Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Worldwide squash community pays tribute to Malcolm Willstrop

‘There is no doubt the legacy he has left at Pontefract will stand the test of time’ says Nick Matthew
By JAMES ROBERTS – Squash Mad Columnist

Exactly a week ago today, the squash world lost a colossus of a figure in Malcolm Willstrop. This sent shock waves across the global squash community and a wave of sympathy towards Malcolm’s family and friends at Pontefract Squash Club.

Under normal circumstances, Squash Mad would have liked to have been part of that initial wave of sympathy and to have paid an immediate tribute to Malcolm.

However, these are not normal times as the spectre of Covid has struck at the heart of Squash Mad, with our Editor-in-Chief, Alan Thatcher, currently laying low as he fights off a Covid infection.

Fortunately, he is at home recovering well but taking some well-advised time out from keeping the squash world informed and engaged about our sport.

He has therefore asked me to coordinate something to commemorate the life of the great man, Malcolm Willstrop. As a mere ‘club hacker’, and one who has been a huge admirer of Malcolm’s work, his achievements as a coach and mentor and the incredible successes of players he has guided, I have been both humbled and honoured to have been asked to put this together.

What follows is a series of heartfelt tributes that we at Squash Mad have received from people across the squash community, be they current or former professionals, even former World Number 1s, but also coaches, officials, volunteers and ‘club hackers’ like me.

They are listed in no particular order of importance, just purely the order in which they were received. The only exception to this rule is the first one by Danny Lee at St. George’s Hill, since it acts as a perfect mini biography and so is deserving of the position of opening tribute.

These tributes just go to show how far and wide Malcolm’s positive influence on the game of squash has extended. He has inspired many, not just with his coaching style, but also his attention to the development of positive characteristics and the personal wellbeing of players he has coached.

The whole team of writers and contributors at Squash Mad send our deepest condolences to James, Vanessa, the wider family and all who knew and worked with him at Pontefract Squash Club. We hope that these tributes and the sentiments contained therein will serve as a small modicum of comfort as they face the future without Malcolm by their side.

Danny Lee, Squash Professional, St. George’s Hill Club, Surrey

Malcolm Willstrop was a unique character who was a hugely influential, top-class coach and mentor to so many players over the past 45 years.
It all started at Greshams School where he taught French and produced a group of players who competed at international junior level, followed by his work with Ian Robinson and Gawain Briars who successfully turned professional in the late 70s. Malcolm’s son Christy cleaned up nationally at junior level and rose to the top 24 in the world as Willstrop senior set up the pro squad at Walton Hall near Wakefield, which included several England internationals including Robinson, Willstrop, Ashley Naylor and Steve Bateman. Cassie Jackman, who went on to be World Champion, was discovered by Malcolm when he moved to North Walsham and his stepson David Campion was a top-class young player and then became national coach.
Malcolm worked with England junior and senior squads and he made Pontefract probably the most famous squash club in the World. His unparalleled achievements there are well documented but from the gargantuan accomplishers James Willstrop, Lee Beachill, Vanessa Aitkinson, Saurav Ghosal and others to the more mortal members of his squads, Malcolm helped mould many compassionate individuals with a social conscience, high standards of behaviour and a commendable work ethic.
He wrote articles, commentated, compered, officiated and even promoted but his real forte was coaching the game he loved until the end.
He was quirky, opinionated, sometimes cryptic and difficult to bond with initially, but he was a kind, witty and hospitable.
A complete “one off” character who remained at the top of his profession into his eighties, loved by his pupils and friends, highly respected all over the world, Malcolm will be greatly missed by the squash community to which he contributed so much.

Alan Thatcher, Editor, Squash Mad, Kent, England

My sincere condolences to James and the rest of the family. I always enjoyed meeting up with Malcolm, especially at Canary Wharf, where he would usually have one eye on Cheltenham as well as the squash.

James has only missed one tournament during the long history of the Canary Wharf Classic and Malcolm was nearly always in his corner each time. Between games they would often get some privacy behind the bleachers, close to the original tournament office, and you could hear Malcolm offering his words of wisdom. They were always simple nuggets of information, sometimes helping James to calm down and regain focus, rather than a wave of technical instructions.

Malcolm was a blunt, direct but engaging speaker and I will always remember a long interview filmed by Jean De Lierre on the steps inside Grand Central Station in New York in 2003.

Canary Wharf is always like a gathering of the clans and, with James appearing in so many finals, there was always a big crowd of Pontefract fans upstairs in the VIP Bar after the match with Malcolm, James and club owner Mick Todd.

Zoe Shardlow, Squash Coach, Adelaide, Australia (formerly from Sussex, England)

So sad Malcolm has gone. I spent a week at Pontefract when I was 15, Sussex girls staying with Yorkshire girls, all training together along with Mark Blowers, Lee Beachill and others. I was a bit of a maverick, so I’m sure there were concerns I wouldn’t see eye to eye with Malcolm, but of course there was no discipline problem. He recognised my passion and he naturally commanded my respect and instinctively knew how to get the best out of me. I loved his dry wit. It was a great week, as much about how to train as what to train. Hard work but also humour.
I remember hitting with a six-year-old James, sharing a love of exploring how we could make the ball sing (and making sure I got an early win in). Malcolm, who was giving us his time and laser-focused attention, all day every day for a whole week, went out of his way to express his sincere gratitude to me for giving his son just a few minutes of my time and attention. He was genuinely appreciative and it was humbling.
He even complimented me on my play, albeit a tad begrudgingly as I was leading the charge against Yorkshire, so was really a deadly foe.
He was a giant and I’m so grateful I had that opportunity to work with him.
Still looking on from above I’m sure, but leaving an unfillable void in a family, a club, a county, a sport.
RIP Malcolm

Adrian Battersby, former commentator at PSALive.tv

When squash was ahead of most of the sports world with psalive.tv (what became squash tv when the PSA took over running it), Malcolm was most generous in his time, providing expert commentary on some of the greatest matches from 2004 to 2009. He never asked for any payment at all, considering his efforts would be good for the sport. We even had a mic on him when he was coaching players, which was amazing to listen to. Intelligent and opinionated for sure and always passionate about squash.

Ong Beng Hee, Doha, Qatar

The squash world has lost a legend! Malcolm was an amazing guy and I was fortunate enough to spend time with him in the club between 2010-2015 during the last phase of my professional career. He’ll definitely be missed and my heart goes out to James, Vanessa and the family.

Alex Wan, Malaysian from Singapore

I had the honour of working with Malc in my earlier years of squash journalism. We were in Hong Kong in 2004 and 2005, covering the Hong Kong Open and then the World Open. I remember he would scribble his notes all over a notepad and I was wondering how I was going to decipher his scribbles!

Over the years thereafter, we would meet at tournaments and every conversation with him has been nothing but enlightening. Malc was a genuinely nice human being and his demise is a great loss to the squash world.

My heartfelt condolences go out to James, Vanessa and the family in this difficult time.

Alan Stapleton, Crusaders Squash, South Africa

I met Malcolm once. I had heard about him and read about him. He was bigger and more impressive than I had expected. An instant hero.

Alison Insley, Squash Coach and Volunteer at events, Warwickshire, England

Sad to hear of the passing of Malcolm Willstrop at the age of 83 after losing his battle with cancer…an absolute legend and a genuinely wonderful bloke…I first met Malcolm in 2012, when James was playing Saurav…and many more times since…loved chatting to him courtside…while watching James either training or playing. I was always there if James was around…proper stalker…I’m sure neither of them wanted me around…but they were so incredibly polite and accommodating. James, Vanessa and family are in my thoughts. A massive loss to the squash world. RIP Malcolm.

Don Armitage, Lichfield Squash Club, Staffordshire, England

Malcolm Wilstrop: a great loss to the squash world. I had the privilege of speaking with him on three occasions at Pontefract (his club) and Manchester. Each time he was always talking to someone with several waiting in line for his wisdom, including me. He was the perfect gentleman, always giving. A sad loss. Condolences to his family.

Daryl Selby, current PSA World Tour Player, Essex, England

Malcolm was one of a kind, a supremely knowledgeable coach who had his own incredibly unique style and helped nurture some of the best players the world has ever seen. He had a great sense of humour and I thoroughly enjoyed talking to him (when he wasn’t telling me to stop chatting to the refs!) about anything and everything sports related. He will be sorely missed by the whole world of squash and sending my condolences to James and all of his family and friends. RIP Malcolm.

Christian Zavanaiu, Norwich, England

I met Malcom at the British Open in 2014. I had won a SquashTV competition to commentate live at the British Open. On the second day, Malcom stopped me to talk about my experience commentating live with Joey Barrington. He gave me some tips and said some nice things. At one point Joey Barrington walked by and Malcom made a joke about STV finally enlisting a pro to talk on the TV, which I wasn’t of course, but that engagement made me feel really relaxed about commentating for a second day. He was an amazing man, amazing coach and always took time to stop and say hello when I saw him at the tournaments.

Paul Selby, Off The Wall Squash, Essex, England

I feel very privileged to have known Malcolm. A true gentleman and great coach producing so many great players. His ethos as a coach and respect for the sport have kept me inspired to coach as he would want it coached.

I dedicated my school session this morning to Malcolm as I thought it fitting that he was an inspiration to so many players. Made me realise as coaches that is our job to inspire a new generation of players to our sport.

Rest in peace and thank you for what you gave to our sport.

Nicolas Barbeau, Angers, France

We have lost a squash giant. Malcolm Willstrop was one of the most influential coaches the world of squash has ever known. You only have to see how his son James made his mark at the elite level, both on and off the court, to understand how our sport will miss him. Our condolences to his family.

Jérôme Elhaïk, Evreux, France

A couple of years ago, James Willstrop went to Montpellier to play a PSA tournament, and his father Malcolm travelled with him. After the final, which he lost to Greg Marche, I interviewed James. I remember telling him I was stunned that Malcolm had been sitting in the stands and watching every single match during the week, although it was “only” a 30k. His reply was: “He simply loves the sport, so watching squash is like a holiday for him.”

Rob Hemsley, Leicester Squash Club, Leicester, England

I never met Malcolm, but his reputation and influence were well known throughout the wider squash community. One only has to watch his son, James , play the game, always in the right spirit, and one has to add, such a joy to watch, to see his influence. RIP Malcolm.

Nick Down, Racket Stringer, Herefordshire, England

Quite simply, Malcolm was part of the scene! What a sad, sad piece of news. I am truly sorry for your loss, James, both to you and the rest of your family. Malcolm was nothing short of a Legend, I even knew of him, when I was a junior in the 1970s. May he rest in peace.

Jo Woods, Warrington, Cheshire

Although I had never met Malcolm, you just knew of the impact he had in the world of squash. A sad loss, but I am sure his passion shown for our game will live on within the Willstrop family and all who knew him.

Brian Ward, Squash Coach, Hampshire

Malcolm was a person I never had the privilege of meeting sadly. He was a coach who led the way by being honest to himself and squash. He did not seek the limelight, instead he just got on with working with everyone who wanted his help no matter what age or ability. Many words could be used to describe Malcolm and none would do him justice but to me he was an inspiration and a one off that we will never see again. RIP Coach

Nigel Jubbs, WIN Squash Coaching, Lincolnshire, England

WIN squash coaching is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Malcolm Willstrop and wish to express our deepest sympathies to his family and friends at this sad time.

Mike Edwards, on behalf of Edgbaston Priory Club, Birmingham

Edgbaston Priory Club is so sad to hear the news about the passing of Malcolm Willstrop. The last time he was at Edgbaston Priory Club was for the European Team Championships 2019 and we welcomed him with open arms. Some of our EPiC performance junior players also were lucky enough to spend some time with him in Pontefract with EPC coach Deon Saffery. He was a genius and an amazing personality the likes we shall never see again. Our condolences to James, Vanessa and the rest of the family.

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Dom Pegg, Pontefract Squash Club, Yorkshire, England

Absolutely gutted. The impact Malc has had on my life since I walked through Pontefract Squash Club’s doors when I was 11 has been colossal. His coaching and mentoring haven’t only been influential on my squash playing and coaching but on me as a person. The values he has taught me has shaped who I am today. I’ll be forever grateful for the time, dedication and commitment you have given me. RIP Malc.

Dean Gregory, on behalf of Duffield Squash Club, Derbyshire, England

Duffield Squash and Racketball Club is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Malcolm Willstrop and wish to express our deepest sympathies to his family and friends at this time. Malcolm’s coaching was admired around the world, with both coaches and squash players benefiting from his unique wisdom. He will be greatly missed.

Mel White, Squash Travel and Ferriby Squash Club, Kingston Upon Hull, England

I still have so much to talk to Malcolm about… travel, theatre, squash , James’ career ……. his eyes lit up at the mention of any. Our usual chats (whispers) happened during the PSL games, on the top balcony, overlooking the show courts at Pontefract. Whilst the pro-players battled it out, we’d often have a break in our conversation for Malc to show disgust when there was dissent to the officials from the court. It was so exciting and intense at times.
Being a newbie to the squash community, Malc helped guide us in the right direction as to who to speak to and always lifted our profile by mentioning us whilst he was MC’ing at all the PSL home games. It was as if because Malcolm Willstrop had mentioned us, we were OK, a seal of approval from the main man… he would hate me for saying that (maybe not). The Main Man….. in so many people’s eyes he was… in mine he was, a person who showed so much respect and kindness to you, if shown to him, a gentle soul with an armoured exterior.
I will always be so grateful and was very fortunate to have had an hour on court with Malcolm (apparently he never comes on court, but with me he did), just once. He changed the way I served and helped me understand the game so much better. My opponents were amazed at the difference in my play, after just one hour in his company, such was the greatness of his coaching.
I will always be so grateful for that time he gave up to a bottom of the league club squash player like me!!
So here’s to Malcolm, to our chats and for him just being the wonderful character that he was. May he look down upon us all forever, above every squash court, with a glint in his eyes, a wry smile or a disapproving look…. whatever you may deserve.

Romain Suire, Nantes, France

I have just learned of the death of Malcolm Willstrop. I extend my deepest condolences to James and his entire family. The squash world is losing a brilliant figure and a pillar in terms of contribution to our sport. I remember having the chance to see and chat with Malcolm at the Canary Wharf Classic in London. Before meeting him, I was already admiring the power of his game, his smartness and mental management. When I met Malcolm, I then understood where it was coming from. We then managed to convince James to come to Nantes in 2018 to the Opera, not knowing that he was also present in the artistic world and that they liked, him and his father, this kind of place. Having them both in our “small $30k open” will remain one of my proudest moments. I will keep as a wonderful memory the beautiful week of exchanges with them, of walks in the city, their simplicity, their humility, their very strong bond, the love of a father for his son. I even shed a tear and gave them a hug on the Sunday when we said goodbye and they told me I’d be welcome at their house in England. Seeing Malcolm again in Nantes at the Castle in 2019 was always so cool and he shone. As a father and as passionate about squash as I am, he is the kind of man I would like to be with a particular charisma. An example for squash, an example for sport in general, a role model for a father. There are encounters in life that leave their mark and this is one of them. Rest in peace Malcolm!

Mike Kawooya, Kampala, Uganda

The special times we shared with Malcolm Willstrop

We shared so much happiness
In times of yesterday
And to say how much we miss you
We could never find away

We wish with all our hearts
That you were here with us
And we could share the best
That there always has been

We know we will meet again
And those very special times
We once again had will be shared

Your sincerely
Uganda Squash Rackets Association
Kampala Club Ltd, Uganda

Andy Murray, iPROSPORTS Ltd, Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, England

Incredibly sad to hear that Malcolm Willstrop has passed away. His character and huge contribution to squash will never be matched. He will be greatly missed by the squash community. Our thoughts go out to James, Vanessa, their family, and his many friends at Ponte and around the world.

Shaun Le Roux, former PSA professional player, South Africa

Firstly, I want to offer my sincere condolences to James, Vanessa, David and the rest of Malcolm’s family, as well as to everyone at Pontefract Squash Club. We know that Malcolm and Ponte go hand in hand and that he will without doubt be dearly missed.
I think it’s easy for someone who didn’t know Malcom that well to get a sense of the type of person he was by reading the tributes that have been pouring in over the last week. Yes, Malcom was a world class squash coach and arguably in my opinion, the best ever. However, as many have said, he was more bothered about the type of person you were than how good a squash player you were. It always amazed me that such a world class coach would devote his time equally between the 3 year old child just starting to learn ball skills, to the beginner deciding to take up the game and then of course to his elite stable including Lee and James who started the game with him and went all the way to world number ones and everyone in between. I’m pretty sure there can’t be many other world class sport coaches that take this approach.
I count myself very fortunate to have been based at Ponte under Malcom for a good eight years. This enabled me to travel all over the world for the best part of 10 years doing what I loved whilst making countless friendships and memories. For this I will forever be grateful to Malc. We had our fallouts (as many people did with Malc) but before I moved back to South Africa, I made sure the last person I went to see was Malcolm, to say thank you.
The squash world has lost a real legend of the game. May his soul rest in peace and his stellar work continue at Pontefract Squash club.

Millie Tomlinson, current PSA World Tour professional, Derbyshire, England

Malcom was the type of person who left an impression on everyone that he met, and he has created an incredible legacy. He had a unique ability to use Squash as a tool to create better individuals all round. If you went to his sessions, you learned to enjoy the game, respect other people, smile, be honourable, be humble, and not to take yourself too seriously. It was this focus on good character above anything else that made him so unique. I can still remember the first time I went to his sessions as a young junior, and all he said to me at the end was ‘it’s a good job you can play Squash better than you can throw a ball’. That was enough of a compliment coming from him!

Danny Massaro, Squash Coach, Preston, Lancashire

Every time I talked with Malcolm, he taught me something insightful. I once asked him if I could interview him for 10 minutes for a website and he agreed. When I turned up with the video camera he said “you didn’t tell me it was on film?”
I said “oh sorry Malcolm, it’s for a website I’m doing with Nick Taylor (fellow Lancastrian). Is that okay?”

He said “if you’d told me I would have done my hair!”

Laughing, nervous and relieved I said “oh don’t worry, you look great!”

He said with a glint in his eye and a pointed finger “don’t lie. And also, no decent players have ever come from Lancashire!! “

He talked for well over an hour with me, only years later did I finally understand his simple advice. He coached people first, players second. I always felt the schoolteacher in him whenever I was lucky to be in his company.

It’s a terrible loss for Squash, but what legacy he has left behind.

Rest peacefully.

Laura Massaro, former PSA World Tour professional and World Number 1, Preston, Lancashire

The news of Malcolm passing has come as a shock to me, as it has to many. I’ve thought so much about him in the last few days. He was a charismatic, eccentric and passionate, as both a coach and person. I love people like this, they live life on their own terms and make no apology for it!

Malcolm always made me feel welcome at Ponte, he always has since I was a junior. He set the tone for the club and everyone follows that lead. The tributes I’ve seen so far sum him up perfectly. Everyone he helped, he made a better person. Squash aside, that’s what his legacy will be and what a great legacy it is. Man, woman or junior it doesn’t matter at Ponte & that came all from Malcolm.

I was going to say whoever tries to take on the squash at Ponte has some big shoes to fill but quite frankly no one can fill his shoes. He’s spent decades on that Ponte balcony and seen generation after generation, coaching everyone from two-year-olds to 60 year olds. He was one of a kind and the hole he’s left is massive.

I want to thank Malcolm for all the support over the years, for supporting women and for putting women forward when they deserve it. But more than that, for creating a club that is a pleasure to go to and for creating players who are a pleasure to play against. I learned so much from him over the years and I will miss seeing him at the club and hope you can rest in peace, Malc!

Josh Attwell, Squash Coach, New Malden, Surrey, England

My first experience of Malcolm was when he ran a group session at my club when I was out in Hong Kong. The two things I remember the most were how safety conscious he was when there were multiple people on court doing a drill, and also how good he was at organising a session with players of a wide range of abilities. It’s rare to find a coach that is able to organise a session in such a way that everyone there gets the most out of it, even if they’re not training with other people around their level. From what I’ve heard, sessions at Pontefract were like this too and it may be a key factor in how he was able to produce so many top-class players and get the most out of everyone he coached. Nobody can deny the huge impact Malcolm has had on world squash as a whole, and his sad passing will leave a chasm for squash in the north of England that nobody can possibly replace.

Nathan Lake, current PSA World Tour professional, East Glos Club, Cheltenham, England

From the moment I started playing squash I was aware of Malcom as a legend of our sport. I had the pleasure of meeting him and getting to know him after I turned professional. He had the ability to scare me like a strict headteacher but make me laugh like a close, old friend. A truly great man – his absence will be a great loss for squash, felt all around the world. After a tremendous commitment to squash and his players, I raise a glass to Malc and hope you all join me in celebrating all he has done for the game we all love.

Konrad Tyma, squash professional player and coach, Poland

On two occasions, I was very fortunate to be able to travel up to Pontefract to train and practise under the watchful eye of Malcolm Willstrop. During those short visits, Malcolm left such an enormous impression on me with his unique coaching style and strict rules around how a squash player should act and behave, his ideas impacted the way I coach and I would like to continue passing his knowledge to the next generations of young squash players in Poland. To quote one of our greatest literary works: “How much you must be valued, will only discover the ones who have lost you.” Rest in Peace Malcolm.

Karina Tyma, Current PSA World Tour player, Polish Champion, based at Drexel University, Philadelphia

I am deeply saddened by the news of Malcolm Willstrop’s passing and my thoughts are extended to the Pontefract squash club and the Willstrop family. Malcolm was one of a kind and I was lucky enough to experience his genius at a very young age. He approached the game of squash in such a unique way and I will be forever grateful for the things he instilled in me, whether that’s on or off the court. He made me look at squash in such a different light and show me a different approach to what I had known, which in the long run made me a better player and I couldn’t thank him enough for that. We, as the squash community, lost a legend of the game, and a pillar to what England Squash is. Malcolm will always have a special place in my heart and in that of my family.

Philippe Signoret, Squash Coach, Créteil, France

I knew Malcolm when he was coach of the French junior team 40 years ago … He came to the Paris region to the “Pagiel squash club” and I came there from my native region in the south of France, Biarritz, where the best young French players were in the 1980s. We also went to train with him in England. He taught me a lot as a player, but also gave me an appetite for training and inspired me to become a coach. I also learned from him that with application, anyone can reach the highest level. I was also so happy to meet back up with him during Camille’s career since her victories in the British Junior Open and after on the Tour. He inspired me a lot with Camille’s training from the start.
I was very proud when Camille went to train with him at Pontefract and they got along very well. His passing is part of the difficult moments in life when we realise we have lost someone who has helped point you in the right direction in the conduct of your life … thank you Malcolm.

Andrew Shelley, World Squash Library and former CEO of the World Squash Federation

Having known Malcolm for over 40 years (and indeed employed him to work with the English elite players a few decades back), I can safely say that few can compare with him for being invigorating and inspirational, never boring, and indeed often being bloody minded! I mean all with great affection, and simply adding that squash has lost a top coach who enabled players to really fulfill their potential while instilling the best of behavior.

He did have a blind spot, though. He regularly told me how he couldn’t understand why I watched football as all the players were cheats (rolling around etc) in his view!

But back to squash, a real pillar of our sport has toppled, and we grieve alongside his family and friends.

Tania Bailey, High Performance Coach, England Squash

Whenever I walked into Pontefract squash club it always put a smile on my face to see so many children in the club and on court loving the game. Malcolm created such a fantastic environment for the kids no matter their age or ability and there will sadly be such a huge gap left with him no longer being there, but I am sure will be filled by some of the players he has taught so well over the years. My heart goes out to all of his family at this sad time and hope they take comfort in the legacy he has left behind and all the fantastic memories the players have from their time with him.

Howard Harding, former WSF World Media Director, Surrey, England

My earliest memory of Malcolm was in the mid-80s when I was involved with the Dunlop Squash Roadshow, an event hosted by squash clubs around the country offering kids the opportunity to try out squash. With nothing better to do one Saturday afternoon, and having never been in a squash club before, schoolgirl Cheryl Beaumont was dragged along to a club in Leeds where Malcolm was the Dunlop coach for the day. It seems he quickly saw something special in Cheryl and offered to take her under his wing. A decade or so later she was representing England in the world junior championships and went on to reach 32 in the world rankings. Other examples of this incredible ability to spot latent ability in youngsters has since come to light – and I always wonder what might have happened if I’d met him as a child. Might I have played for my county or country instead of being the life-long club hacker that I am?

Nick Matthew, former PSA World Tour player and World No. 1, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

Malcolm and myself didn’t always have an easy relationship, however we do go back a long way, with my first ever Yorkshire Junior Squad at nine years of age under Malcolm’s tuition.

It was never easy to have a close relationship due to the unique rivalry that James and I built, however there was always massive respect of his legacy as a coach (what coach can say they have coached over 60 National Champions?) and more importantly, the values he endorsed.

More recently the ice thawed in our relationship and I found his company witty and insightful.

His encouragement helped me on course to the Windy City title in 2015, which was quite remarkable considering we hadn’t spoken for several years and latterly he took great pleasure in the fact that I had ‘a lot to learn’ as a coach after I had very little success coaching my players against James.

Overall, a great man and an absolute legend in Squash. There is no doubt the legacy he has left at Pontefract Squash club will stand the test of time.

Chris Walker, former PSA professional now Squash Coach, New York, USA

I have known Malcolm since I was under 10 and playing junior tournaments around the UK back then. That would mean just about 45 years of my life. Malcolm was this godly and, for me, pretty intimidating figure I saw at junior tournaments and his stable of players was already generating the top seeded players.
Once I left the junior ranks and turned pro, our paths would cross at the odd Northern league match or tournament but when I moved to the USA and started bringing junior players over to Europe in the summers for some training and tournament play, we connected again on a professional level. My juniors had the privilege of learning from him at Pontefract Squash club during those summer weeks and I also learned a tremendous amount more from him as a coach.
All the important factors in improving a player to the top level were there – attention to detail, the daily work, the quality and effort required at all times etc… but what stood out above all of that was Malcolm’s passion for the people as well as the game. He was probably more interested in making these kids better people than whether they would win a squash match. First and foremost, he taught manners, respect & discipline. At the beginning and end of every session, there was the order for everyone to go on and off the court. Always ladies first.
In my eyes a trailblazer, pied piper and leader who will be sorely missed. Big shoes to fill at Pontefract and a tremendous loss to the squash community. My thoughts at this time go out to James, Vanessa and his family and friends at Pontefract Squash Club. RIP Malcolm.

Jon Tate, Squash Development Manager, University of Birmingham, England

To James, Venessa and extended family, to Camps & Sarah, to Beach, Mick, Sam, Pat Rooney & everyone (too many to mention) at Pontefract and those players young and old all over the world that have been affected by the sad news of Malcolm’s passing. To you all Malcolm was a dad, a grandad, a coach, a friend & a mentor, and in addition to this for so many others, and to the world of Squash Malcolm was a true great, a legend of the sport and someone who will be missed by you and us all. On a personal level I feel grateful to have known Malcolm and it is clear to see that he has created a legacy that will endure in squash for generations to come. Everyone at the University of Birmingham Squash Community has been deeply saddened by this news, and we would like to pass on our deepest sympathies to you all at this time. From Jon Tate and the students at the University of Birmingham Squash Club.

Nele Gilis, women’s world No.13 from Belgium

From the age of 15-16, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go and train in Pontefract with Malcolm. I stayed with Vanessa and James a few times and they made me feel so welcome. Malcolm truly was one of a kind. I will never forget the lessons I’ve learnt from him on, but especially off, court and the names he called me shouting down from the balcony haha. He’s touched so many lives and his legacy will live on forever. My deepest condolences for James and his family.

Joe Green, Squash Coach, Leicester, England

Watched the SquashSkills video feature on Malcolm and Pontefract Squash Club from start to finish last night. Really enjoyed it and thanks to the person that shared it. We need more like Malcolm in the game. Anyone that is lucky to have had a living out of the game should look at the video and say “Am I giving enough back to the game I have taken so much from?” I have only been to Pontefract SC once and all the members made me feel very welcome. It was the day that the England Rugby team won the World Cup. A day to remember. Really sad news. What a legend. A great loss to the game of squash. My thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time. RIP Malcolm.

Nick Taylor, former England international, now head coach of Nick Taylor Squash Academy at Cross Courts Squash and Fitness, Boston, USA

I have to admit I didn’t take Malc’s passing too well last week. I definitely shed a tear knowing I would never get to see or speak to him again or have him cast his eye over my son Charlie’s game again and give me his honest opinion on him as a player, which let’s be honest, he always said what he thought and I loved that about him.

I first met Malcolm at Pontefract when I was playing for Heaton back in 1989.. I was playing 2 for Heaton and I remember him giving John Hanson (who was playing at 1) a hard time saying I should have been playing above him, and I was a much better player than him… made me smile! I was actually right!

I started occasionally training at Pontefract in his group sessions with the likes of Christy Willstrop and a younger Lee Beachill and I loved the disciplined structure of the sessions, and having to work the game out using different condition games, something I didn’t realize would help me tremendously as a coach later in life.

Fast forward a few years and Malc invited me to do an exhibition match with James Willstrop in Derbyshire…it was a brilliant night with Malc showing the packed crowd how professional players would structure a training session, bringing some of the crowd on to play me and James with Malc laughing and slagging them off, and then ripping some of the crowd saying ‘do you think you could do better’ in his deep voice! James sending me on taxi after taxi around the court, I obliged by running and picking everything up! Something I was renowned for as a player. They were great nights and we got busier and busier, eventually traveling up and down the country when our PSA schedule allowed us.

One special memory was in 2004-2005 season when the Manchester and Pontefract teams combined and manager Yawar Abbas selected me team captain and Malcolm team coach. Working with Malc professionally was amazing and another invaluable experience. Watching him work in between games in his simple and relaxed way was incredible, getting the best out of the players, something I always try and think about when I talk to my players between games… unfortunately I am not as good as Malc but not sure many coaches are!

We went on to win the National League that season, beating Edgbaston Priory 4-1 in the final at Abbeydale, after winning the crucial tie to win the match against Del Harris, Malc shock my hand and told me what I great captain I had been that season. There is no doubt he would have told me how crap I had done if he thought it!

We have lost an amazing squash purist in Malc, the discipline, honesty, humbleness, and respectful way he wanted his players to behave has been lost and I struggle thinking I won’t see him on the ‘Malc Balc’ any more!

RIP Malc, and I guarantee you will never be forgotten!

Joe Magor, Canterbury Squash Rackets Club, Kent, England

Regrettably, I never had the pleasure of meeting the great man himself but from the accounts of some of our members and Kent players who had frequented Pontefract for county and junior events, they described Malcolm Willstrop as having an enormous presence about him that was very hard to describe, just by simply by being there, overseeing proceedings.
He wasn’t just James Willstrop’s dad, he was a huge name in squash in his own right and the tributes that have been pouring in from generations of the world’s best players are testament to that. On behalf of myself and all at Canterbury Squash Club, we extend our deep condolences to the family in this difficult time and have no doubt that they will be proud of the legacy that Malcolm left behind.

Trevor Leahy, chairman of Hampshire Squash, England

Hampshire Squash was so sorry to hear of the loss of Malcolm and would like to send its sincerest condolences to the family. The squash world is a much poorer place without Malcolm and Hampshire Squash will strive to nurture and develop many other great coaches in the future so Malcolm’s great legacy to squash will live on in the mould of others.


Squash Mad readers are invited to leave their tributes to Malcolm in the Comments Section below.





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  1. Feeling the great loss of Malcolm Willstrop, such an influential person and squash coach. Myself and my sister attended his northern centre of excellence squads as juniors and he inspired me at the start of my squash career to want to be a better player. He always took great time and effort to invest in each young player . Religiously writing up feedback comments for each player from the day’s squad. He really cared about the development of each and every player and I am forever grateful for his investment in me as a junior which enabled me to go on to enjoy competitive squash into my adult life. I can still hear his booming voice and see him looking down over the balconies of squash clubs across the north: Durham, Northumberland, Pontefract, Redcar to name a few. We will forever remember you and sending our condolences to all the family .
    Heather Joy nee Sinclair

  2. Although we never met, I am very aware of the renown and respect in which Coach Malcolm Willstrop is held. Coach Willstrop left behind a body of work reflected in the legions of Champions, at the very pinnacle of Squash Racquets! Or for that matter any sport. I have watched several of them on the court – and in awe.

    One of the matches played at the TOC by a young protege. James Willstrop against Anthony Ricketts an Aussie Great, is seared into my memory. A seesaw of points and games with multiple changes of leads which rolled into multiple over times in the 5th which Ricketts barely pulled off!

    From the global outpouring on this page, written by James Roberts it is reinforced why Coach Willstrop was so highlyregarded.

  3. Seating my class of eight-year-olds on the tiered seating area outside Court 1 for our first session at Pontefract Squash Club, I turned to Malcolm.

    “What would you like them to call you?”

    “I don’t want them to call me anything,” he replied.

    Malcolm explained his expectations. We would only be welcome if we adhere to the rules. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be coming back.

    “Ladies,” he told the boys, to their shock, “are more important than men. They always go ahead of the boys. You boys leave the court last.” He reminded them once and, from then on, they remembered it.

    Over the course of the next months, Malcolm would survey the children on court from his balcony; descending to talk to school staff about any of his players; those starting out and up-and-coming players with behaviour and skills that he regarded highly. We talked about his son, James, and he said that the children would see him as he helped to give back by meeting the children at Pontefract Squash Club. He described James as someone who played with the right attitude. He explained how squash should be an Olympic sport and how the IOC hadn’t included it in the 2012 Olympics. Reading up on this topic later, I realise how this would benefit other schools with the very programme that we were so privileged to be enjoying.

    Without fail, Malcolm would remember our preferred cup of tea or coffee– “You don’t, either of you, take sugar, do you? It’s not good for you.”

    We’d shake our heads. He’d nod his approval.

    Squash players might be arriving for coaching as our sessions drew to an end, and Malcolm would let the children watch a match, talking them through points won and lost. We felt like we were watching a tense, high-level, world-class game.

    “It’s India versus England,” or “It’s Boys against Girls,” he would say.

    We were on tenterhooks as the players would be acclaimed for shots played and the children guided on how a point had been won. The players would play for their lives and finish the set exhausted as our children watched on gripped.

    “No talking or cheering during play,” Malcolm would instil in them.

    As our weekly squash session ended, Malcolm would talk to his coaches and review conduct and skill noted with the children. He knew each one of our class and would forget nothing, should any behaviour issues or struggles that they were having off court have been brought to his attention. He would always follow up with them in the weeks following: he had an incredible insight into their characters and he knew the invaluable role that he could play.

    Certificates and t-shirts would be handed out; pound coins from his pocket for exceptional answering; the children treasured his praise. Malcolm would recognise initiative and invited the children to bring him posters/writing about squash. They would arrive in class on ‘Squash Day’ with bits of paper and eagerly hand them to Malcolm upon our arrival.

    At the last session before Christmas, Malcolm took on the role of quizmaster – delivering a general knowledge and squash quiz to test the children on an array of rounds and topics; the children were rapt and so were we.

    Malcolm would single out children, following our weekly sessions, who needed his words. This was an extraordinary scene, as the children grew to love his watchful eye and his words of encouragement. He would generalise feedback that had disappointed any one of the coaches, but the way that he spoke; we all felt it.

    As we left the last session before Christmas, Malcolm told us that we could return to the club weekly for as long as our behaviour merited it. The children picked their piece of complimentary fruit up and lined up, two-by-two, ready to leave. We turned and faced Malcolm before we left. The children chorused, “Merry Christmas, Malcolm.” His eyes glistened with tears: it had been a truly magnificent session.

    “Go on. Get lost!” and he waved his arm in the direction of the door. We all laughed.

    This year, Malcolm has put everything in place for our new class to attend squash sessions. The previous class had written memos to the upcoming class to prepare them.

    ‘You will love squash – it is so exciting.’
    ‘Malcolm is strict.’
    ‘The coaches are encouraging’.
    ‘It is about squash – but also about learning.’
    ‘Do not mention football,’ warned many of the boys. ‘Malcolm doesn’t like it.’

    We have continued to visit Malcolm’s squash courts, this year, ably led by Jayne, Nicola and Hollie as our coaches. We look forward to Masuma returning to the classroom and we are truly grateful to CEO Mick Todd, who was marshalling cars and fixing a table in a high-viz jacket as we arrived last week. He turned to us with a smile and acknowledgement that the children were arriving.

    Malcolm, you have touched our hearts with your time spent with our children and with us as teachers. Our children’s father figure, grandfather figure and master coach. Your understanding of what the class needed and how to inspire a future generation of squash players was first class. World Class.

    ‘It is about squash, but also about learning.’ Children need this incredible game and world called ‘squash’.

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