Le Tour de Northants: A Match on Every Court
Introduction by JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Reporter
Main report by MIKE BROADBENT – Chairman, Northants Squash Rackets Association
As I have mentioned in a previous report on Squash Mad, when I moved to Northants from Staffordshire over 2 years ago, I was warned that I was entering a bit of a ‘black hole’ in terms of squash activity. The number of courts lost over recent years only served to confirm this conclusion, compounded by the fact that I had moved to Corby, now dubbed the largest town in the UK with no squash courts since it lost its last courts in 2008.
However, there is now a dedicated team of squash enthusiasts at the helm of the Northants Squash Rackets Association (NSRA) determined to change things, in particular starting with grassroots junior squash development.
MIKE BROADBENT, current NSRA Chairman, now reports on their latest challenge, designed to raise funds to support the next exciting phase of junior squash development in the county …
On Saturday 1st September, a group of committed individuals who are involved in squash administration and promotion for Northamptonshire embarked on a fund raising event to help with the extended junior activities within the county: they cycled from the top of Northants to the bottom, stopping at every venue with a squash court, to play a game of doubles. It was dubbed the Match on Every Court Challenge.
The idea was twofold: raise money so that the junior team league (newly implemented for the 18/19 season and running alongside the existing grand prix series) could be put into place with all costs covered, along with paying for additional coaches if possible; but also to highlight the fact that it shouldn’t actually be possible to do such a thing.
Northamptonshire has been particularly badly hit with court closures, losing approximately 50% over the last decade. The size of the county leagues has shrunk from five divisions of ten to, for this coming season, three of eight. Recognising that the sport could die completely in the region, a few people have taken it upon themselves to considerably increase the number of juniors actively playing within the few clubs that remain.
With only six clubs still involved in the county leagues, it wouldn’t have been a particularly demanding challenge to visit each one for a game, even by bicycle. There are, however, fourteen venues in Northants with a squash court – although several of them are one-court places or leisure centres with run-down courts and no clubs within them.
This was more like it: starting in Kettering at the Arena Sports leisure centre, the group rode to Redwell leisure centre and Diana’s Health and Fitness in Wellingborough; the Pemberton Centre in Rushden; then over to Northampton to play at Lings Forum, Saints Squash and Cricket Club, Dallington, the High School for Girls, and the Grangewood Resident’s Club. With Northampton completed the route headed west to Cornhill – a one court club and the oldest in the county – before venturing over to Daventry for the leisure centre and the squash club, then turning south towards Brackley, with Farthingstone Golf Club’s single court on the way.
As if that wasn’t quite enough, three of the six main protagonists started an hour earlier in Corby, outside the “Cube” – an impressive building constructed on the site of the old leisure centre where three excellent courts were demolished and – surprise! – never replaced. This was taken as a photo opportunity in support of the Corby Squash campaign, and it meant that half the group would be cycling over 100 miles and playing at fifteen venues.
Northants squash players, having heard of the venture, joined in at Northampton for sections of the ride and also to play. Two of the main group – NSRA Chairman Mike Broadbent, and Junior Development Officer Ray Chessum – ensured that they played in every single game, in order that the moniker A Match on Every Court remained a true one. Having started in Corby at 8am, they finally made it into Brackley at ten to nine that evening, to a welcoming committee from the squash club including several of the juniors who will ultimately benefit from the funds raised (currently £1300 – £300 over target – and rising).
Martin Hall, Brackley’s club coach and the event’s originator: “Mike and I were talking during the Buckingham round of the Northants and District Junior Grand Prix, back in March, about how we could inspire people to donate towards a fund for the junior activities. We’re stretched very thinly, and the time has come when we can’t simply rely on the goodwill of parents and volunteers if we want to continue growing the sport in the region – we need additional resources.
“I came up with the idea of playing in every club, but to make it much harder in doing it by bike. Mike’s a cyclist, he was immediately up for it. I’m not, and as the day dawned I wondered what the hell it was I’d started. But, painful though it was, I got round – and the response has been fantastic. It’s amazing what you can achieve with passion and commitment – which pretty much sums up how this bunch works.”
Pictures courtesy of: James Roberts and Northants Squash Rackets Association