MOST COVETED JOB IN SQUASH
In this article
from Squash Player 2020 Issue 2, Greg Pearman tells Rod Gilmour of his
deep fondness for one of the world's most esteemed squash clubs after he
brings his 30-year spell as RAC head coach to an end.
will be a familiar face and distinct voice missing when members return
through the doors of the venerable Royal Automobile Club in London after
Greg Pearman left as head coach following 30 years’ service.
The club is now set to employ just its fourth head of
rackets in 100 years in what is arguably the most coveted coaching job
in world squash.
Sadly, Pearman’s farewell dinner had been scheduled
three days into the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, so he was forced to
hot-foot instead to his new home in Devon. “It was going to be a big
night and would have been lovely to do it properly but there are bigger
things in the world,” the 57-year-old says.
Given that the majority of RAC members work in the
City of London and a financial crisis and pandemic were looming, the RAC
had begun to take on what Pearman describes as an ‘eerie atmosphere’.
Yet in the last three decades the basement courts at
the Pall Mall venue have been anything but. With 1,400 members playing
squash, the private members’ club now runs over 50 leagues – surely the
biggest internal club leagues in the world - and there can be a
four-year wait just to join the ladders. At his peak, Pearman took 1,200
lessons every year, accrued over 35,000 sessions in all and helped
orchestrate the club’s debut in the Premier Squash League (PSL) in 2017.
As Pearman recounts 30 years’ worth of tales and
stories of the club’s rich history, he does so with a semi-Scandinavian
lilt you wouldn’t be able to place unless you knew he was born in
Stockholm, to a Swedish mother and English father. He came to the UK in
1975 and spent a decade as squash coach at Richmond Town (now Richmond
Olympus) in Surrey. As the 80s squash boom faded, Richmond began to
commercialise and favour aerobics over squash, so Pearman moved to the
RAC. His preconception back then was a “sleepy, dusty place with lots of
“But I soon fell in love with the squash ethos,” he
continues. “Even though the RAC was ‘old school’, a lot of the other
London clubs were driven by profit and had moved away from being a club
and community. Even the RAC had been left behind in the ages, but it had
a community drive and if you created a great environment the business
“Historically the squash coaches were chosen by
the squash committee, so once I got the job I was then introduced to the
management. I soon found out what a great club it is, with great people
and fantastic stories.”
One such tale involves Oke Johnson, the club’s first
coach who spent 45 years in the role. He took time out to enlist and
fight in the Second World War and the story goes that when Johnson
returned he had to face a play-off match against the interim coach just
to get his job back.
Pearman faced little resistance when he sought more
equality for women members. When he joined in 1990 women were only
allowed to play on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. “The committee opened
its arms and I came in at the right time,” he admits. Although the RAC
is aesthetically a purpose-built, rather masculine building, change came
quickly and women were attracted by the courts and the gym.
Pearman was also handed the reins at the RAC’s
country club in Epsom, Surrey, and by the time he left there were six
staff under his wing to cover the eight courts across both venues –
where members still play in whites.
“I tried to work out why playing in white was a
‘thing’,” Pearman says of the ruling. “I thought it was a way to play
sports the same and not to judge anyone. It looked snooty to the outside
but like Wimbledon it has been embraced and is seen as a quirk. The
younger members even vetoed the idea [to allow coloured clothing] and
the rule has remained in place.”
One change did come when the RAC joined the PSL and
Pearman made sure visiting teams could play in their preferred kit,
which may have otherwise proved problematic to sponsors. The RAC’s PSL
players, meanwhile, play in all white. Pearman calls the PSL venture an
unbridled success with ‘noisy’ members packing the gallery on match
Pearman says: “What people get stuck on is the old
colonial look. That’s why I was proud of the PSL - I wanted the squash
world to see that we are a normal club. You can’t change a building but
once you’re in you can sense the friendliness and we see ourselves as
being open and diverse.”
In all, there are 17,500 members across the two
clubs, each paying around £1,800 per year. The courts - which used to
host the British Open - are in high demand from 6am to 10pm most days.
“I loved being supported by the committee and being the expert on
squash, to create a team and form the leagues. I was really given carte
blanche,” Pearman explains.
To underline the popularity of squash, when Pearman
left there were 54 leagues at the club, with a waiting list of 200
players expecting a three to four-year wait.
all started with a rolodex and a telephone before technology kicked in,
as Pearman set about creating a regimented set of rules. If a player
failed to play three matches, that member would be chucked out of the
league and forced to wait up to four years to get back in. “The
motivation is huge for players and our courts are always fully booked in
the final weeks of the leagues,” laughs Pearman.
“We are dealing with members who are used to
getting their own way - bankers, managing directors – and we often had
to speak to their PAs first who would tell us they weren’t used to
Not that this deterred the squash department; Pearman
even had to throw out an RAC chairman once, while members who had
forgotten to log their results all received short shrift.
“It didn’t matter who they were, all we wanted was
for three results to be inputted! We would hear stories of members
coming in before a knee surgery just to play their matches on time. When
my house burned down I was asked why I was still at the club. ‘Squash
isn’t that important,’ they said. Well, it was for me!”
Pearman, a former semi-pro on the tour and a top 100
player for a few years, was also instrumental in installing the first
doubles court with moveable walls in a major city at the turn of the
century. It proved another success, with members returning to the sport
and 600 entries to its annual doubles competitions.
“I’ve loved everything about the place,” says Pearman,
who will now become a therapeutic life coach, after qualifying as a
Neuro-Linguistic Programming master practitioner. “Of course there have
been challenges, like in every job, but I have absolutely loved it.”