An Excerpt From The New Book "A Shot and a Ghost: A Year In the Brutal World of Professional Squash"
by James Willstrop
special to DailySquashReport.com
Posted: February 22, 2012
Having been an ever present at the
Tournament of Champions in New York over the years, James Willstrop
talks candidly about America's association with squash:
Went to see a play called Lombardi,
about a legendary American Football coach. Despite having much of its
dialogue peppered with talk of gridiron, it was excellent. We were
lucky enough to witness a question and answer session afterwards by the
director and actors which made the evening doubly fascinating. At
squash exhibitions we often end with a short session of crowd
interaction, and I have now realised why: it made the stars of the show
more tangible, and the topics were fascinating to boot. For an audience
member, such an end to the evening was hugely enjoyable.
The following night saw the World Squash Awards take place at Grand
Central Station. It was perhaps unsurprising that the awards, held in
the US for the first time, had been Americanised, in what was
presumably a necessary measure in order to fund the event. We found
ourselves enduring an American take on proceedings, so much so that the
ceremony should have been retitled: the ‘US squash and hardball awards’.
Squash in the States is still elitist and inaccessible to the so called
working classes. Clubs exist at the top of tall business buildings in
the big cities and people on the streets have little chance of finding
the game. This has changed recently because of institutions such as
StreetSquash, which has successfully brought it to the less fortunate.
The rich who play the sport encourage their kids to play so that they
may have a path to a good college if they don’t succeed in other areas.
Very few, decent junior players ever even think about turning
professional and conducting a squash career whilst attending
university; to compete at the very top of the world game having studied
extensively in America is a near impossibility.
It is noticeable that Americans like to make their mark on everything.
They have sports, gridiron and baseball, which are played by few other
nations, yet whose competitions are named ‘World Series’.
In squash, Americans have even invented their own terminology, calling
‘drives’ ‘rails’ and ‘counter drops’ ‘re-drops’, and recently certain
US authorities have attempted to tinker with the rules, advocating the
exclusion of ‘let calls’ in squash altogether.
So it is no surprise that the awards were given gratuitously to
American people, who are not of a world standard in squash, at a world
ceremony. If the awards had been hosted in Kuwait, would the awards
have been distributed to Kuwaiti squash players, who are not strong in
A US coach recently wrote a book about his successes with a college
team. Americans see college squash as the standard. It is their
pinnacle. If you were to ask the world’s top twenty squash players,
they would be unable to name one of the players in this team – Trinity
– the most famous college sports team in the USA. This doesn’t seem to
stop the book being of interest here, and it will probably sell more
copies than this one.
The organisers have done a brilliant job staging the World Squash
Awards each year and their prerogative was to make sure the event
happened at all; undoubtedly its staging demands considerable expense.
Hosting the ceremony in New York surely helped that and having said all
this, adding the American slant was probably unavoidable.
I realise I have written less than generously of Americans. Before the
law suits come in, I have merely made honest generalisations. Their
cities are some of the most exciting the world over and I can
unequivocally say the Tournament of Champions crowd is the best of all
audiences to play in front of. US squash has staged some incredible
events over the years, and an exciting three year run of the US Open
looks to be in place in Philadelphia.
James Willstrop's book 'A Shot and a Ghost: a year in the brutal world of professional squash' is available from www.willstrop.co.uk, priced £9.99, and on Kindle.