Jonah, defining rivalries : Geoff Hunt

Source: RJ Mitchell for PSA

The Legend is 80. Mr Squash is 80.

Jonah Barrington,  the Man who single-handedly created our Modern game, celebrated his birthday a couple of weeks ago. And to celebrate this “pierre blanche”, he has also released his new website.

As we all know,  in every great’s career there is a rivalry that provides the ultimate motivation to break down the barriers, push the body beyond normal feats of physical endurance and challenge aspects of mentality to discover minutiae to help achieve marginal gains that sway the balance of power.

For Barrington that rivalry was with Geoff Hunt:

“Preparing for a Boxing Match…”

“My rivalry with Geoff was the preeminent of my career.

“Obviously, the sport in these days was very different to nowadays and circumstances dictated that you would only meet up with your main rivals three or four times at most. Things developed when the professional tour got going but at that early stage there may be three or four months between the biggest events, and this meant that it was almost like preparing for a boxing match.

“You would have a long period of putting in background work, focusing the mind on what would be required when you did meet up and always reminding yourself about the difficulties when you had last played and all the time remembering that your main rival, which was of course, Geoff, would be training.

“Over the years I then travelled to Australia to play the Australian Open so that I would be playing Geoff over there but there was huge gap before we would meet up again.”

Geoff, Jonah and the British Open

During Barrington’s run of six British Open titles spanning 1967 to 1973 he was to face Hunt twice and it was the thought of these coming battles that drove Barrington to new depths of training intensity to ensure he would prevail over his greatest rival.

“As with many sports people, waking up tired, which is what happens when you train remorselessly, then there is a great temptation, given the voice in your head is telling you to go back to bed, to take it easy. Yet, then there was that stronger voice telling me: ‘Geoff will be training, he will be getting in another day’s work’.

“That was unbelievably motivating for me as he was technically exceptional, unbelievably athletic and incredibly formidable mentally and you knew all that when you were playing on court against him.

Mental Battles

“With most players you were battling on a number of fronts but not in the same way mentally.

“It was a huge mental battle with Geoffrey as he was incredibly difficult to break down and I knew when I played him there had to be an erosion factor before he would start to wilt in any shape or form.

“The early part of any of our matches was always very difficult as he was wonderfully clinical, made very few unforced errors and so it was a battle waged over a long period that built up over many months as I knew I would be playing him in the British Open and that I would not cross swords with him for quite a while before that.

“Hard and Fair”

“Geoff’s mantra was to make it hard and fair, no quarter was asked for, but the match was always played within the spirit of the game and that is what happened every time I played Geoff Hunt.

“His natural instinct was to get on the ball as quickly as possible and he hunted around the middle of the court, literally, to keep the pressure on. There were and are relatively few players who hunt on a squash court, it has to be worked on and my game against Geoff was sensibly more defensive.

“Basically, I had to try and negate the effect of the power he had and to make him wait for the ball longer than he would like because it was almost suicidal to get the ball onto his racket quickly.

“So, in my mind regardless of the fact there were other very good Aussie players, Geoff was without doubt my foremost rival and that rivalry was on a different level to anyone else.”

The incomparable 1972 British Open Final

Popperfoto via Getty Images

When it came to Barrington’s defining memory, a gladiatorial denouement that left all others in its sweat drenched wake, is the incomparable 1972 British Open Final which once again pitted Barrington against Hunt, in what was to be their ultimate British Final.

It saw Barrington prevail 9-7 in the fifth after inducing a full body cramp on the Aussie great that still, by his own admission, leaves Hunt sleepless, ranks above all else.

“In a way the British Open final in ’72 has to be that. I think that when we played that match it was a two – hour 13 – minute final and we had only about nine lets in the whole match and that was hand – in, hand-out scoring back then.

“You knew exactly where you were with Geoffrey, he never took an unfair advantage, and you knew it would be a remorseless process and if I had to play him every week, I would not have been able to gather all my resources to have the kind of success I had in one off matches.

Geoff, a mover ‘par excellence’

Photo by Ken Kelly/Popperfoto via Getty Images

“Geoff was like a robot. He very rarely moved poorly and always seemed to move well and if you are moving well on a squash court it is likely you will produce a pretty good game and I think I saw him, maybe half-a-dozen times uncomfortable and these were for different reasons. So, almost all of the time he was superbly smooth in his movement and almost robotic and his game flowed from it.

“Playing Geoff successfully I had to constantly keep my mind focussed on ways of avoiding the game developing freely as his movement was just so good and that would put me at a serious disadvantage.

“People would say to me that: ‘You are a great mover’ but with regard to Geoffrey Hunt well no I wasn’t! My objective was to make him play more my way than his. If we played his way, then to make it more difficult for him physically and to force him to generate the power as that is more tiring as if you give power to people, they can generate more and do so economically.

“It was like playing a stork!..”

“It may sound easy, but it certainly wasn’t when you had to go over the two-hour mark. With Geoff he didn’t start to cramp until at least the third quarter of the second hour, certainly it would have been helpful if he had cramped after an hour but that wasn’t the case!

“It would come in the last quarter of the match, and it would happen and yes, he did have a problem at that stage in our ’72 final and I had to work awfully hard to make that happen, believe me!

“Indeed, this was most visible in that British Open final although in our Australian Open final in Melbourne in the fifth game he was virtually standing on one leg, and I can recall that because it was like I was playing a Stork! Geoffrey couldn’t actually get his racket up as he had so much cramp in his hand!

“But for me there is no player today that had the willpower on court that Geoff Hunt had, he would have collapsed rather than give a match away and he almost did so in that 1972 British Open final.”