Perfect weather, perfect day… perfect result? Read on and you’ll find out….
Lords, the home of cricket, is arguably one of the finest sporting venues in the World – and without a doubt one of the most treasured fixtures in the sporting calendar of UK Armed Forces Squash. The 6 vs 6 friendly fixture has been going for over 20 years and as one of the most prestigious of the sporting calendar it is certainly something for every player to aspire towards. It generally starts at around 5pm but not before a superb luncheon at the (Real) Tennis Court – one of only 18 courts in the UK and only 48 courts in the world. The President of UKAF squash, Maj Gen Tyrone Urch was in attendance and it was a treat to watch fellow racket-sport players compete in a game with its roots in the 17th Century albeit this year the MCC won 4-2 [at real tennis, I mean]. Now, it would be quite wrong to harp-on about the lunch for the entirety of this article but it really was a feast to behold – sides of salmon, rare ‘rosbiff’, beautifully dressed smorgasbords of delights that tease the taste buds and tempt one into over-consumption. I remained convinced that this lunch has long-been a secret weapon held by the MCC!
After battling his way through security for almost an hour (name’s not down, not coming in ‘sketch’), first up was Flt Lt Phil Rea at no. 6 seed, up against a skilled and cunning opponent, Gordon Kerr. Rea, known for his 5-mile march of death and his classic trademark ‘fist-pump’ was clinical. On a hot court his touch was well-executed and after 1 hour the match was 1-1. At this point the two captains mutually agreed to make the ties 3 games long (no matter whether this meant 3-0 or 2-1). Rea responded to this news by going back on court to hand his opponent a bagel in just 3 minutes; a precise closing game from the debutant.
Meanwhile, on the other court, Sub-Lt Steve Warren won his first UKAF appearance playing against moustachioed New Zealander, Mike Pittams. A tall, athletic player with a strong foundation of tenacious retrieving, topped off with a touch worthy of the Maestro himself, the MCC no.2, boasts a golf-bag of shots that made the rallies long and punishing for Warren – whose fitness was excellent but not quite enough. As a result, this was the longest match of the evening but one that saw Warren go down 3-0 despite putting up an impressive fight. A worthy debut indeed which saw the match score at 4-2 to the home side.
Bdr James ‘the power’ Burke hit the ball as hard as Cameron Piley whilst winning 3-0 at no.4-string against Lewis Clement. His wind-up and follow through generating a swing that propelled the ball at well over 100 mph, often completely disorientating his opponents. This was no exception and Clement found it hard to read the deception and power of Burke. After around 25 mins the result was 3-0 to the UKAF. Match score: 4-5.
The no.1s were up next and Capt Sam Miller took on England top 70 player, Jamie Douglas. Jamie has been competing against the Army for over a decade, since he played at Jesmond Squash Club throughout his formative years prior to winning an Oxford Blue and subsequently settling in London. An impressive athlete and confident figure, his physical prowess and retrieving ability consistently astounded the capacity balcony. Miller was excellent, as always, and demonstrated his trade-mark skill and accuracy but in the end Douglas was too strong and won 3-0, albeit with very close game scores. For me this was the match of the night, even though the overall score was 3-0 to the MCC.
With the fixture now poised at 7-5 to the MCC, on the other court, no.5-string WO2 Gareth ‘Gaz’ Hall played against Charles Hutton-Potts. Hall found impressive form early on, making an excellent start before narrowly securing the first game 19-17 despite the fine touch of his opponent. This tie would transpire to be the lynchpin of the fixture. In the final game Hall upped the ante and came through strongly. The match was finely poised at 7-8 with one to play.
In the final rubber, UKAF Captain and ‘veteran’, Maj Rich Green was hoping for an easy-ride at no.3-string as MCC stalwart, Joss Hargrave was away competing in the British Open Masters – incidentally securing a good win and a route to the quarter-finals. Green started strongly, taking the first 13-11 and losing the second 11-9 before facing a ‘tradition vs personal pride’ dilemma. Taking [just] one for the team (and one would be enough), he gallantly lost in the decider, thereby levelling the overall match at 3-a-piece. On ‘count-back’ it was noted that the overall score was 9-9, so a reasonably even fixture and a fitting end to the day. But it wasn’t the end – oh no; it was barely the beginning. Some will have seen Lords on television and others will have heard of ‘the Long Room’ – a room that does not flaunt, yet which daunts and haunts in equal measure – noting that WG Grace, Garfield Sobers, Donald Bradman all saw the place as their spiritual home. After the cricket, tennis and squash are all finished the players congregated in their best bib and tucker to enjoy drinks and canapes whilst discussing the days’ play. We even bumped into Col Peter Sharland at this point allowing players to thank him for his efforts in coordinating the day. In front of the pavilion the marching band refused to yield and everyone gathered for well-known tunes and the National Anthem; at this point the sternest of souls would get goose-bumps. A fitting end to a magical day.
UKAF Men’s Squash Team Captain