A Tribute to John Batty – the Epitome of the Squash Community
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Reporter
Yesterday morning, on opening Facebook to catch up on the latest news from my friendship circle, the very first post that came up on my timeline was from John’s profile, which is not unusual as he was a prolific Facebook user. However, this time it wasn’t him speaking to us, but his daughter Pip and I knew instantly why this would be the case …
John sadly lost his long battle with cancer in the evening of Wednesday 6th March at Tywyn Hospital, with his beloved wife Eileen and daughter Pip by his side. He had borne the disease with amazing forbearance over the last seven years and twice gone into remission, receiving excellent care and treatment from Bronglais Hospital Chemotherapy Unit in Aberystwyth.
John was born in Hull in 1937 and grew up in the city. After undertaking his National Service in the Navy, he started a career in the insurance industry, initially living and working on the island of Jersey. Eventually, he and the family moved to Leicester, which is where John first took up squash at the ripe old age of 30.
John was encouraged by a friend to join a new squash club, at the Cricket Club in Countesthorpe, and was instantly hooked for life. He then joined another new club, Squash Leicester, which was nearer home. This club was bought by the legendary Ian Turley and his friend and it became John’s squash home for many years. Ian was so well known that he was able to attract top players, with John’s first coach being the late Torsham Khan. Once John became a County Grade referee, he was lucky to be able to watch PSL teams, including the top Pakistani players of the era.
Following the closure of Squash Leicester and an injury forced break, John then joined the famous Leicester Squash Club on London Road, where he spent many hours, in particular Friday Club nights with his friends Hans Billson and Jeff Avery. Jeff invited him to join Escorts Club, where he had great memories of playing at Rugby, Oakham and Uppingham schools.
John was a great storyteller and often had us all in stitches with tales of his competitive playing years, especially encountering not one but two cheating vicars! There was also the one about the time he met the actor Leonard Rossiter, who was a keen squash player, at a British Masters tournament. John had offered to referee his match, but Mr Rossiter was in a foul mood because his opponent had failed to show and promptly stormed off court, kicking the tyres of the cars parked at the club as he went!
On his retirement, he and Eileen decided to move to Tywyn, mid-Wales, where they had spent many happy family holidays over the years. Although he was sad to swap the thriving squash scene in Leicester for what he affectionately termed ‘the graveyard of squash’, he was able to open up an opportunity for a new, rewarding path in squash – the joy of coaching children and adults.
He obtained his Level 2 Squash Wales coaching qualification and formed Dysynni Squash Club with the help of Community Chest funding. Unfortunately, he then slipped a disc and finished up with a dropped foot, but was still able to coach. With great mentoring received from the National Coach, he enjoyed 16 rewarding years providing over 400 young people with experience of our great sport.
Much to his surprise, he was asked to play for his adoptive country Wales in the Home Internationals several times. He often used to joke that if he’d still had two good legs he might have played better, but still thoroughly enjoyed the experience and was proud to play for Wales. He also played in several individual Masters competitions, including the World Masters twice.
John was probably one of the most appreciative fans of the professional game, often turning up at major tournaments to watch the action from qualifying onwards. In fact, he particularly enjoyed qualifying as this often provided him with the best opportunity to meet and chat with the stars of the game. He was especially a fan of women’s squash and in particular the legends that are Nicol David and Rachael Grinham, who he said were always very friendly and approachable. He was also quick to spot new, up and coming talent in the game, and in particular Nour El Tayeb, who he tipped as a future World No. 1 quite a few years ago. I am sure he is soon going to be proved right with this prediction.
The world of social media allowed John to express and share his enthusiasm for the game of squash to the wider world, and as a result, he has linked up with many fellow devotees and forged new friendships. Indeed, it was only through Facebook that I got to know John in the first place and I found his love for the game and engaging expression of it instantly infectious.
His keenness to encourage the next generation of squash player has been an absolute inspiration. Even though his dropped foot, and latterly his battle with cancer, severely affected his own ability to play the game, this never diminished his desire to carry on supporting and developing local young and adult players in Tywyn.
Even in the last few months of his life, John had been determined to make a difference, raising money for the Chemotherapy Unit that provided him with life-prolonging treatment. A group of his squash friends from the Midlands, myself included, paid a visit to ‘the graveyard of squash’ last summer, which inspired us to help him with these efforts.
This led to the organisation of the ‘John Batty Squash Tournament’ at Leicester Squash Club in September last year, followed by a special World Squash Day Auction of signed squash memorabilia, all of which helped to push John’s fundraising total to £4,000. We are now discussing the possibility of making this an annual event as part of John’s legacy.
Following Pip’s Facebook announcement, the many kind words and heartfelt tributes to John that have been posted by members of the global squash community tell a story in themselves – John wasn’t an elite player or coach, but his enthusiasm for and commitment to the game, coupled with his witty, cheery and positive personality, resonated with so many of us squash devotees.
The squash community is diverse and global, but is united in its recognition of those selfless individuals who tirelessly give so much to the game for little or no financial reward, just a desire to pass on their love and enthusiasm for the game. John was a shining example of such an individual, hence the outpouring of affection that his passing has witnessed.
John is survived by his wife Eileen and daughter Pip and the whole squash community can only hope that the love and affection being expressed for John will go some way to easing the pain that they now feel. John’s funeral details will be announced soon.
Readers are invited to leave tributes to John in the Comments Section below.
Pictures courtesy of Eileen and Pip Batty