NICOL DISCARDS KILT
GLOBAL GALLERY MARCH 2001 Martin Bronstein's astigmatic view of the world of squash.
© 2001 All rights reserved.
I was about to sit down and phone Peter Nicol, because a very reliable source had told me that this year he would play for Scotland in the world team championships, something he has refused to do in for five years, although he did win a gold medal for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games in 1998. (If you Yanks hadn't made that historic decision in 1776, you could participate in the Commonwealth Games. Now you just have to be content with the Pan-American event).
My hand was poised over the telephone when it rang. It was World Press Officer Howard Harding. "Go out and get The Times," he said cryptically. And then added: "Front page."
This was not like the usual affable Howard. I did as I was bid and Wham! Right there, bang smack in the middle of the front page, was a head shot of Peter Nicol. Not just a small photo but one measuring 9" X 7". The headline read "Scotland serves up England Winner." The opening paragraph read: " England is poised to celebrate a new sporting hero in the way that England knows best: by importing a ready-made star." This was really quite incredible .this story got more front page space than when Nicol actually won the world title.
THE PRESS CONFERENCE
Essentially the conference was to put an end to the rumours as Nicol signed on the dotted line and became an England player. To put it briefly, Peter Nicol, who has lived in England for the last ten years, is using the 3-year residential clause to acquire English status, which will, from May 1 next year, allow him to play for England.
This is a terrible blow to Scottish pride; you really have to be British to understand the state of undeclared war between England and Scotland. The Scots have a disdain for the 'sassenachs' (the name given by the Gaelic inhabitants of Great Britain and Ireland to their 'Saxon' or English neighbours), while the English, with their usual superiority complex, file their northern neighbours in the same 'funny foreigners' file that includes the rest of the world. Peter was quite a fervid Scot in his own way, wearing the kilt and full regalia on formal occasions and getting piped on to court at major finals. (It is a tribute to Nicol's admirable personality that I can still like him even after inflicting bagpipes on me.)
A LONG HISTORY
OF ANTIPATHY - OR ANTAGONISM?
IN LIEU OF MONEY
WHAT ABOUT OUR
LET'S GET TO
More important, there is a huge back-up of physios, dieticians, sports psychologists and computer analysts that is now producing the most professional group of squash players England has ever known. Scotland does a means test and anyone earning over $35,000 a year will not get funds. England also does a means test but only to ascertain the amount of cash. Peter Nicol wants in on that programme. "It is not about the money," Peter repeats. "It's about the support."
THE REAL QUESTION
Forget the flagwaving, the jingoistic breast-beating and the conspiracy theories. Peter Nicol wants to play squash and if his body breaks down, he wants a team to on hand to help him recover. According to Harvey, the decision to sign for England was made when Nicol saw the support team for the England players at the Tournament of Champions in New York this year. "Just incredible. And when I saw what they could do with the computer analysis, I was knocked out," Harvey says.
NOT A ONE WAY
THE LONG FORECAST
NEW MUST-READ SQUASH BOOK
Sadly that mental strength that had made him, destroyed him. Marshall had succumbed to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, caused usually by overexerting the body while suffering from a virus, and thus affecting the immune system. From a high of number two in the world, biting at Jansher's heels and worrying him, Marshall slid down and although he briefly rose to number nine three years later, he has never regained that level of play again.
This is a book that every young squash player should, alongside their parents, coach and doctor. It is an inspiring tale of an unusual squash player - he used a two handed grip - overcoming all the obstacles and experts and persisting in his own unique way to climb the heights.
But it is also a warning about overtraining and ignorance of the body. If England's world class programme had been in effect then, Marshall would have had some proper advice and avoided four years of hell. Which brings me to Jonah Barrington's misguided thundering in the introduction. Jonah writes: "When I think of Peter Marshall's story I find it hard not to get angry .. Peter has had to battle not only with his illness but also with the stupidity and prejudice of people there are many doctors and journalists who should feel ashamed."
He doesn't name the doctors or the journalists of course. I suppose he had to find a villain somewhere. What Jonah should have questioned were those close to Marshall, those who allowed him to destroy himself. Why journalists?
Marshall was supported, his story chronicled sympathetically, by all who knew and admired him - which was every journalist I know. And why blame the medics? Marshall writes in his book that it wasn't until 1998, two years after he went down with CFS, that British Department of Health officially recognised CFS. Even now, diagnosing the complaint is very difficult. There is certainly more knowledge about it in 2001 than there was in 1996 when it was called Yuppie flu.
Marshall writes as if he had no idea what was happening to him and he spent three years trying to find a treatment. But Marshall was not the first squash player to suffer. Nicky Spurgeon, a very promising England player, won the British under 23 championship while suffering from a cold. She never played competitively again and has never recovered her full fitness. I wrote about Spurgeon numerous times in both the national press and in the squash magazines five years before Marshall was brought low. Surely somebody must have put two and two together to connect Marshall and Spurgeon.
Even now there are conflicting reports on correct treatment. Marshall made two superhuman comebacks - in one world open he beat both Brett Martin and Jonathon Power, only to be destroyed by the complaint again, putting him almost back to square one. He travelled all over Britain and North America trying what he now sees as quack cures, from homeopathy to magnets.
Strangely, it was when he changed his mind-set, accepting that he would never play competitively again and the use of a mild form of anti-depressant, that he made a real recovery in that even after hard matches, there was no regression. As I write, Marshall is nursing a leg injury and claims - apart from age - no ill affects. This is a very special man, his disappearance from the world scene because of CFS, one of the great tragedies of squash.
Shattered By Peter Marshall with Nick Kehoe. Mainstream Press, Edinburgh