Don’t turn a blind eye
Don’t turn a blind eye
Player writer Mike Dale (right) gives a personal perspective
on the recent debate over eye protection in squash, which was ignited by
Daryl Selby’s nasty experience at the British National Championship.
I was 17 when I lost the sight in my right eye. I had sent my
left-handed opponent into the back left corner and he played an
attacking boast which came at me at head height. Stood on the T, I
turned my head to the left, the ball skidded off the side wall and
entered my right eye socket at full speed.
Up in the bar at Moonrakers Squash Club in Salisbury (RIP) I held some
ice to my eye and the pain gradually seemed to settle down. However, I
was learning to drive at the time and in the ensuing months whenever my
instructor asked me to check my blind spot I noticed I couldn’t really
see properly when looking over my right shoulder.
After a few months, I told my parents this and they took me to the
doctors, who sent me immediately to hospital. I had a detached retina,
and because I’d waited several months since the accident, they couldn’t
save my sight.
I had an operation and picked up a mystery debilitating illness which in
retrospect was probably MRSA. I simply couldn’t lift my head off the
pillow and was off school for two months. My eye was grotesquely
swollen. When I plucked up the courage to look in a mirror I was
repulsed. I eventually returned to school and found myself well behind
in my A levels. It didn’t help my confidence when my French teacher
virtually gagged when she saw my appearance.
For several years afterwards, stitches from the operation worked their
way out of my eyeball and protruded disgustingly, making my eye itchy,
bloodshot and inflated. Several times I had to have these stitches
removed with surgical tweezers while I lay on my back on a hospital bed,
desperately trying to obey the surgeon’s orders not to blink.
Today, 25 years on, my ‘good’ eye has had to work so hard to compensate
for its shattered next door neighbour that is has become weak and I need
glasses for reading and driving. Every time I have an eye test, the
optician studies my bad eye and their reaction is one of mild shock. One
even asked me in a matter-of-fact tone, “Golf ball or squash ball?”
I still play squash obsessively and these days I don’t wear eye
protection. The reason for this is simple: I am an idiot. I wore eye
protection for a year or so after the accident but was a self-conscious
teenager at the time and ditched the goggles once I got to university.
Daryl Selby’s eye injury, sustained at February’s British National
Championships, not only reignited the debate over wearing eye protection
but has made me realise how reckless and utterly complacent I have been
over the years. I now have two children and were anything to happen to
the sight in my ‘good’ eye I would be unable to work, care for myself or
The sceptics suggest that eyewear becomes less and less necessary the
higher the standard of squash, as players have more control over their
shots and are more aware of when to stop play and ask for a let due to
Selby’s experience in Nottingham proves otherwise, as does mine. Even at
17, my standard of squash was good and my opponent, like me, was a
county standard junior. I’ve had no near misses since then that I can
remember, but it could happen in an instant – and the consequences would
be utterly devastating.
The replies to Selby’s posts on social media and follow-up articles on
Squash Mad show just how common these accidents can be. I note with
interest that leading coach Phil Rushworth (who drove Selby to hospital
after the recent incident) suffered a detached retina himself on a
squash court. He adds: “I wore goggles for a week or so after my
operation but pretty soon stopped because of the distractions.”
Whilst I fully understand this viewpoint and have also blithely ignored
dangers and risked my entire wellbeing every time I have stepped on
court over the last 25 years, this recent online debate has made me
realise that the distraction, discomfort or irritation of wearing
goggles are not sufficient excuses. I will no longer blindly carry on
taking such a huge risk.