|130 Years of Squash
by Ted Wallbutton of the WSF
For over 1,000 years man has invented and enjoyed a variety of games played
by hitting a ball with either a closed fist - as in “fives” or “bunch of
fingers” - or with some form of bat or racket. Around the year 1148 the
French played “le Paume”, meaning “the palm of the hand”, which developed
into Jeu de Paume, Real Tennis, Royal Tennis or, if you play the sport,
simply Tennis. At sometime in the early 19th century this obsession with
rackets and balls spawned another variety of the sport in the unlikely
birthplace of the Fleet Prison in London. The prisoners in “The Fleet”,
mainly debtors, took their exercise by hitting a ball against walls, of
which there were many, with rackets and so started the game of “Rackets”.
Rackets progressed, by some strange route, to Harrow and other select
English schools about 1820 and it was from this source that our own sport of
Squash, or Squash Rackets, developed.
Squash was invented in Harrow school around 1830, when the pupils discovered
that a punctured Rackets ball, which "squashed" on impact with the wall,
produced a game with a greater variety of shots and required much more
effort on the part of the players, who could not simply wait for the ball to
bounce back to them as with Rackets. The variant proved popular and in 1864
the first four Squash courts were constructed at the school and Squash was
officially founded as a sport in its own right.
In those early days Squash, as with all other sports, was without any form
of international standardisation and it was inevitable that slight
variations in the way it was played, and the equipment used, would occur.
Luckily only two main streams of activity followed, one in England with its
21 feet wide courts and “soft” ball and the other in North America, with its
18½ feet wide courts and “hard” ball and with both courts having the same
length of 32 feet the universality of Squash was not seriously challenged.
We will look at these two branches separately and also at the way in which
Squash spread to almost every nation in the world.
EARLY DAYS IN ENGLAND
The first recorded reference to "Squash", other than in Harrow school,
appeared in 1890 in the English book "The Badminton Library of Sports and
Pastimes" written by the Duke of Beaufort. Eustace Miles, a world
championship at both Tennis and Rackets, wrote the first book on Squash in
1901; stating that the sport was enjoyed by thousands of players in various
parts of the world. By that time there were courts in schools and
universities in England and some also in private houses. The first
professional Squash Championship was held in 1920 in England, when C.R. Read
(Queens Club) beat A.W.B. Johnson (RAC Club).
In 1923 H.A.L. Rudd, writing in "Baily's Magazine", forecast that Rackets
would lose many players to Squash with the arrival of the first English
Amateur Championships. He was concerned at this prospect as he considered
Rackets to be a "manlier" game; Squash afforded a good "sweat" but did not
demand the same skill as Rackets, in his opinion. Rudd's forecast proved to
be only too correct as Squash grew rapidly and soon left its parent sport
far behind in popularity.
As Squash play developed so did its administrative structure. The first
discrete national associations to be formed were the United States Squash
Racquets Association in 1907 and the Canadian Squash Racquets Association in
1911. In England the game was regulated by a Squash sub committee of the
Tennis and Rackets Association from 1908 until it gained full status as the
Squash Rackets Association in 1928.
A court built at the Bath Club in London at the beginning of the 20th
century was chosen as the model for the standard size of a Squash court, 32
feet by 21 feet or 9.75 metres by 6.4 metres, much smaller that the court
for Rackets which measures 60 feet by 30 feet (18.3 metres by 9.1 metres).
The British dimensions were proposed in 1911, but not ratified until 1923.
The point-a-rally scoring system to 15 was used universally in Squash until
1926 when the current hand-in, hand-out system to 9 points was introduced
outside north America. The American hardball game, however, continued to be
played to 15 points and this system was also adopted for the men's
professional circuit in 1991 in an effort to shorten the matches.
In 1933 the great Egyptian player F.D. Amr Bey, won the first of his five
British Open Championships, then seen as the World Championships. He was
followed in his achievement by M.A. Karim of Egypt who won the title four
times from 1947 to 1950 and then the dominating Khan dynasty from Pakistan;
Hashim (1951-1958), Roshan (1957), Azam (1959-1962), Mohibullah (1963),
Jahangir (1982-1992) and Jansher (1993-1994).
The Women's British Open commenced even earlier than the Men's; with Miss
J.I. Cave winning the title in 1922. Until 1960 the title belonged solely to
English players, with Janet Morgan (later Shardlow) winning 10 times between
1950 and 1958. She was followed by the most famous woman Squash player ever,
the Australian Heather McKay, who dominated the sport from 1966 to 1977 and
remained undefeated throughout her playing career. Her successor was the New
Zealander, Susan Devoy, who won the title 8 times between 1984 and 1992.
Perhaps the players who had the most impact on the development of the sport
were Jonah Barrington (Ireland) and Geoff Hunt (Australia). They dominated
Squash between the late 1960's and early 1980's, capturing the imagination
of sportsmen and women everywhere and starting a boom in the sport which
raised the number of courts to 46000 worldwide and the number of players to
over 15 million by 1994.
SQUASH IN AMERICA
Squash was certainly being played in Canada before 1882, as it was then that
James P Conover, the Headmaster of St. Paul’s School in Concord, New
Hampshire, USA, saw it being played in Montreal. He thought it would be a
perfect sport for his boys and wrote in the November 1882 edition of the
school magazine “It is the universal experience, that for health and for the
highest perfection in the game, the average boy or man should play but one
rubber a day”. He went on to describe the new Squash complex and its 21 feet
wide courts and compare the game favourably with Rackets.
“This building will cover an area of fifty feet by sixty, and will have a
height of about seventy feet from the ground to the eaves. The ball used in
such courts is about the size of a walnut, of rubber, and hollow, with a
hole in it to prevent breaking. The so-called “squash-ball court”
recommended itself to the club for many reasons; such courts are largely
used in English public schools; cost of construction is much less; fewer
racquet bats are broken and fewer balls destroyed; fewer heads are cracked
and fewer knees and elbows barked; the danger from being hit by the ball
(quite an item among young players) is cancelled; and for all intents and
purposes the game is the same and produces just as good players.”
Although the International, or “soft”, ball was harder and bouncier than it
is now it was not ideally suited to the cold courts in Concord where the
temperature was often below freezing point during play. A harder rubber ball
was developed and found to be more suited to slightly narrower courts,
leading to the 18½ feet court, 19 feet court and other experimental widths.
It was not until 1924 that the court specifications were codified, at which
time it was decided to standardise on the 18½ feet width and a 17 inch ’
tin’ rather than the 19 inch variety used for the soft ball. By 1929
official court plans were being sold by the USSRA and the hardball game was
brought into controlled growth.
The United States Squash Racquets Association was founded in 1907 and it was
in that year also that the first recognised National Championship for Squash
in any country was held with John A Miskey of Philadelphia winning the
American title, a feat he repeated in 1908 and 1910. After Miskey the
National title was won six times by Stanley W Pearson, also from
Philadelphia, between 1915 and 1923, with his son Stanley Junior continuing
the tradition by taking it in 1948. Other great national players from
Philadelphia included Charles M P Brinton (1941/42/46/47) and G Diehl Mateer
Jr (1954/56/61) with Henri R Salaun from Boston winning four times between
1995 and 1961. Victor Niederhoffer (New York) dominated the 1970s with 5
victories, Kenton Jernigan (Newport, Rhode Island) recorded three titles in
the 1980s and Mexican Hector Barragan won five consecutive titles from 1990
In the early days most of the Women’s National titles were won by players
from Boston, Philadelphia or Wilmington, interspersed by the occasional
English tourist winner, such as Susan Noel (1933), Margot Lumb (1935) and
the great Janet Morgan (1949 & 1955). Margaret Howe of Boston won three
times between 1929 and 1934, while two Philadelphians, Anne Page and Cecile
Bowes won four times each between 1936 and 1948. Thereafter one player or
another dominated the scene for several years; Betty (Howe) Constable from
Philadelphia winning four titles (1956-1959), Margaret Varner (Wilmington)
four (1960-1963), Gretchen Spruance (Wilmington) five (1973-1978) with the
1980s totally dominated by Alicia McConnell (Brooklyn) with seven titles
(1982-1988) and Demer Holleran from Hanover NH taking over in 1989 to remain
undefeated for seven years until 1995.
With the establishment of a Professional Tour, to which clubs were
encouraged to send their teaching pro., a list of world famous names
acquired US titles from the mid-fifties - Hashim Khan (4 wins), Mahmoud
Kerim (4), Mohibullah Khan (5), Sharif Khan (9), Mark Talbott (5), Jahangir
Khan (2) and Jansher Khan (3).
Squash played with a hard ball on an 18½ feet wide court was the only form
of the sport played in the USA until the mid-1980s, but then growing
exposure to the “International” game resulted in some 21 feet wide courts
being built and the international, “soft”, ball being used on both the wide
and narrow courts. Additionally, the USSRA recognised a 20 feet width as
being acceptable for International play, this width being derived from the
increasing trend to convert Racquetball courts to Squash use. In an
incredibly short period of time in the early 1990s Squash in the USA changed
from being overwhelmingly “hardball” to predominantly “softball”, with the
only available monitor of the trend, ball sales, indicating that by 1996
around 80% of all play was International. Quite why this change happened,
and why so quickly, is still being debated but there is little doubt that a
new generation of players is now experiencing the love affair with
international squash which happened in all other nations and finding it
preferable to the higher racket skills demanded by the hardball game.
The North American player was also the first to appreciate the virtues of
Doubles Squash, with the hardball being used on a court measuring 45 feet
long by 25 feet wide. The first National Doubles Championships were held in
1933 and hardball Doubles continues to thrive even though the singles
version now holds only a minority of play.
AUSTRALIA, GERMANY AND 123 OTHER NATIONS
Squash spread rapidly in its early days and the major growth areas were
wherever British forces were stationed. South Africa, India, Pakistan,
Egypt, Australia, New Zealand and many other countries learned their Squash
from the military and soon adopted it as their own. Probably the most
successful Squash nation of all time, Australia, had its Squash seed planted
through contact with the military.
Although the first Squash courts in Australia were established in 1913, at
the Melbourne Club in Victoria, there was no official Squash association
until 1934 although top players had been engaged in ad hoc club tournaments
since 1927. During 1934 a group of players decided that local administrative
pressure and the need to liaise with interstate and overseas organisations
demanded an official body and the Squash Rackets Association of Australia (SRAA)
was founded, although its main tasks remained locally orientated in the
Melbourne area. Even when the first Australian Championships were held, for
men in 1931 and women in 1932, they were, in reality, State Championships
for Victoria. The SRA of Victoria was formed in 1937.
In New South Wales the first court was built just after the first World War,
by Mr. Bjelke-Petersen, the uncle of the former Queensland Premier, Sir Joe
Bjelke-Petersen. The New South Wales SRA was formed in 1937 and the first
pennant competition in Sydney commenced in July 1939.
But it was in the 1960s that Squash started to really take off in Australia.
Greater commercial development came into the sport and public Squash centres
were built all over the country, bringing the game to a much wider audience.
This growth brought amazing international success with many of the world’s
best players coming from the Australian Squash scene. Heather McKay, Ken
Hiscoe, Geoff Hunt, Vicki Cardwell, Steve Bowditch, Rhonda Thorne and, more
recently, Michelle and Rodney Martin all become World Squash Champions at
senior level and Peter Nance, Chris Robertson, Robyn Lambourne, Sarah Fitz-Gerald
and Rachael Grinham achieved the same distinction at junior level. Hunt was
World Champion seven times and won eight British Open titles while Heather
McKay was the most successful Squash player of all time, being undefeated in
international competition for an astounding 19 years.
In 1976 the headquarters of the SRAA were transferred to Queensland and
merged with the Australian Women’s SRA to form the ASRA in 1986, its name
being changed to Squash Australia in 1990.
In Germany Squash was born twice! Its first cradle was in Berlin in 1930
when the first four courts were built by Dr. Ernst von Siemens, head of the
technology department of the electronics company which bore his name, and he
started regular company staff activities and even foreign competitions on
the “wall-play-halls”. Other courts followed, but during wartime they were
all used for a variety of other purposes and it was not until 1978 that the
Siemens courts were again used by the “Berlin Wallball Game Club”.
The initiative for the rebirth came from Christhof Viscount Vitzthum who had
discovered the sport in Australia, heard about the Siemens courts by
accident and started to promote Squash and bring the courts back into use.
But an even earlier start had been made in Hamburg by a merchant, Henning
Harders, who erected three courts following an infection by the Squash bug
in Australia and it was a group of Hamburg players who founded the
German SRA in 1973 and sent a team to the European Team Championships in
Stockholm during 1974.
Two years after the German SRA was founded the first National Championships
were held and within a few years there were over 6000 courts and 2 million
players in the nation - the most spectacular growth of Squash anywhere in
Germany celebrated their twenty-fifth anniversary in 1998 by bringing the
Women’s World Championships to Stuttgart.
Many other nations experienced tremendous growth in Squash, starting slowly
at the beginning of the century and then gaining momentum over the past
thirty years. In each country the basic story is the same. A group of
enthusiasts start to play and promote the game which, because of its
inherent qualities of intense exercise coupled with all-absorbing
competition., grows rapidly and becomes a major sport in the land. The
formula which made Squash grow in its traditional homelands is now being
seen again in Japan, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Korea and many new Squash
PAKISTAN – BIRTHPLACE OF CHAMPIONS
Of all the nations where Squash is played Pakistan is the greatest enigma,
producing a succession of amazing Squash champions from a country where
there are still less than 400 courts. No history of Squash can be complete
without an account of the amazing exploits of the Khan dynasty, starting
with Hashim who won the first of his seven British Open titles in 1951 at
the age of 35 years. Hashim was the first of a line of great Pakistani
Squash Champions - Azam Khan, Mohibullah Khan, Roshan Khan, Aftab Jawaid,
Gogi Alauddin, Mo Yasin, Qamar Zaman, Mohibullah Khan Junior, Hiddy Jahan
and the two greatest players of the 1980s and 1990s, perhaps of all time,
Jahangir Khan and Jansher Khan. Jahangir, now a Vice-President of the World
Squash Federation, dominated the sport for 14 years, winning the British
Open 10 times and the World Open 8 times and was undefeated for 5½ years.
Jansher took over his mantle in 1989 with his first of World Open titles and
began a debate in the sport about which JK was the greatest of them all.
THE WORLD SCENE
In its early days international Squash was controlled by the Squash Rackets
Association of England and the United States Squash Rackets Association, but
in 1966 representatives of the sport from Australia, Great Britain, India,
New Zealand, Pakistan, South Africa, USA, Canada and the United Arab
Republic met in London and agreed to form the International Squash Rackets
Association (ISRF), the first meeting of which was held on 5 January 1967.
The ISRF continued to thrive and was amalgamated with the Women's
International Squash Federation in 1985. In 1992 the name of the Federation
was changed to the World Squash Federation (WSF), finally recognising that
the sport had been universally referred to simply as "Squash", rather than
"Squash Rackets", for most of its existence.
Squash is played in 130 countries, on 47000 courts, and the World Squash
Federation now has 116 Squash playing National Associations in membership.
It is the sole International Federation for the sport, as recognised by the
International Olympic Committee (IOC), and maintains responsibility for the
rules of the Game, Court and Equipment Specifications, Refereeing and
Coaching. The WSF maintains a World Calendar of events and organises and
promotes World Championships for Men, Women, Junior Men, Junior women and
Master age groups in both singles and doubles Squash. The Federation leads
its Member Nations in programmes for the development of the sport and is
currently working with the IOC towards the target of having Squash included
as a sport on the programme of the Olympic Games in the year 2008.
Squash has been played for over 130 years, grown sensationally in the last
thirty and is now poised to become one of the largest and best loved of all