EYE GROUP BRITISH OPEN
BY ALAN THATCHER
SQUASH followers everywhere will be delighted and relieved that world champion
Peter Nicol was allowed home from hospital today (TUESDAY) after collapsing
during Sunday's final of the Eye Group British Open in Aberdeen.
Nicol reluctantly surrendered the title to his great rival, Jonathon Power of
Canada, with the score at one game all before a packed and partisan crowd at the
Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre.
Nicol was taken to Aberdeen's Royal Infirmary suffering from chronic gastro-enteritis following a sudden bout of food poisoning.
He was detained for two nights but was released this afternoon to go home with
his father, Pat, and girlfriend Sally.
Pat said: "It's amazing when you consider that Peter has played all over the
world in some countries where you might think he would be susceptible to stomach
troubles, and he has never had a problem.
"Then, in a tournament in Aberdeen, just a few miles from his home town of
Inverurie, he goes down with this. Peter can see the funny side of it but it
hurts if he laughs at the moment."
Peter was clearly still in terrible pain yesterday when Neil Walker and I visited him in hospital. Squash fans everywhere will wish him a speedy recovery
as he looks forward to renewing his rivalry with Jonathon on court in the US
Tournament of Champions at New York's Grand Central Station in late January
The final was boiling up to the climax eagerly anticipated by the noisy, flag-waving crowd at the
AECC. It was
a tragedy for everyone concerned that such a
classic confrontation was brought to a premature halt in such unfortunate circumstances.
Jonathon was in tears as he collected his trophy, just as Leilani Joyce had been
the day before following her victory over England's world champion Cassie
Campion. But there was a huge difference. Leilani's were tears of joy as she cradled the
beautiful Edinburgh Crystal trophy.
She was a worthy winner in a final full of superb squash but punctuated by
unforced errors, probably due to nerves. "I felt it was a bit scrappy at times
but I was just so delighted to win that trophy," said the 25-year-old from
Hamilton, New Zealand.
It was a bitter blow to Cassie, but both men's and women's games are now more
wide open than for years, with none of the top players seeming able to have it
all their own way.
Three weeks ago in Cairo, Ahmed Barada beat both Nicol and Power on the way to
winning the Heliopolis Open. Then it was Simon Parke's turn to beat the world's
top two players on his way to the US Open title in Boston.
When ranking order was restored in Aberdeen, with Nicol removing Parke, and
Power beating Barada (both matches in straight games) it produced the final all
of Nicol's army of fans clearly wanted.
It was such a shame to end a thrilling, absorbing and hugely entertaining tournament in such a disappointing fashion.
However, the story was so dramatic that it produced possibly more publicity for
the game than a Nicol triumph would have done.
The media coverage in Scotland was tremendous, providing a major confidence
boost for promoters, organisers and sponsors alike.
It will help to boost hopes of a return to the Granite City next year with
increased support from local businesses. The oil industry blanked the event this
year, but I know that the success of the promotion impressed many individuals
from the gas trade who called into the AECC.
Hopefully we can get in to see them regarding future squash events in Aberdeen
once the SRA and The Eye Group are in a position to announce their intentions.
The fact that a major TV company is prepared to invest heavily in squash is one
of the most significant developments in the history of the game. They produced a
number of specials for worldwide consumption, including a programme that featured the whole of the women's final for the New Zealand market.
The prospect of improved and enhanced TV coverage will make it easier for promoters to approach potential sponsors, and can only help towards building a
stronger, more lucrative and more professionally managed world tour.
I know the players enjoyed themselves in Aberdeen, and one competitor, from
Wales, expressed the opinion that "it was the best British Open ever." That's some
compliment considering the event was staged in the principality for three years.
Others said that the event produced "the best posters, best programmes, the best
website and the best merchandise."
Most were unaware of one or two problems behind the scenes that stretched the
organisers to the limit. But everything ran more or less to schedule, and at the
front end the players delivered a stunning, spectacular product that delighted
Here are some of my favourite moments from the week, memories that I will treasure for ever...
THE sight of hundreds of schoolchildren flocking to the event in the early days,
cheering and chanting as Peter Nicol was piped into the arena by the brilliant
Julie Brinklow from Stonehaven. We hope that introducing so many youngsters to
squash at this level will have a lasting, positive benefit for Scottish squash.
THE sight of press officer Steve Cubbins, suddenly surrounded by 50 people in
the press office, all demanding tickets and meal vouchers at 11am Tuesday, and
the quiet and efficient way he dealt with a potentially chaotic scene. Steve's
efforts, both in manning the press office and updating the website so brilliantly, were admired by everybody.
THE sight of a group of players in the hotel bar at 5am Wednesday, listening
rapt as Paul Price of Australia, and American physio Dave Kennedy, produced some
blindingly brilliant guitar solos.
THE stunning quality of the qualifying competitions at the Aberdeen Squash
Racquets Club, and the friendly, efficient and enthusiastic manner in which so
many members, plus members of other local clubs, volunteered their services in
so many areas.
THE warm and festive feeling that surrounded the event, and the way in which the
world's top players were so friendly and approachable at all times. They are an
incredibly talented group of people, who produced an event of stunning quality.
They richly deserve greater rewards that reflect the effort they put in, both on
and off court.
THE deafening roar that greeted Peter Nicol as he entered the court before
Saturday's semi-final and Sunday's final, when two huge Scottish flags were
billowing at the top of the back wall stand, making the atmosphere more like a
THE appearance at courtside of dozens of Aberdeen residents on Tuesday morning,
all claiming to be friends and relatives of Peter Nicol and demanding free tickets!
THE amazing Blues Brothers World Doubles Challenge match, featuring Peter
Marshall and Chris Walker (Great Britain) against Anthony Hill and Graham Ryding
(Rest of The World) brilliantly refereed by Jonah Barrington and Bill West. The
match was absolutely hilarious, and showed the incredible skill levels of the
world's top players. The match featured an experimental scoring system, as well
as an experimental refereeing system! Perhaps my favourite moment was Marsh
being given a conduct warning for playing the ball one-handed!
Well, so many wonderful moments, some locked away for another time and another
place. A tearful end to the weekend, but followed by hopes that we will all be
back in the Granite City one day soon.
The name of Aberdeen was promoted far and wide to every corner of the globe by a
smooth-running media machine and we hope that the superb coverage will help to
persuade more local sponsors to come forward for next year.
Thanks again to everybody who made the long journey north. It was well worth it.
We can't wait to go back and do it all again, bigger and better than ever.