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Nottingham
— Bruises

… put the referee close to the court …

Global Gallery, October
8 2003

Martin Bronstein, the most respected Squash
Journalist today, reviews a new book on American Squash.

© 2003 All rights
reserved. photos © 2003, Suashtalk, D. Tessier,

Serendipity
Squash

Albert Hall, photo © 2003 F Borchert

I make no bones about
it: if the British Open were held in Nottingham for the next 10 years,
I wouldn’t mind it one little bit. I think the Albert Hall is a
gem of a venue having just the right proportions of court to room size
and with the spectators never more than 15 yards from the action. The
atmosphere for the quarters, semis and finals was exciting and the drama
was enhanced by the proximity of the spectators. It made the National
Arena in Birmingham feel like an aircraft hangar.

…But
Where Are The Corporate Sponsors?

The Double Johns (Nimick and Beddington) gave the nod to this year’s
Open without a name sponsor in place and so put their pocket -books on
the line. They felt they had to do that to ensure the continuity of this
historic event, but with only ten weeks prep time, nobody expected anything
better than a club event. As it turned out, this Open attracted almost
all the top players from WISPA and PSA and Saturday night, when the historic
battle between Nicol and Power took place, was as good as any night, anywhere
when it comes to sheer excitement and seat-gripping drama. It had a true
championship buzz to it.

Nimick also enjoyed the venue and it is fairly certain
that the Open will take place here next year. But, as Nimick pointed out,
in London, a world business center, it is so much easier to get corporate
sponsors. As yet, however, they have yet to find a unique, eye-catching
venue. (Although my spies tell me that there have been talks with the
Wembley Conference Centre… John Beddington says they are keeping
all their options open.)

Commitment?
LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT COMMITMENT

After that incredible 112 minute 5-act drama of the Nicol/Power semi-final,
the sponsors had a small dinner for the work gang – which included
the press. Jonathon Power was there (Nicol was too ill) and after the
dinner I told him that he’d made one Canadian very unhappy. (Sometimes
I let me objectivity drop as I wave the Maple Leaf).Jonathon smiled sheepishly,
said he still don’t know how he managed to lose. I remarked that
both he and Nicol did a lot of diving. Power lifted up his shirt and showed
a large bloody contusion below his right rib cage. Then he showed me his
left shoulder covered in bruises. “I looked at myself in the mirror
tonight and wondered what had happened to me,” he said referring
to his various injuries.

Power and Nicol, focused on every
point
photo © 2003 F Borchert

This brought home
to me just how committed these players are: they don’t want to lose
a point. One British journalist called Power a ‘whinger’ (To
Whinge: to complain). Had this journalist seen those bruises, he might
have changed his mind. I’m quite sure that Nicol also had bruises.
After one collision Nicol was on the floor clutching his right calf and
Power was doubled up holding his stomach. Time after time Power dived
full length to get a ball. He wanted that title, he wanted that match,
he wanted that game and he wanted that point! As for Nicol, when other
men would have long given up with exhaustion, he just kept on pushing
through. I wrote in my notes that he was finished at the end of the second
game, yet he pushed through three more punishing games on sheer cussed
willpower. I had great respect for these two players before: after this
match my respect took a quantum leap. I am glad I was there.


WANTED: A COMMITTED WOMAN – with confidence
This may not make me very popular among WISPA members, but what the women’s
game needs is a player who has the same commitment as shown by the top
five men’s players. A player with real commitment, with so much
diamond hard ambition that a lack of confidence never gets a chance to
bloom. In the women’s championship there was hardly a match that
captured the spectators for more than a game. Indeed in one semi-final
game, the first six rallies ended in errors and not one of the rallies
went more than five shots. Is that really world class skillfor players
in the top four? The only player with a smidgeon of composure was the
eventual winner, Rachael Grinham and if she continues with her maturing
process, she may well take over where Sarah Fitz-Gerald left off and dominate
the game for a decade.

NO PHONES
– GREAT

For the first time ever in England, the press room was phone-less. Thanks
to Toshiba, we could operate on wireless broadband. As I had just bought
a new Toshiba laptop I was delighted that we had a Toshiba man there to
help us programme our computers – so that I never had to dial up; as soon
as I started my computer, I was on the web. I can’t tell you how
much easier this made my job. While the Luddites were still fighting over
a phone line, I sat there and sent the world the stories. One day all
press rooms will be like this…oh please!

REFS TO THE
FRONT

If there is one word in the English language that drives me ballistic
it is the word Tradition. This love of tradition acts like an anchor on
progress, it stops people thinking, it helps people who don’t like
change remain in the cozy, comfortable past. This is specially true of
sporting bodies. Well, friends and enemies alike, let me serve warning
that I’ve had it up to here with Referees. Not because of bad decisions,
but because they will not recognise the glass court and they allow promoters
to place them 20 yards behind the back wall with spectators sitting between
them and the court, marring a full view of the action.

Here in the Albert
Hall I sat in front of the front wall – in fact six feet from the front
wall. I can safely say, without a shadow of a doubt, that I saw more of
the action than the referees who were at least 50 feet away from the front
wall. Mostly what I saw was bad decisions from good referees who were
sitting in the wrong place.
To cite just one example. At front right Power gets to his opponent’s
dropshot and plays a counterdrop. The marker calls down. Power thinks
that his opponent’s shot has been called down when in fact it is
his shot that is in doubt. He asks the referee for an explanation. “Your
ball bounced twice,” comes the reply.

Excuuuuuse me?

The referee is 50
feet away, there are at least 20 spectators’ heads and the two players
between him and the ball and he says with conviction that he saw a small
white ball bounce twice. Don’t be bloody daft. I was eight feet
away from the ball with only the glass between me and it and I saw that
Power got to the ball before the second bounce. This scenario happens
all the times to all players.

My point is the referee is too far away. When top referee
Rod Symington claims that the present system is fatally flawed and that
finally, most of the referees are guessing, he knows what he is talking
about. And what I am talking about. The referee should sit in front of
the front wall, that much closer to the action. I have brought this point
up with many, many referees and they all respond the same: the only way
you can judge a squash match is high behind the back wall. Tradition,
you see. That’s the way they all started, in the old bricks-and-mortar
courts with no glass walls. They cannot bring themselves to re-think the
situation.

At the next big tournament (probably Toronto) I am going
to challenge the tournament referee to put one of his spare officials
in front of the front wall with me while putting the the named referee
in his usual pace. I will guarantee that the two referees will have different
verdicts on most of the tight decisions.

In tennis and badminton they have up to ten officals
in a match. Squash has two, sitting in the same position. When a glass
court is in use, I suggest they have four officials -one on each wall,
electronically connected. When a let is called, all four officals push
a button: on the back wall there are three lights. If the red bulb lights
up the decision is no let; green for Yes let and blue for a Stroke. What
happens one a 2-2 draw? The named chief official who sits at the front
wall, has the deciding vote, which means his decision is worth 1 1/2 votes.

The object of this change is to simply ensure that a very
bad decision will not stand. I have sat next to World Class referees while
watching a match who have constantly disagreed with the match referee.
And spectating players also know a very bad decision whey they see one.
I don’t expect referees to be perfect, but if they get something
very wrong at a critical stage in the match, it can affect the outcome.
If the player knows that at least two offficials, sitting in different
positions, have come to the same decision, he still may not like it, but
he does not get into a one-on one argument with the referee.

Come on WSF, WISPA
and PSA start thinking about changing the rules to give us more officials
and give those officials an unimpeded view of the action.