Sunday, July 14, 2024

North of Scotland Open grows in Aberdeen

Ben Coleman (left) is heading back to Aberdeen
Ben Coleman (left) is heading back to Aberdeen

Aberdeen celebrate three-year deal with Trac Oil and Gas to develop North of Scotland Open
By MIKE HEGARTY – Squash Mad North of Scotland Correspondent

Riding the crest of a recent squash high in Scotland, it’s a pleasure to be able to once again host a PSA event ‘north of the border’.

EdCharKempNow entering its second year, the 2015 Trac Oil & Gas North of Scotland Open has grown from a Challenger 5 to a Challenger 10 event and will take place from March 31 to April 5.

Nottingham’s world no 51 Eddie Charlton (pictured right in action in Edinburgh against Scotland’s Dougie Kempsell) heads the draw, only just ahead of Inverness’ Greg Lobban.

Greg is ranked only two places behind Eddie and is celebrating a career-high ranking of 53. Greg will be looking to continue a recent run of superb PSA performances with a win on home soil.

Third seeded Essex lad Ben Coleman won’t let Eddie and Greg have it all their way though. The 2014 North of Scotland Open was Ben’s first PSA victory and it led to a run of PSA wins with Ben most recently winning the Atlanta Open Challenger 10 this month. No doubt Ben will be back hungry to retain his title.

Better than that, the main draw and qualification list is looking strong all the way through. With a host of Scots and Aberdeen’s top local players in the mix it should hopefully make for thrilling matches from the get-go.

Squash in Scotland has enjoyed some resurgence in the professional game these past 12 months. There was something of a lull after the British Open came to Aberdeen in 1999 which saw the ever-successful BSPA Edinburgh Open carry the flag for the professional game almost alone.

lobko14Fast forward to 2014 and all of a sudden two PSA events came along at once in both Aberdeen and Inverness. Topped off by a truly special home Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, 2014 saw a high profile event take place in almost every major squash area in the country.

Scotland’s leading players, including Lobban (right) truly shone in the limelight and the experience made them hungry for more exposure in high-profile events.

Continuing this momentum, Aberdeen Squash & Racketball Club have just signed a partnership agreement with Trac Oil & Gas which will see our show court refurbished and rebranded, and the North of Scotland Open return in at least Challenger 10 form until April 2018.

Unsurprisingly, the challenge is one of sustainability. It’s a question that club, regional and national governing bodies face in unison and right now it is far from an easy one to answer.

Some scary figures have emerged recently which demonstrate a sharp decline in playing numbers in England. Undoubtedly England is not isolated in experiencing that decline. Playing communities are aging and there are fewer coming through from the younger generations to bolster the ranks.

Also, current news stories have begun to paint a grim picture of the state of the oil & gas industry on which Aberdeen relies. Plummeting crude oil prices have led to widespread job losses and severely restricted budgets.

The news then that Trac have committed to a long-term investment in squash is even more meaningful and it’s important that the very most is made of the opportunity.

Accessibility is the key to the game’s success. ‘Pop up’ glass courts and top-quality broadcasting have meant the mountain truly is moving to Muhammad, so to speak. It will provide greater exposure to the public, greater commercial opportunity and hopefully lead to increasing investment and an even more spectacular experience for fans as a result.

Unfortunately ordinary clubs have to bring Muhammad to the mountain… but we have a unique asset. The atmosphere, vibrancy and cameraderie in a busy squash club, packed in around ‘bear pit’ squash courts, is infectious.

It’s there even on league nights; but especially in watching professional level competition people experience an atmosphere rarely seen in sports globally. It’s almost unique that you can be 15ft away from some of the greatest athletes on the planet as they do what they do best and then enjoy a beer with them afterwards!

In an effort to share what we enjoy so much with others and to let them experience squash first-hand, viewing for all rounds of the North of Scotland Open will be made free to everyone.

As well as that, the club will host a graded tournament and offer taster sessions to schools and the public. Squash belongs to all of us, and we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves.

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