Sumptuous Seconds Sink Spirited Students
A cold night in late November saw the Leicestershire Tennis & Squash Club Second Team entertain the future of our nation made up of five strapping lads from Loughborough University Second Team. The LT&SC boys were looking to continue their good form showed the week previous and keep the pressure on the two sides above them, whilst the pound-a-pint-swilling tax-dodgers were hoping for a good result to cement their mid-table position in Division Two.
With Ollie Wood out injured (pictured below in his Office where, as he says himself, “the magic happens”), Captain Chris “The Don” Trafford brought in Paul “The Drinker” Hart at the bottom of the order, and pushed everyone else up a notch, with Dan “The Professional” Willets coming in for still-stricken Adam “Hands” Popowicz.
As the debt-ridden lecture dwellers warmed up on Court 2, the highly successful and revered Robbie Wynne gave the door an excellently timed and well delivered three-knock signal of intent and entered the court to request that the Number Ones kick off proceedings as he had to get off early to do some volunteer work for some underprivileged children, or it may have been to get down to Queens Road for a friend’s birthday drinks, I forget which. Either way, the request was given the thumbs up, and the match got underway.
1. Robbie “The Natural” Wynne vs Rob “The Natural Jr” Conduit
2. Chris “The Don” Trafford vs Dan “Running Man” Burns
3. Matt “Embers” Williams vs Jack “Captain Sparrow” Rosser
4. Dan “The Professional” Willets vs Dan “Team Taxi” Curry
5. Paul “The Drinker” Hart vs Jonathan “Forfeit” Goldney
The following includes contributions from Junior Intern, Matt “Only puts one space after a full stop” Williams (corrected by RW), who has provided comment in the absence of lead reporter, Wynne
Match 1: Rob ‘The Natural’ Wynne vs Rob ‘The Natural Jr’ Conduit
Player Rating: 8/10
(Written by M Williams)
Boasting a perfect record of 5 wins with 0 losses, Wynne was pitted against the also undefeated Rob Conduit; on paper this would be Wynne’s toughest challenge to date, but with coach and international man of mystery Ollie Wood on tactics, Wynne was looking to spring an upset.
Taking to the court, draped head to toe in his trademark Under Armour apparel, Wynne certainly looked the part and was ready for battle. The game started at a relentless pace, hard hitting from the off with good ‘line and length’ (to be said with a Geoffrey Boycott accent) found immediately, Wynne had the better of the early exchanges with the boast from the front being particularly effective. Opening up an early lead the upset looked on, the gallery began to hope that the young buck would succumb to his more seasoned opponent. Alas Conduit had clearly not read the script as he began to get a read on Wynne’s attacking patterns and started to find his own flashing winners. Closing down the early lead, the first game was balanced on a knife-edge; but two uncharacteristic errors from Wynne handed the first game to Conduit.
With Ollie departing the balcony to impart his tactical assessment and advice; Williams thought better of adding one of his own insightful and inspiring team talks. However if he had, it would have gone something like this;
“If you don’t feel those butterflies in your stomach now…when you walk back through that door, they turn to dragons. Because they get bigger and they get stronger and we use them. And those dragons are going to breathe fire. So remember, great moments are born from great opportunity, and that’s what you have here tonight my friend” *
Having not given this talk, Williams can only feel guilty for what happened next. The Natural got out Natural-ed; in the same way Wynne normally pins opponents in the back corners using his movement to dominate. Conduits younger legs began to carry him to the front of the court and force Wynne into attempting shots that are normally reserved for the likes of Williams and Trafford. Conduit had clearly hit top gear and despite gruelling rallies, Wynne couldn’t impose himself and the match slipped away.
A tough loss, but not a bad loss by any stretch. In years gone by this loss would really have hurt Wynne (and several of his racquets), but the more mature and cultured Wynne is understood to be taking the weekend off to spend some time with his family to recharge the batteries.
* This quote is plagiarised directly from a quote given by former rugby player Scott Quinnell in the television documentary School of Hard Knocks made in 2012. I have contacted Mr Quinnell’s representatives and made them aware of this brazen theft of intellectual property. Mr Williams will be reprimanded for this and reminded of the standards expected at this Publication. R Wynne, 29/11/2016.
Match 2: Dan ‘The Professional’ Willets vs Dan ‘Team Taxi’ Curry
Player rating: 8/10
Willets returned to LT&SC2 following a successful stint for Odom’s undefeated thirds; coming off the back of a match clinching performance earlier in the week, confidence was high.
Young Curry having been on the receiving end of a demolition at the hands of Willets last season, has clearly modelled himself on his namesake; taking to the court, his growing hair was swept back in a Willet-esque bandanna and in the warm-up, both players looked the part.
Curry’s improvements were clearly not limited to his image, as he started the first looking far more competent than in years gone by; aided by three back-wall nicks and a cagey start from Willets, he opened up a commanding lead. Now was the moment of truth, would Willets racquet thrash against leg in frustration or begin to be used to play the kind of squash everyone know that he can. I am pleased to report that in this instance the latter was observed, realising that the nicks couldn’t continue forever, Dan dug in and extended the points overturning at 1-7 deficit to take the first 9-7. With the first game under his belt the Willets machine hit top gear and the young pretender couldn’t stay with him any longer; Willets cruised through the next two games giving the team their first point of the evening.
Willets ends the week with 2 wins out of 2 and will be taking a week out of the game on a Buddhist retreat in the Andes.
Match 3 Paul “The Drinker” Hart vs Jonathan “Forfeit” Goldney
Player Rating: 9/10
Having been brought into the side from his usual spot in Odom’s Thriving Thirds, Paul “The Drinker” Hart prepared for his encounter by doing what he does best…downing copious amounts of Fosters. Indeed this fine-looking reporter was able to obtain exclusive comment from two un-named observers who asked that their identities remain hidden.
“Old Frank (Gallagher)* had ten pints last night” Anon.
“You should have seen him last night…steaming” Anon.
* In certain circles, Hart also goes by the moniker Frank Gallagher from the Channel 4 show, “Shameless”. One can only imagine why…
Questions can be raised over these anonymous comments and I would agree that this could be seen as a callous attempt to demean and call into question the character and commitment of the flame-haired LT&SC stalwart, but Steve and Hursty admitted to me that they were actually with him, so I can confirm it as the truth.
The match started and with Goldney being forced to wear a cap as a forfeit for crimes unknown from the previous week, the battle royale commenced.
With this reporter now fully engaged in a conversation with Messrs Parker and Hurst, I have to admit that I missed much of the match due to being in fits of laughter, but what I did see was Hart at his “give him the old one-two” best. With his trademark attacking play in full flow, Hart was able to wrong-foot his young foe seemingly at will, and despite three close game scores, the baying crowd were never in any doubt as to which way this match would go.
With a three-nil victory in the bag, who are we to condemn the preparation methods of the veteran Hart? Indeed, he can be evidence to the students of one of the nation’s finest educational and sporting establishments, that despite the great strides made in recent time in relation to sports nutrition and fitness, there is still a lot to be said by the student of one of life’s greatest establishments.
Match 4: Matt “Embers” Williams vs Jack “Captain Sparrow” Rosser
Player Rating: 7/10
High-flying Williams (41), was in bullish mood ahead of his encounter with Jack “Captain Sparrow” Rosser, and was looking to build on signs of improving form in recent weeks. Despite the fact he had not picked up a single game in his previous three outings, the mood in the camp was one of hope as his opponent this time around was not of the same calibre Williams has faced most recently.
With his opponent sporting a rather fetching bracelet made up of multi-coloured tassles, and with a mop of flowing brown locks, Rosser was living up to his look-a-like Captain Jack Sparrow. Notably for this match however, he was also sporting a bandage around his knee, indicating that he was not 100% fit.
The match got underway and after a to-and-fro first game, the players arrived at an impasse. Tie-break. Keen to show his confidence, Rosser called “Set One” and the first to 9 would win. This show of bravado however back fired and Williams played some nice stuff to take the opener 9-8.
Having arrived to the action late, I caught up with the Marker, Dan “The Professional” Willets for an update on how the opening exchanges has gone.
“He’s not playing any drops and it looks like he has lost confidence in his short game. Every time he has gone short it’s been closer to the service line than the ‘T, this has led to some troublesome accumulating’. Dan “The Professional” Willets
With the first game in the bag however, Williams must have been doing something right, but within minutes, the players were off court again with Rosser squaring things up with the loss of only one point.
Some questionable tactics saw Williams also drop the third game, with the main offence being impatience. Despite the fact that Rosser was visibly dead on his feet, Williams proceeded to force the play and gift a number of errors to his struggling opponent. Three or four hard rallies would have brought Rosser to his knees, but alas this was not to be, and despite a very close fourth, the match was over.
With Rosser slinking off to seek sanctuary in the sweet solace of cheap wine, Williams was left to rue a missed opportunity to get things back on track.
With just one win in six the pressure in beginning to mount on the veteran following a strong start. Williams will be looking to bounce back this week however as he features for both the Second and Third team respectively. Captain Don will be looking for his charge to come back strongly and justify his position above The Professional in the LT&SC rankings.
Match 5: Chris ‘The Don’ Trafford vs Dan ‘Running-Man’ Burns
Player Rating: 9/10
With the match tied at 2 games apiece, it was up to Chris ‘The Don’ Trafford to bring it home. On that night, on that court a captains performance was required, forget Captain America, Captain Fantastic, Captain Kirk; this was the night that Captain Don eclipsed them all!
Dan ‘Running-man’ Burns is well known to the LT&SC 2nds for, well… running; possessing a big hitting game and work rate to boot, Trafford needed to be at his beguiling best to get the ‘W’. Trafford is known for his quick starts and this was no exception, racing through the first game in double quick time, the student’s rowdy banter was momentarily silenced. Weathering the storm at the start of the second, Burns began to find his game and a ‘dilly-ding, dilly-dong battle’ began to unfold much to the delight of the gallery, who were all now on their second beer. Burns took a close second and the third was tight all the way, the turning point of the match came at game-ball Trafford; a reverse boast saw Trafford clench his fist in celebration, only to find Burns claiming the ball was down. Looking to the balcony, no consensus could be made, some choice quotes:
“Definitely down, the ball deviated in an unexpected way, Chris won’t be accumulating with that one” (Dan Williets)
“Definitely up, the ball had some spin on it, so it deviated in an unexpected way, Chris will accumulate just fine with that one” (Matt Williams)
“At my level, it’s really hard to work out whether the ball was up or down, all I know is that I beat them all easily” (Luke Parker)
But the only opinion that mattered came from Paul ‘The Drinker’ Hart, who looking slightly bemused by it all, called… well actually he didn’t have a chance to say anything as Trafford had strode from the court, leaving Harty no-choice other than to call the game in Trafford’s favour.
With this good / bad decision clearly playing on Burns mind, Trafford was able to capitalise and race through the final game sealing a memorable and well-earned victory. To lay matters to rest, this reporters has worked tirelessly to uncover this hawk-eye like image.
By taking the tie by three matches to two, the Leicestershire outfit maintain the pressure on the top two of the division and keep the momentum heading in to the next game against Hinckley Thirds.
A mixed bag in terms of results with both Wynne and Williams suffering defeats at the hands of their younger opponents, but Team squash is all about dovetailing, and on this occasion, the Three Musketeers of Trafford, Willets and Hart brought it home to keep the dream alive.