Premier Division Group A – 19th/20th October 2013
Following our promotion to the Premier Division, we travelled to Crewe Vagrants Sports Club in Cheshire to take on last season’s runners-up Cheshire, 3rd-ranked Durham & Cleveland and 5th-ranked Surrey, knowing that the top two counties would go forward to the Finals weekend next March.
The Northumbria squad was strengthened by the return of Derek “Peter Pan” Collins at no. 2 in the order. Steve Blake unfortunately has had to retire from competitive squash after stalwart service to the County team over the years, and we wish him all the best. The full playing squad was: 1 Ronnie “Condor” Freeman (Alnwick); 2 Derek “Peter Pan” Collins (Northern); 3 Andrew “Twinkle Toes” Wilkinson (Hexham); 4 John “Kitty” Thompson (Tynemouth – captain); 5 Colin “Tweeter” McNestrie (Tynemouth); 6 Alan “Stella” Coates (Eldon Square).
Playing our top 5 in the 1st match against Durham & Cleveland, we raced to an unassailable 3-0 match lead with 3-1 wins from Colin, John and Andrew, stunning our usually noisy neighbours into silence. Ron and Derek then lost very tough matches against Dave Lumsden and Colin Shields respectively, so in the end the match score was 3-2 (14-9) but still a victory, our first over a senior Durham & Cleveland side since anyone can remember.
Colin was rested for the 2nd match of the day against hosts Cheshire (who had lost their opening match to Surrey 1-4 (5-18)), and this time we found ourselves quickly 2 matches down after defeats for Alan against wily ex-England international Rodney Boswell, and Ronnie against top England O55 player Robert Forde. Fortunately Andrew got us back into the match with a hard-fought 3-2 win over seasoned campaigner Geoff Walton. We were all dazzled by Andrew’s footwork, or should that be footgear? Then Derek levelled the match with a determined 3-1 win over Kevin O’Neill, who despite not playing earlier couldn’t match Derek’s fitness. Finally John completed the team fight-back with another 3-1 win for a match victory of 3-2 (14-10).
Meanwhile in the other evening match, Durham edged out Surrey 3-2 (14-8) following an epic 2nd string match between Colin Shields and Peter Culvert which Colin clinched 10-9 in the 5th. This was slightly unfortunate for us as it meant that overnight two other counties (Surrey and Durham) were still in the hunt for the top two slots, with the team points being: Northumbria 28, Surrey 26, Durham 23, Cheshire 15.
So any slip-up against Surrey would mean that they would overtake us, and all Durham needed was a win over Cheshire to grab the other Finals slot. On the other hand, a win over Surrey or a defeat for Durham would take us through. What we needed was a quiet, relaxing evening and a good night’s sleep to put us in the right frame of mind for the final push. What we got, over a couple of pints in the bar, was a two-hour full-frontal exposition from Ronnie on all things Birdman (see footnote 1), how a parachutist should roll on landing to avoid becoming a sitting duck for an enemy machine gunner, what Richard Branson’s tennis-mad mother said to the welcoming party at Worthing, and the importance of “seeking the baall”.
The evening was followed by a violently interrupted night’s sleep when the fire alarms in the hotel went off at 1.40am requiring us to evacuate our rooms – we suspect it was sabotage. Luckily this experience followed by a large cooked breakfast seemed to galvanize us into action for our final match against Surrey. Every point was vital in the early stages, and John quickly secured a 3-0 win. Although Colin was struggling to find his Saturday form he did manage to pick up the 3rd game eventually losing 1-3. Andrew proved too strong for his opponent with a 3-1 win, then it was Ronnie’s turn to take on Steve Jackson of Surrey, a finalist in this year’s World Masters O60 event. Despite having to “absorb the shock” of conceding two penalty strokes when his shock absorber flew off his racket twice in quick succession, Ronnie finally banished his demons with some brilliantly deceptive shot play and devastating “condor-class” overhead kills against a tiring opponent to deliver a much-celebrated 3-1 victory and clinch Northumbria’s place in the Finals as winners of our group.
The crowd was then treated to a veritable squash exhibition by Mr Collins, the indefatigable Peter Pan of Northumbria squash, one day short of his 64th birthday, who destroyed his opponent first tactically, by deliberately losing the first game easily (see footnote 2), then physically by playing and winning a series of excruciating rallies, before finishing off with an array of winners from all around the court for a 3-1 win and a match score of 4-1 (18-6).
Cheshire beat a depleted Durham 17-8, including a fantastic match between Robert Forde and Dave Lumsden which Robert eventually won 3-1, making the final scores: Northumbria 46, Surrey 32, Cheshire 32, Durham 31 (Surrey 2nd as they beat Cheshire in the head-to-head).
So for the first time in our history, we’re off to the Finals weekend on 22/23 March 2014, at a neutral venue yet to be decided. We’ll play a semi-final against the B Group runners-up (likely to be Kent), for the chance to take on the national title-holders Middlesex in all probability in the final. And by then we hope to be even stronger with the inclusion of Jon Evans at no 1, our new baby in the squad!
Congratulations to the whole squad for this brilliant result, and an especially big kiss for Ronnie, without whom we wouldn’t have known how to pronounce a certain type of dinosaur – John Thompson.
footnote 1 – Congratulations to Ronnie on once again being Birdman of Worthing world record holder following a flight of 141.5 metres on 12 August 2013 – See more details. We also now know our Condors from our Leonardos and Kingfishers, our Bognor from our Worthing, and that helium-filled condoms under the wings (if detected) will lead to an automatic disqualification.
footnote 2 – The loss of Derek’s 1st game also meant that Surrey had drawn level on points with Cheshire (who had just defeated Durham) and because Surrey had beaten Cheshire earlier, this dumped Cheshire into the Relegation group. The Cheshire element of the crowd who had been supporting Northumbria up to this point dwindled significantly as they packed their bags for home…
|String||Northumbria||Durham & Cleveland||Score||Games|
|1||Ron Freeman||Dave Lumsdon||0-3||5/9 6/9 0/9|
|2||Derek Collins||Colin Shields||0-3||2/9 3/9 3/9|
|3||Andrew Wilkinson||Bryan Duke||3-1||7/9 9/7 9/7 9/1|
|4||John Thompson||Kevin Dryden||3-1||9/3 9/7 3/9 9/6|
|5||Colin McNestrie||Rob Thompson||3-1||9/1 1/9 9/7 10/9|
|1||Ron Freeman||Robert Forde||0-3||2/9 6/9 0/9|
|2||Derek Collins||Kevin O'Neill||3-1||4/9 9/6 9/6 9/1|
|3||Andrew Wilkinson||Geoff Walton||3-2||2/9 9/2 9/3 1/9 9/6|
|4||John Thompson||Philip Osborne||3-1||5/9 9/5 9/1 10/9|
|5||Alan Coates||Rodney Boswell||0-3||1/9 3/9 4/9|
|1||Ron Freeman||Steve Jackson||3-1||10/9 9/5 1/9 9/2|
|2||Derek Collins||Peter Culver||3-1||1/9 9/5 9/5 9/4|
|3||Andrew Wilkinson||Paul Ekins||3-1||7/9 9/3 9/3 9/2|
|4||John Thompson||Charlie Hawkins||3-0||9/1 9/2 9/5|
|5||Colin McNestrie||Allan Davison||1-3||5/9 4/9 9/7 0/9|
|4||Durham & Cleveland||1||31|