Blasts from the Past : World Champion switches to England

We’re a few weeks into Coronvirus lockdown now … there’s no sign of squash resuming any time soon, and you’re probably as good as you’re going to get at aiming at toilet rolls and bouncing the ball off your frame.

Time for a few flashbacks, we think, starting with a major UK story from … do you recall which year ?? (answer at the bottom)

NICOL IN SHOCK ENGLAND MOVE (19-Mar)

World Champion Peter Nicol, one of Scotland’s most successful sportsmen has made moves to change his allegiance to England.

The announcement,  made in interviews with English newspapers and on BBC Radio Five are likely to cause dismay north of the border. The move will almost certainly end any Scottish hopes of winning a first squash world team title.

It is believed that Nicol will sit down with officials of the Squash Rackets Association this week. Nicol’s coach and advisor, Neil Harvey, is a former England team coach.

Nicol has stated that he is fed up that his achievements have not bought any financial support in Scotland  and he wants to take advantage of the lottery funding available in England.

Nicol did not compete for Scotland in the last European or World Team Championships and under the new four year rule will be eligible to play for England in two years time but will not be eligible for this year’s extravaganza in Melbourne.

Nicol’s moves follows a foot injury in October which put him out of British Open contention. He has stated that his income has been slashed for 4 months and that it made him realise that at the age of 27 he needed to take action to prolong his career. He has said that he has to pay for Harvey and play league games to supplement his income.

“My decision is nothing to do with money” said Nicol. “It is to do with making sure I  receive the kind of support a professional athlete requires to stay at the very highest level. I guess some folk in Scotland might be calling me all sorts of names after the story broke that I am considering the option of playing for England.

“But it is not a course of action I am taking lightly. A lot of people in Scotland have done a lot for me and helped me throughout my career and I am grateful to them all. If things go smoothly then it looks like I might be going there as an England player. The decision is tearing me in half. I hope, for the sake of Scottish sport, that proper funding is put in place to look after our best athletes so that this situation is not allowed to happen again.”

SCOTTISH BACKLASH FOR NICOL  (20-Mar)

The Scottish Squash Association has told World No.1 Peter Nicol that he will make a ‘big mistake’ if he turns his back on Scotland to play for England. Scottish Squash spokesman George Meiras has been quoted as saying, “It’s a very big mistake on Peter’s part.”

The 27-year-old Nicol however feels he has been left with no choice because the country of his birth has failed to give him the financial support he deserves and needs. The move, if it is confirmed, will put Nicol’s participation in the Commonwealth Games in jeopardy.

He is the reigning Commonwealth Games titleholder and his participation in the Games has been seen as of major value to Scotland, to the sport of squash and to the Games themselves.

“I was stunned when I heard and could not actually believe it,” said Louise Martin, Chairman of the Scottish Commonwealth Games Council. “As far as we are concerned Peter is still a potential team member for the 2002 Games. He launched the sponsorship on December the 21st and is a supporter of everything Scottish. I am trying to speak to him at the moment.”

“He played for Scotland in Malaysia in 1998 and won a gold medal and has proved to be a great team member so I find this quite unbelievable. He certainly hasn’t spoken to or contacted anyone here and it is really upsetting because he is a great ambassador for the youngsters as well.”

“He hasn’t been in touch with us for quite some time as he’s not even eligible to represent England until the end of this year. The only way he can play for them anyway is if he writes for special dispensation. He has already played for Scotland anyway and whatever country he wants to represent he has to get support from the Commonwealth Games Council and the Scottish Commonwealth Games Council to do that. Personally I would be very loath to agree to that because it would mean that he would be competing against us in future. I have left a message on his phone and I am waiting for him to get in touch. He was in Germany in the weekend which is the last time I heard.”

Nicol’s Scottish compatriot Martin Heath [who Nicol beat in the World Open semifinal] however, has said he understands Nicol’s position, while the international shot putter Steph Harwood, who defected to Ireland because he didn’t feel valued in Britain, has also come to Nicol’s defence: “I fully support Peter’s position. It was a shock to me but I fully understand where he is coming from,” said Harwood.

An official announcement is expected on Nicol’s future on Wednesday, at a press conference at Lambs Club, London.

ENGLAND ATTRACTS WORLD CHAMPION PETER NICOL  (21-Mar)

Scotland’s world squash champion Peter Nicol has switched his allegiance to England to take advantage of the Lottery-funded World Class Performance Programme run by the sport’s English governing body, the Squash Rackets Association (SRA).

The 27-year-old world No1, who won the sport’s first men’s gold medal in the Commonwealth Games in Malaysia in 1998 and was honoured with an MBE in June 1999, was born in Inverurie, near Aberdeen – but has been based in London, training at the Connaught Club in Chingford, for more than ten years.

“It is becoming increasingly difficult to compete on the world stage against players that are being supported both by comprehensive performance backup programmes as well as through government awards and grants,” said Nicol.  “By moving to England, and being a nominated player within the SRA’s World Class Performance Programme, I hope to maintain the position I have worked so hard to secure over a number of years.”

England’s World Class Performance Programme was launched in October 1997 and came into full operation in January 2000.  The Programme, supported by Sport England through the Lottery Sports Fund, put in place a performance environment designed to provide players with a full range of facilities – such as sports science, sports psychology, sports medicine, funding for tournament commitments, coaching, video analysis, etc. – required to move to the top positions of the world game.

Matt Hammond, the SRA’s Performance Director, said:  “Peter has had to watch a number of his key opponents receive support from their own government agencies which has enabled them to move closer to him.  He has acknowledged that our World Class Programme represents the best all-round support programme in the world and wants to take advantage of that opportunity.  He is not only a great athlete but also a fine ambassador for the sport, and he will provide the ultimate role model for the younger up-and-coming players in our system.”

Since Nicol has lived and trained in England during his formative years under the guidance initially of current England national coach David Pearson and now Neil Harvey – both of whom were honoured with the National Coaching Foundation’s prestigious Mussabini Medal earlier this season – there will not be any immediate difference to his training, preparation and competition schedule.  The significant changes, however, will be made in the areas of sports science and sports medicine, and in particular the introduction of match analysis information for all-round technical and tactical improvements.

Nicol’s move has been ratified by the World Squash Federation, though he will not be able to represent England until 2002, three years after he last played for Scotland.

He added:  “I have had an opportunity to look at the state-of-the-art application of information technology to squash and want to be part of the game’s evolution – as well as being the highest ranked player in the world!”

Since the launch of the SRA’s World Class Performance Programme, England have won a number of world squash titles – including the men’s world team crown in 1997; the women’s world team trophy in 2000; the men’s world junior team titles in 1998 and 2000, and the World Cup in 1999.  Also in 1999, Norfolk’s Cassie Campion became the women’s World Open champion for the first time.  In the sport’s Commonwealth Games debut in Malaysia in 1998, England claimed seven medals (two gold, one silver and four bronze) – more than any other country.  Furthermore, England recorded their 25th men’s title in last year’s European Championships, the women’s team extending their unbeaten reign since 1978.

All this happened in 2001, just over 20 years ago … and the rest is history (which we’ll cover in another ‘blast from the past’)

World Open 1999 on Wikipedia (the event wasn’t held in 2000 or 2001)

Flashback to the 1998 Commonwealth Games and the British medalists