Despite some struggles and concerns before ever even getting there and despite excellent opponents meaning that some results did not go as we’d hoped, the weekend in Nottingham was absolutely brilliant. Everyone on this team gave maximum effort on court throughout. Often, literally, unable to continue by the end. Everyone on this team represented our country in a way that made me proud. Also, everyone on this team enjoyed themselves and (I hope) are keen to do it all again next year!
A week before going, we were struck by the injury bug. Multiple players, including our numero uno, had to dropout. Quality replacements were quickly found, as players heroically answered the call. Only for one of those to also dropout injured a few days later. When it rains, it pours. So, a call up, for the call up had to be found.
Luckily, David Robertson could make it for the Saturday to join the rest of us… Andrew Neal, Lloyd Forkan, Adam Evans, James Powell (myself) and Richard Tailby. Still a strong squad. But since David couldn’t make it there for Friday, there were no tough selection decisions to be made for the first match.
The five of us walked from the St James’s hotel, through the beautiful surroundings, to the excellent Nottingham squash club. The tournament was well run and organised, by the hosts England, who were waiting for us with an extremely strong squad. We exchanged mementos and the squash action began!
Richard Tailby got Wales off to a flying start. He played some fantastic squash that bamboozled his opponent. Not just winning the first game, but also the second game.
An upset seemed to be on the cards…. Unfortunately, his opponent sorted out his shot selection and started moving much better. Richard battled on as best he could but lost 3-2 in the end.
Adam Evans also came out the gates on fire. A lot of hard, accurate striking to the back of the court, set up chances for himself at the front of it. At which point, he showed off his mesmerising holds and feints, often sending his opponent the wrong way. However, his opponent retrieved well and could also strike the ball great himself. He pinched the first game 14-12 and ended up beating Adam 3-0 in the end.
Andrew Neal, our number one, also had a great match. High level squash, with both players hitting tight shots up and down the walls, until an opportunity to volley came. Andy lost 3-0 but played really well, and I knew a win would come if he continued like that for the rest of the weekend.
My match was not so close or impressive I’m afraid. I was hoping to take care of my bad back by gradually playing my way into the match. Just my luck then, that my opponents style seemed to be, to wallop the ball as low and as hard as he could. He was pretty good at it too. So I lost 3-0 without ever really getting going.
Lloyd was excited for his first match. Any chance he got, he attacked, including a thunderous backhand return of serve into the nick, it was an absolute stone cold roller!! When his opponent tried (and failed) to emulate him on the following point, Lloyd was even kind enough to coach him a little, demonstrating how it should be done!!
Aside from the entertainment, he was also playing about as well as he could in the circumstances. His opponent was so accurate, it was difficult to get a foothold in the rallies. Lloyd was close in all three of the games but lost 3-0.
After a disappointing 5-0 defeat by England, we showered and went upstairs to the bar for some analysing and socialising. We had some nice food and a few beers. But not too many!! In fact, great commitment and restraint was shown. We knew we had a job to do against Scotland in the morning.
We woke up for a lovely breakfast, nobody looking in too bad of a shape and we waited for our reinforcement player to arrive.
I decided to play myself in this tie, so that I could rest myself in the final tie. That was the plan anyway! So, I went on first to make sure we started right. Sure enough, I won my match 3-1, grabbing the first victory for our team. (Leading by example)!
Adam, who got two games ahead in his match, looked all set to follow me, but suffered a groin injury and had to concede. That was my plan to rest in the afternoon up in smoke!
Neal had a fantastic match. From 2-0 up, to 2-2, he held his nerve to win 3-2.
David played ruthlessly, winning 3-0 in quick fashion. Securing victory over the Scots.
Lloyd also went from 2-0 up, to 2-2, to winning 3-2.
Which meant we had gloriously beaten Scotland 4-1.
There wasn’t much time to celebrate though. We had a little lunch and then had to prepare for our final tie against Ireland.
Richard was fresh and keen to go (after sitting out in the morning). He was playing well again and just about to take the first game (or so he assures us), when his calf ‘popped’ and he became our second player forced to concede a match.
David went on next and carried on where he had left off his last match. Super accurate and clinical squash gave him a 1-0 lead over an excellent opponent. He narrowly lost a vital second game 11-9. That proved crucial because he understandably began to slow down slightly in the following games, eventually losing 3-1.
Andrew played well again, but lost 3-0. The top Irish player seemed to be the best player at the venue. He covered the court so well, it’s hard hard to know what more Andy could’ve done.
In my match, I lost the first game, and I was losing the second 10-5, when I finally got moving and suddenly decided to start playing properly! I came all the way back to be up 11-10, but I squandered multiple game balls to drop that game 16-14! I’d put some work into his legs at this point though, so I won the third game fairly comfortably, 11-6. Unfortunately, I lost the the fourth 11-9 on an absolutely filthy fluky framed winner from my opponent. Luck of the Irish!
With the team 4-0 down to Ireland, Lloyd played the last match of our campaign. He was 2-0 down. However, he would not give up without a fight, he somehow managed to take the third game 11-4. He gave everything he could but eventually succumbed 3-1. He came off court with his ‘welsh kit’ completely drenched in sweat.
Dave had to shoot off back to Cardiff, but the rest of us went back to the hotel to prepare for the presentation dinner and the night out. Battered and bruised, most of us had to severely limp or hobble our way there. A sad sight to see indeed. But we soldiered on and drank enough, so that by the time the disco started, there was barely a sign of any injuries. There was even enough bravery to make a perfect recreation of the scene from dirty dancing with Sian! Given the way things had gone for us to this point, I am amazed nobody pulled a muscle during the stunt.
Afterwards, all the players, men and women, from different age groups and different nations headed into Nottingham town, en masse. It’s wonderful to see such camaraderie across the squash community. Well done to all the players and teams that took part. Any congratulations to the winners.
And to my team…
On reflection, a third place finish amongst such tough competition is still an achievement to be proud of. Especially considering the sportsmanship and spirit with which we played. The whole weekend, it was an absolute pleasure to be captain of this team. I couldn’t have asked for more from any one of you.