01-06 November 2004 Nottingham, England


  British Open Squash  1999  








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.

TV crew at work ...

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 the crowds.

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. 

It's all over !!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 soccer match.

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.

Alan Thatcher







Official site of the British Open Squash Championships ... by Squash Player