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

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:

January 2011

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 the sport?

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, priced 9.99, and on Kindle.

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