RENNES - the Director's Cut ...

This article originally appeared,
in butchered form, in the 2004-3 issue of The Squash Player.
This is the original.

The European Team Championship 2004
is now rated “probably the
best squash event ever”.

The officials from the ESF, the WSF, (even Malcolm Willstrop, that says it all!), the players, everybody praised the French organisation, the venue, the exposure in the town and in the press.

37 teams. 23 men’s teams (average 5 players, plus coach, plus…), 14 women’s teams (average 4 players, plus, plus). 43 Referees. Organisation Members. Lots and lots of them. 100 Volunteers. Press.

"The French can be very proud
of staging the championships
in one of the best settings
I have ever seen."
Malcolm Willstrop

In this article:





To start with, Beachill-Matthew-Willstrop-Grant (first cap, losing only one point) squashed Sweden. The second day, they started by walking all over Denmark (Nicol replacing Beachill), and finished it by sweeping Netherlands aside (who chose to keep their two strongest players for the semis).

In the semi final, Wales didn’t give England much to worry about. 26 minutes for Grant against Ricky Davies, Willstrop had the “longest match” 30 minutes, then Nicol gave the Welsh the “coup de grace” by beating Gough 9/6, 9/0, 9/0, leaving Beachill to play a dead rubber against David Evans.


First the French played Ireland. Arcucci/ John Hurley 9/5, 9/2, 9/3 –Steve Richardson gave Lavigne a good run for his money (9/4, 9/4, 9/1) – Gaultier the “Magician” vs John Rooney (9/1, 9/3, 3/3 retired because of back trouble). Then Lincou killed off Liam Kelly 9/5, 9/0, 9/3.

Next morning, Spain. Lincou-Gaultier-Lavigne-Elriani encountered no problem.

The afternoon match, Wales, was a great show, and a large and loud crowd made it all complete! Lavigne and Tippings gave us a beautiful game of, “I drop you, and you catch it”, the Lincou and Evans game erupted in drop shots and retrieving that could have made the final of any PSA tournament!

France’s semi-final against the Netherlands was played at “le Liberté”. Elriani, ranked 91, took five match points in front of a wild crowd to beat Dylan Bennett, ranked 78, 3/0. Lucas Buit took the first game 9/0 from Lavigne but was forced to retire injured.

And then Thierry Lincou, our star, stepped in. You have no idea of the admiration, the aura that this young discreet and gentle man carries round. In England, I’m practically the only voice that is behind him. But over here, he is adored. And it feels good.

Against Tommy Berden (ranked 34), Lincou won the first 9/3, lost the second 8/9, took only two minutes to win the 3rd 9/0 and concluded 9/4.

Gaultier won the dead rubber against Laurens Anjema.

As expected, England and France were to meet in the Final.


The English Team gave a great squash lesson to the French Team in front of 2,000 sold seats plus at least 500 non paying, volunteers, VIP, organisation, etc.

It took England only seven games and 99 minutes to win their 29th European Team Title.

James Willstrop (ranked 13) disposed of Jean Michel Arcucci (ranked 50) with very little trouble in 3 games and 34 minutes. Then it took Nick Matthew 6 minutes to take the first game 9/0 from Renan Lavigne.

The rallies became longer, with long drives and short drops, retrieving and good runs around the court. Nick won the second 9/4. In the third, at 5/5 the two players offered us a beautiful lesson in backhand drives that could have been an exhibition of Mr Malcolm Willstrop's training exercise: 42 drives in a row on the backhand! But Nick took off, and the third 9/5.


As the English had won six games to zero, the French had to win every game of the next two matches. But Peter Nicol didn’t like the idea of losing even one game, even to please a whole French nation!

What a lack of manners. Really!

The “Boss” Nicol, won the first game 9/3 against French Number one Lincou, destroying all French hope that was left and went on punishing the Frenchman 9/1, 9/3.


I know, it was a dead rubber, but we were a few who dreaded a meeting between Lee Beachill and Grégory Gaultier after their last controversial match in the World Teams in Vienna.

But today, the two players couldn’t do enough to please the other one, a bit "please have this point", "no really I couldn’t", "please I insist" … kind of atmosphere. But better than "I’m going to strip your skin bit by bit with the strings of my racquet, then strangle you with my shoe laces", don’t you think?

Grégory Gaultier "sauva l’honneur", saved the French honour by winning a symbolic point.

The English Team was just in a different world all together today. But tomorrow is another day…

"James Willstrop plays at such a high tempo. He takes the ball so early, he doesn’t give you any time at all. So you have to stay behind him all the time, and it gets very tiring."
Joakim Karlsson (Sweden)

"The pace is so different when
you face Nick Matthew.
Normally, I have an attacking game, but here, I didn’t have the chance or the time to do so."
Bado Aziz (Sweden)

"When I came in the arena,
I actually had goose pimples.
It’s the first time in my life it's happened before a competition.
If you don’t enjoy an event of this quality, you’ll never enjoy anything."
Nick Matthew

“C’est qui, nous?” “Who is “us””? Asked a 5 year old little French boy to his father, wanting to know who to support!

"There was no pressure. They were the favourites by far. They’ve got 5 players in the top 20, and have the best team in the world. We were here to enjoy the occasion.
It was Mission Impossible."
Renan Lavigne after the final

“In the final, I burnt myself out with the pressure”.
Thierry Lincou


Once again, the English dominated everybody from far, from very far up there. Good performances from the newcomers, Vicky Botwright and Jenny Duncalf, and the “old” guard Cassie Jackman and Linda Charman stood strong as usual.

They successively squashed Denmark, France and Germany in the pools, swept past Belgium in the semis, and in the final against Netherlands only one game was a bit tight, between the world number one Cassie Jackman (England of course), and Vanessa Atkinson, world number 3. But the spark wasn’t there.

“I didn’t want a repeat of last year’s final obviously. Vanessa was playing well and I must admit that I had to scrap it out in the third, and I was happy to win it!” declared Cassie Jackman, referring to her match last year where her defeat against Atkinson was the first match ever lost by the English in the European Team Championship.

No, once again, for excitement, we’ve got to turn to France. In 2002, the French ladies finished 7th, in 2003, 5th, and this year?

The French flag was flying high (held by Jean-Louis Lavigne, father of) when the French ladies qualified for the semi-finals for the first time by beating the Germans. But their adversaries, the Netherlands, were just too good, too fit, too precise. The French didn’t score one game…

But all was not lost. In the 3rd/4th place play-off, France was playing the strong Belgium team. The French ladies needed help… which they found: on the final day, the French had a team of four: Isabelle Stoehr, (ranked 13), Isabelle Bois (78), Corinne Castets (82) and … THE CROWD!

Imagine the atmosphere when veteran Corinne Castets, 39 years old, fit as a fiddle, ranked 82, gave France its first point by beating Belgian newcomer Charlie de Rycke (17, ranked 59) in four games.

But nothing was preparing us for the pure explosion of joy that followed injured Isabelle Stoehr’s victory against Kim Hannes.

The pressure on the French number one was immense. And when she lost the third after winning the first two games in great pain, we thought it was all over. But supported by the crowd, Isabelle clenched the fourth 9/4 to give her country a well deserved European 3rd place.

“I was extremely tense” admitted a tearful Isa. “I was unable to express what I had deep inside me. After losing 9/1 in the third, I just let it all go.”

“That last match was completely psychological, and victory is beautiful,” summarised Nathalie Cornet, the French Coach.



I can’t really say, because I only saw John White’s first match against Israel. But looking at the results, it wasn’t a good week for them.

The Scottish men came into the championships with a team that, on paper, could maybe win the whole thing. After a disappointing performance last year they found themselves in Group C, from where the best they could hope for was fifth place. But what they wanted – needed – was a top eight finish to put them back into the top groups next year.

It started well, with wins over the Czech Republic and Israel, although John White only managed a 3-2 win over the young Czech Jan Koukal.

So, top of the group and on to the 5/12 play-offs. And it all went wrong.

Ireland were the opponents in the 5/8 quarter-finals, and it was the closest match of the whole tournament! In a 2-2 draw Scotland missed out on countback by two points. Two points! Even the official French site got it wrong, putting Scotland through, until the mistake was spotted. That close. White and Heath won at one and two, but either they gave too many points away, or O’Hara and Woods didn’t win enough. Or maybe Heath’s stomach bug or O’Hara’s niggling injury hurt them.

Either way, Scotland’s best possible finish was now ninth.

From there, it went downhill. White was the only winner against Denmark, and again against Sweden in the play-off for eleventh place. So Scotland finished twelfth.

The women were no luckier. Injuries robbed the team of Wendy Maitland and Senga Macfie, and a fourth place finish in group B followed by defeats to Denmark and Sweden in the play-offs (the same opponents who defeated the men!) left them in eighth place.

So both teams finished the lowest they could from their starting positions. Mind you, it can only get better….


“When John White is playing, it’s even hard to just see the ball!”
Ilan Oren (Israel)

Scotland's problems maybe
started when Air France lost
the bags of World Number One
John White!

The Scot arrived with a black
dustbin bag containing a few t-shirts
 and basics. No racquet, no shoes….

“I arrived very late last night”,
said John, “and my luggage is still
out there, somewhere… I’m not sure
 how I’m going to be able to play”!

“Are you going to play naked then?”
I asked? Oh come on, couldn’t
miss that one could I…



During this event, some good things:
  • Laurent, Mr transport ...The transport organisation was fantastic, orchestrated by Laurent. Never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a shuttle.
  • The press coverage. Absolutely amazing (Lincou was surrounded by 3 TV cameras, about 6 professional photographers, and quite a lot just working for the organisation), the newspaper articles are numerous and large, the French equivalent to ITV news at 10 is showing a report on Saturday evening, never heard of in France, etc., all that due to Pauline Filet’s effort, expertise and dedication.
  • Sam, the ball cleanerSam, the ball cleaner, who actually sprays the white ball with a special product and rubs it with a cloth between every game.
  • The crowd that turned up in masses (even at 10am on Friday morning, to see the English ladies thrash Belgium).
  • The perfect food organisation: hot meals and salads, always ready, served until at least 11pm. With a smile.
  • The beauty of the glass court. Perfect vision, perfectly lighted, perfectly cleaned. Absolutely beautiful.
  • Broadband internet connection for the press, and for the computer in the main entrance for all the players’ use.
  • Back to back referees !43 referees from all over Europe, all working side to side, well actually, most of the time back to back, and no complains from the players so far…
  • The general kindness of the whole of the French volunteers and organisers. They don’t know what to do to help you and make your day the best possible.
Some bad things.
  • The 2 venues where the final stage are played are very far away from each other. So you must miss some important matches. I was told it couldn’t be helped. But sad anyway.
  • One unpleasant, rude and pretty full of himself member of the French Organisation. I know, I can hear you, “only one?” You cheeky thing…
  • No phone or fax machine in the press room, making my liaison with my webmaster quite difficult at times.
  • The colour of the floor of the glass court. A pale blue, that seemed to disturb some players, as the white ball doesn’t stand out as much as on a blue flooring.

Spot the ball ... !


  • The sound of the front wall that led several players (and referees) to be unsure if drop shot or boast was actually up or not up.

But overall, a fantastic organisation, for a small club, a small town, a French Federation with little financial means - especially as the last day was the 1st May, and that in France, where this date is like a bank holiday, EVERYBODY is PAID DOUBLE! (that's only people outside the organisation, like waiters, drivers, security - most people here are volunteers, of course).
The French can be proud of themselves.


"I know that the 100 volunteers will remember this event as long as they live. It was beautiful, a lot of preparation, but the result was worth it. And to the people from the squash circuit who came to congratulate me on the quality of the event, I say 'this should be the norm'," said Loic Thébault, one of the major organisers.

Even the end party was perfection, although I doubt a lot of players will remember ANY details of it…(PS. I’ve got all the photos!)

At the end, the presentation was stunning and became very emotional when Corinne Castets announced her retirement from the competition. Not many dry eyes in the French crowd, team and organisation - emotion that the two giant screens from both side of the glass court conveyed to the crowd.

Then Thierry Lincou thanked Peter for the squash lesson, and said simply that the English were just too strong today.

But "the event was magic" Lincou concluded. "I never felt anything thing like the support you gave us today ever in my life, and I thank you for it," he concluded, talking to the crowd.

Yes, it was a beautiful event, and the French Organisation, Federation, Volunteers, everybody, can be proud of their achievement.

It was a big event for a small town, a small club, and a French Federation with very little financial means.

Bravo les Français!


"The England team certainly knew how to celebrate - Peter Nicol needed Lee Beachill to push him round the airport on a luggage trolley, and neither James Willstrop nor Adrian Grant looked exactly fresh!"
Malcolm Willstrop