Sunday, July 14, 2024

BLOG: Does London have a squash legacy?

Surrey Sports Park hosts the PSL final

The success of the 2012 Olympic Games showcased London as a fabulous host city for major sporting events.

From a squash perspective, that’s something we have known for many years, with the Canary Wharf Classic playing to sell-out crowds, following the traditions established by the British Open when it was staged at Wembley in the era of the Khans.

Those crowds returned for the final weekend of this year’s British Open at the O2 Arena but sadly it won’t happen again because next the year the Open is moving to Hull.

Every year at Canary Wharf we are approached by squash players who work in the vicinity and are eager to find the nearest courts.

We usually point them towards the Living Well Health Club, beneath the Credit Suisse building.

There used to be three courts at the London Arena on the Isle of Dogs, a massive indoor sports and concert venue that played host to professional tennis, basketball and ice hockey before it was demolished.

Unfortunately the building was ahead of its time and was dogged by transport problems before Canary Wharf’s transport infrastructure had been completed with the advent of the Jubilee Line.

I have tried to persuade a leisure operator just outside the Canary Wharf estate to add squash courts to their indoor cricket and gym facilities, but so far without success. With so many squash players working at Canary Wharf, it would be a licence to print money.

The closure of the Spitalfields Club is a another knife in the heart of London squash enthusiasts.

The dearth of courts in what is known as the “city” is a deeply depressing scenario. ┬áLambs is a treasured memory of a wonderful club which Jahangir Khan once described as “the best squash club in the world”.

I know that’s not an apocryphal story, because I’m the one who interviewed him on the famous Lambs showcourt when he said it.

A great rivalry existed between Lambs and the original Cannons Club in the old National League days when it featured giants of the game such as Chris Dittmar,  Ross Norman, Rodney Martin, Brett Martin, Del Harris and the mighty Khans.

I was there when Cannons celebrated Norman’s epic victory over Jahangir in the World Open, and there again a few years later when Peter Nicol became world number one for the first time.

That was a golden era for squash, and predated the time when fitness chains became predatory beasts, closing squash courts to fill them with awful gym machines.

The sound of a ball being bashed against a court wall was replaced by the ker-ching of cash registers flowing with inflated membership fees for those addicted to the lonely, anti-social, narcissistic regime of the gymnasium.

Squash has lost its way in London. We need to have a presence at the Olympic Village when the main stadium is handed over to a football club and the other magnificent sports facilities are designated for community use.

Is squash fighting to be part of that sporting future in Stratford, East London? I’m not sure, is the answer, because I’m not sure if anyone is out there batting on our side, making these things happen.

We also need to have a presence at any new university or college being constructed in the London area.

Surrey Sports Park at Guildford has shown the way with a superb squash facility that greets you as you walk through the main entrance of the University of Surrey’s imposing new sports centre.

This is in complete contrast to one of the country’s elite sporting hotbeds at Loughborough University, where the fading, unloved squash courts are hidden round the back of some impressive buildings dedicated to other sports.

I will come back to the subject of London squash in the near future, and would appreciate some feedback from those who are affected by the court closures and especially from anyone who thinks they have a solution.


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