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Don’t turn a blind eye

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Don’t turn a blind eye

Squash 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 support them.
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 safety reasons.

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.





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