The season begins
With expectation and hope
The Leicestershire Seconds
Four men and a dope

A new season, a new line-up, a set of new shirts but the same cliché-laden, overly-verbose, and ‘comma-heavy’ approach to match reporting.

Yep, you’ve got it; this week saw the start of the 2017/18 Leicestershire Winter Squash League, after 6 long months the finest squash players in the County (as well as some of the rubbish ones) have woken from their Summer hibernation, opened their foul-smelling kit bags, dusted off the Hi-Tec Shadows and begrudgingly returned to battle – bleary-eyed, slightly confused, and in the majority of cases a few pounds heavier.

As the Autumnal mist cleared over the hallowed courts of Leicestershire Tennis and Squash Club, five ageing, rotund middle-aged men put on some ridiculous t-shirts and chased a little ball around a box until they either emerged victorious to the acclaim of the crowd, their teammates and every paying member past and present of our great Club; or were carried from the field of battle in defeat, letting down not only themselves, but also their family and friends.

In the opening fixture of the new campaign, the Mighty Seconds welcomed the sauna-dwellers from David Lloyd and with marking sheets and balls at the ready, the match got underway.

The line-ups:

1. Robbie ‘The Natural’ Wynne vs Nick ‘Haven’t Played All Summer’ Marshall
2. Adam ‘Hands’ Popowicz vs Rachel ‘Proper Squash Player’ Calver
3. Dan ‘The Professional’ Willets vs Graham ‘Trickshot’ Bagley
4. Aaron ‘Yo-Yo’ Kenney vs James ‘Debonair’ Harris
5. Matt “Embers” Williams vs Mark ‘The Injured Veteran’ Newitt

The new season also welcomes a fresh approach to Team Rankings which are now dictated by the official squash rating points stored on the uber-impressive Squash Levels. As is customary, the bottom-order got things started, and first up was the new boy and big money summer transfer from none other than David Lloyd, Aaron ‘Yo-Yo’ Kenney.

*The initial content below is provided by part-time contributor Matt Williams. He often asks to get involved and I am too kind a man to refuse.

Match 1
Aaron ‘Yo-Yo’ Kenney vs James ‘Debonair’ Harris
[5-9 9-7 6-9 6-9]
Start Level : 1847
End Level : 1781

Making his debut for LT&SC, the man they call ‘Yo-Yo’ took centre stage in a highly anticipated match-up against James Harris from his former club. Early exchanges were ferocious, with Harris capitalising on early nerves from Kenney, losing the first Kenney realised this was not going to be a ‘walk the dog’* kind of day. In the early stages of the second Harris had Kenney thinking he was running ‘Around the World’* and opened up an substantial lead, finally relaxing, Kenney began to find his range and move up the court and then down the court and then up and down and up and down (get it – Yo-Yo). With former team mates in disbelief, Kenney rapidly closed down Harris’s 7-2 lead and closed out the game with a deft volley.

*all certified yo-yo tricks

CHANGE OF MARKER AND REPORTER (due to this match being the longest in the history of squash, it was officiated by three separate Markers).

*We thankfully return to Head Sports Reporter, ‘The Natural’

As Matt ‘Embers’ Williams was forced to leave the Marker’s stand (to the sound of jeers following some very questionable calls, including a stonewall stoke that was inexplicably given as a Let despite every atom in the vicinity knowing it was anything but), Robbie ‘The Natural’ Wynne took over the reins to oversee the lung-busting third game. A lengthy to-and fro affair was ultimately defined by ‘Yo-Yo’ trying in vain to master the backhand boast, leading to a number of errors that proved to be his un-doing. Flashes of brilliance in between were not enough for the LT&SC debutant to stave off the onslaught from his dashing opponent and the game slipped away.

CHANGE OF MARKER

Due to an Embers capitulation on Court 2 (more to follow), Wynne had to make a hasty exit to prepare for his own match so the Marking baton was passed to ‘Hands’ for the fourth, and sadly final game. It was a valiant display from the newest member of the Leicestershire troupe, but unfortunately in a match that was on a knife-edge throughout, a true flip-of the-coin affair, the squash Gods decided that on this day, on this court, victory would be denied.

Match 2
Dan ‘The Professional’ Willets vs Graham ‘Trickshot’ Bagley
[1-9, 6-9, 6-9]
Start Level : 1710
End Level : 1615

A tumultuous summer season for The Professional saw his rating rise and fall more like a fiddlers elbow. Some stellar results in the local business leagues were followed by some crushing defeats, and on the back of a testing inter-county weekend, Willets went into a tricky match up with question marks over his form.

‘Trickshot’ Bagley is a mountain of a man with the deft hands of a 1920’s child vagabond tea-leaf. One minute he is clubbing a straight drive down the wall with the force of Odin, the next he is feathering a boast with a deftness of touch akin to that of Michelangelo chipping away the final crumbs of David.

Overseen by the excellent eye of could-be-professional Marker, Wynne, things got off to a frenetic start. Bagley shot out of the traps like a latter day Shergar hitting winners for fun leaving Willets feet planted. Devilish and metronomic accuracy saw the David Lloyd number three race into an early lead that he would not relinquish. Willets had no answer to the intoxicating mix of hard-nosed thuggery and sleight of hand magic that Bagley displayed. In the blink of an eye, the first game was put to bed.

The Professional has been around the block more times than a young mother at her wits end pushing a crying child in the fruitless pursuit of sleep, so it was a given that things would improve. Indeed, the second game was better in terms of effort and a few errors from the big man gave Willets a glimmer of hope. However, the LT&SC stalwart was unable to apply enough pressure to push Bagley from his perch on the ‘T’, and the second game followed the same eventual path as the first.

Game three was carbon-copy of the second. A brief outburst from an otherwise serene Bagley perhaps showed that he was beginning to get a bit flustered, but Willets could not capitalise and the match was over three to none. A disappointing run of results continues for The Professional, however the feeling among the camp is that he is one good win away from turning things around. In his own words:

“I know what I need to do, I just need to do it”.

Match 3
Matt “Embers” Williams vs Mark ‘The Injured Veteran’ Newitt
[9-0, 7-9, 5-9, 5-9]
Start Level : 1347
End Level : 1319

With Matt’s proclivity for ‘rascal gear’, the new Team kit fit him like a glove…quite literally having decided against the ‘L’ and opting for the much better suited ‘XL’ version of the not-so-subtle t-shirt. It is quite a statement, but in the eyes of this ruggedly-handsome reporter, it actually improved the appearance of the forty-something Williams who usually takes to court looking like a bag of spanners.

If Williams looked ragged (and he did), his opponent looked like he had been dragged from the gutter, dressed in squash kit and handed a racket. Mr Newitt is one of the good guys of the Leicester Squash scene, but with his struggles with injury, old age, and a lack in interest, it is fair to say the good old days are a distant memory.

With Matt ‘making the deal’ earlier in the day citing a (non-existent) chest infection that would impact his performance, the fact the opening game was over before anybody had the chance to saunter over from Court 1 to watch was a surprise to say the least. Some quick hitting and an utter reluctance to play more than three shots caught Newitt off guard and a commanding Embers took the game handing his opponent a ‘bagel’ in the process.

Game 2 got underway and it was more of the same from a vibrant Williams. His flashing blade produced more winners and he raced into a 7-2 lead…..

Regular readers of this witty and well-written column may know where this is going to go…surely not I hear you cry, surely not…

Unfortunately dear Reader, I have to commit to print that it did.

From nowhere, Matt downed tools and allowed his opponent to storm back into contention. After the match he was heard saying:

“At 7-2 up I took a step back thinking the game was won”

School-boy error.

Newitt managed to take the game 9-7, and we were all square.

Embers seemed to struggle from there on in with the notion of how to play the game of squash against somebody who can’t move. Repeatedly putting the ball onto the strings of a talented racqueteer (?) like Newitt is suicide. He can still put the ball away so long as he doesn’t have to move an inch, and thankfully for him, Matt obliged. With things going badly, in between games three and four the ever-youthful Wynne imparted some of his pure gold wisdom.

“Just hit it hard and straight; if you need to go crosscourt, hit it hard and low”

Matt opened the next game with a lofted crosscourt backhand…

Now I don’t mean to single out any player individually. Matt is a much loved member of the Team and without him around it would be like when Sean Conlon left 5ive – to my money the best boyband this country has ever produced.

Formed in 1997 by the same team that managed the Spice Girls before they launched their career. The group were mostly known as a five-piece, consisting of Robinson, Neville, Abz Love, Jason “J” Brown and the aforementioned Conlon. 5ive enjoyed remarkable success worldwide, particularly in their native United Kingdom, as well as most of the rest of Europe, and Asia. The group have currently based on BPI certifications sold a minimum of 1.6 million albums and 2.4 million singles in the UK alone. They split up on 27 September 2001 after selling 20 million records worldwide.

Sorry, I digress…

Now I don’t mean to single out any player individually, but this will be a match that in the cold light of day, Embers like the rest of us will look back on and think what could have been. Closing out the second would have all but sealed it, no-way would Newitt have the stomach to come back from two-down. The match was a winnable one but mental fragility meant that it slipped by and with it, any chance of winning the overall tie. To put a positive spin on it, it will at least hopefully prove to be a lesson learned for Embers and stand him in good stead for the season to come. When an opponent is there for the taking, Matt must treat it like his takeaways and finish them off as quickly as possible.
(Matt has asked me to confirm that this season he has again partnered with Just Eat who will act as his match-day sponsors for the entire 2017/18 season – www.justeat.co.uk – “Delivering your night in”

As for the chest infection? Well thankfully it seemed to ease off after the game and Matt was able to enjoy several post-match beers…purely for medicinal purposes of course.

Newitt takes an off-court break in between games two and three

Match 4
Adam ‘Hands’ Popowicz vs Rachel ‘Proper Squash Player’ Calver
[9-7 10-8 9-5]
Start Level : 1806
End Level : 1961

Content provided by an inspired Matt ‘Embers’ Williams – I am as surprised as you…

With Pops intensive summer squash pre-season rounded out, which generally involves trying to find his squash kit from last year; it was business as usual for LT&SC’s secret weapon. Taking on the best o45 female player in the galaxy, surely Pops lack of match practice would tell. But much to Calvers surprise and open annoyance, Pops cavalier brand of squash overwhelmed her. Kenney who had never seen Pops play before has gone on record saying:

“his volleys are a f%£&ing joke”

Kenney then preceded to demonstrate with balletic grace how Pops had hit an over the head back-hand volley winner.

Pops showed his grit by toughing out a tight second game before reaching his ‘sparta’ mode in the third game; sending Calver the wrong way so many times that she was out on her feet and in physical pain. Remembering his motto from last year (Figure 1 below); Pops was relentless in his march to victory. On this performance, people will have their ‘hands’ full trying to contain Pops this year.

A stunningly accurate depiction of what actually happened (Credit: Matt ‘Embers’ Williams)

Match 5
Robbie ‘The Natural’ Wynne vs Nick ‘Haven’t Played All Summer’ Marshall
[9-7 10-8 9-5]
Start Level : 2615
End Level : 2623
Content provided by Matt ‘Embers’ Williams

Last year, this fixture won Wynne the prestigious ‘win of the year’ award at Wynnes very own end of season awards ceremony; could this year’s encounter live up to the rollercoaster, behemoth of a match, battled out 12 months earlier? Although Wynne played 2/3 matches at the end of last season, following his career threatening illness (memoir still available in all good book stores), this was to be the first time a fully fit Wynne pulled on club colours (‘eye-burn yellow’ it would seem this season) in 9 months.

Marshall was clearly out for revenge, playing aggressive squash and charging up the court, Wynne had to be at his lung-busting best to keep the score respectable. With the first going the way of the mercurial Marshall, LT&SC team mates feared the worst, Pops was overheard making the following shrewd statement:

“Nick will win I think, unless Rob wants it more, does he, I am not sure, yeah I think so…”

Luckily Wynne wasn’t subjected to these insightful words as he had taken his customary place in between games – on the court. Nick on the other had was seen wandering around the club looking for iced water and oxygen. Wynne upped his work rate and the pace of the battle began to take its toll on Marshall; Wynne closed out the 2nd and 3rd games before the fireworks of the fourth. With the game poised at 4-4, Marshall barged his way to the ball, much to Wynnes chagrin; a heated exchange ensued which went something like this:

RW: He pushed me
NM: No, he pushed me
RW: No, he pushed me
RW: I don’t want to be your friend anymore

Luckily, with Dan at the helm, the situation was quickly pacified, largely due to both players having no idea what he was on about. With the am-dram out of the way, Wynne got down to business and promptly lost the fourth. The fifth is the natural hunting ground of the ‘longer-sleeved Wynne’ and it proved to be a bridge too far for the wilting Marshall; a few working rallies saw Marshalls resolve falter as he resorted to one shot squash and Wynne was victorious. Pops has taken full credit for the victory as he was seen psychically trying to gift Rob some of his drop-shots at the start of the 5th.

So the opening night of the season ended in defeat for the lads from Leicestershire. There will be tougher battles to come, there will also be some easier ones as well. It is likely that there will be some that are about the same. What I am trying to say is that there will be more matches, loads in fact, so let’s forget about this one and move on.

Just don’t forget that it’s all Matt’s fault.

Choice Quotes from the evening:

Nick Marshall: “I wish Rob would hit a drop-shot, he’d beat me much more quickly and I wouldn’t be this shattered”
Mark Newitt: “Thanks for so playing so poorly, I look forward to you playing that poorly again next time we play”
Graham Bagley [watching Matt]: “What’s he doing?”
Dan Willets: “I am the law, I AM THE LAW”