My first coach was my dad Ian Parke, but he was self taught and when I was ten he wanted to send me to, in his words, a “proper coach”, and that man was Malcolm Willstrop.
Twice a week at Walton Hall in Wakefield with Malcolm was invaluable to me, teaching me at a very young age, discipline, technique, good behaviour and a strong mentality.
It also gave me the chance to train with much better players at the time such as David Campion, who became and still is a great friend. Unfortunately for me, Malcolm and a heavily pregnant Lesley (with James) and David, decided to move to Norfolk to take up a coaching job there which meant staying there during holidays throughout my junior career.
I had other huge influences in David Pearson and Jonah Barrington and looking back I was incredibly lucky to have three of the finest squash minds in my corner. The picture I have posted is one of my favourites as it’s the World Juniors in Paderborn 1990 and the culmination of my junior career.
Malcolm was not officially part of the England coaching team but Jonah and Paul Wright welcomed him into the fold as he’d been such an influence on myself, David and Aidan Harrison. With Malcolm came a huge bus of supporters from England (mainly Yorkshire!) and cheered us on to winning the World Junior Team Championships for the very first time.
Malcolm had recently moved back to Yorkshire, to Pontefract, and continued his legacy of producing incredible players. My list from memory starts in the early days pre Ponte with Gawain Briars, Ian Robinson and Bryan Beeson through to David Campion and myself.
He discovered Cassie-Matt Thomas in North Walsham and she became a World Champion, and then later of course Lee Beachill, James Willstrop and Saurav Ghosal. Dipika Pallikal Karthik and many other international stars, too many to mention, would come for Malcolm’s invaluable advice.
Through my main playing career on the PSA I moved to Nottingham and didn’t see Malcolm as much. But after I retired in around 2006, I moved back to Yorkshire and trained with him regularly for the best part of 15 years. I’m sure that this helped to keep me going in the Masters and Legends events and for that I’m so grateful.
I didn’t get too many “bollockings” from him but one I remember was when me and David Campion were around 12 or 13 and we were playing Racketball (which he detested as he was a “purist”) which he had explicitly told us not to do.
He got so angry with us that his glasses started to steam up and Camps was finding it really hard to control the giggles. I just about held it together but was getting the sweats like you do at school being reprimanded by a strict schoolmaster. There were other times much much later playing for Ponte in the PSL where I would be about to give the referee a piece of my mind and one look from Malc would shut me up, and invariably, I would play a lot better!
He has been compared to Brian Clough before, and I think that is a good comparison as both were mavericks ,unique characters with a sublime understanding of their chosen sports, sometimes misunderstood, but brutally honest and loyal.
Thanks for everything Malc.
RIP Malcolm Willstrop.