given that he was 6 inches taller than me and could volley, that was probably never going to happen! Nonetheless John was always cheery and happy to talk squash with me. He always had good words of advice and encouragement – he was a great enthusiast and was deeply committed to the sport.
    John had the experience of spanning both the amateur era in the sport and also took the plunge to be one of the first English players to turn full time professional, in the days when that mattered. John worked hard putting himself about at many of the regional, national and international events he could. He always gave a good account of himself on the court but also was the ambassador that the sport needed in the pioneering days off the court. He was especially able in helping sponsors who wanted personable and interesting players to help promote the event, the sponsor and the sport. John was all this and more.
    I well remember visiting Japan with John in 1982 as he was coming to the end of his squash playing career. Apart from any other luggage John always seemed to have with him a mobile gym in his bag, which he used to strengthen muscles around his ailing knee injury which niggled away at him towards the end of his playing days. John never made a fuss about this, but it clearly was a major source of irritation for him. Nonetheless, he endured it stoically and continued to play as long as he could. John’s height made him a giant in Japan and he was widely photographed to help promote the sport even after the Japan Open was over. He and I remained there for a further week to play exhibition matches in Osaka and Fukuoka. We both had the most fascinating experience in learning about Japanese culture and were afforded the honour of being invited to stay with a Japanese family, which is something of a cultural rarity. There was a funny side to this as we dined with the family who spoke no English and against us was the fact that neither John nor I spoke Japanese. True to form, John’s lead meant we spent the whole evening smiling and laughing with the family despite the fact that we had no idea what we were talking about. John’s sense of humour was always to the fore and will be something about him, which I will have fond memories.
    Deepest sympathies to his wife Glynis and family, John will be sorely missed.

  4. Aubrey Waddy January 24, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    I was always in awe of John Easter. I felt that even if I got to be as technically accomplished as him, which I never did by a wide margin, the fact that he was about one and a half times times as big meant that he would still have been one and a half times as good – in addition to his wonderful touch, he was so physically impressive. I recall a match John played for Hampshire at the end of his career when he was badly hampered by his ailing knee. His opponent was a young English international, electric fit and coming to the peak of his powers. He was simply brushed aside, although towards the end of the third game John’s team mates knew that he couldn’t last much longer. The speed and authority with which he proffered his hand at match point, when his opponent should have had a let, hugely amused us. So imposing was the man it would have taken someone with the authority of the Secretary General of the United Nations to say ‘yes, let’ at that stage. It was sad when Parkinson’s Disease nullified the athlete in John, but it never nullified his wit and the pleasure he took in squash, even if latterly it was other people’s squash. It’s wretched now for his family and for the rest of us that he has gone.

  5. andrew turner January 25, 2016 at 7:28 pm

    Thanks for writing this eloquent piece about the great John easter. Before my time in terms of squash career he must of enjoyed playing in that golden era. Sporting genes are passed on and it’s wonderful that his son nick was a pro rugby player. Undoubtedly more tributes and anecdotes will arise with his passing.

  6. Michael Palmer January 27, 2016 at 10:25 am

    John’s warmth as a human being and his generosity of spirit was matched only by his stature
    as a supremely talented squash player. As one of the ‘early’ professionals he set a great example for
    the sport by his achievements and personal conduct. Coming into squash initially as a journalist
    I found John a most friendly and helpful person, always ready to talk. Later, as an event organiser and promoter I was always glad that John was ‘in the draw’, spreading his waves of bonhomie and
    exciting audiences with his on court skills. He was
    one of the giants that played a significant role in the
    surge of squash popularity in the early 70’s.

  7. Tim Groome February 6, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Remember John well and had no idea Nick was his son. I succeeded Ted Millman as Secretary of the SRPA and had a marvellous couple of years going round the various tournaments etc. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.

  8. Anne Easter Smith February 9, 2016 at 3:23 am

    I was truly touched by Stuart’s lovely article and the follow-up comments about my brother, John. I have spent most of my adult life in the U.S. and so my times with John were few and far between, but it was clear he was one of those people that others were drawn to. Good-looking, he was never vain; supremely talented, he was humble with it; and he became a devoted, proud father of three high-achieving children. His son, Nick, was bound and determined to beat his father’s England cap record, and no one was prouder when he did than John. I enjoyed talking to Mike Corby at John’s funeral, and there were several other former squash colleagues among the 125 who packed into the crematorium chapel that only held 80. John was given quite a send off. Thank you all for making his sister proud all over again!

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