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The eye of Justinian

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Internet archive of amateur squash sports-journalism

Match Report (1/7) – Chris Smith v Adrian Webb

Venue: The Gryphon

Time: 12:45 on 08.03.17

On paper there was not much to choose between Messrs Webb and Smith in advance of this much-anticipated clash of two gentlemen-titans of the game – both players were a little rusty after having been out of the game for some years, both players had bran flakes for breakfast.

The battle was to take place at the Gryphon Sports Centre, Woodsley Road, partly because of the persuasiveness of Georgi Nedelchev’s review on Google (“Hygene in changing room is perfect”) and partly because the Edge was unavailable. In any event you don’t become a Local Guide – Level 3 for nothing and it soon became apparent that Nedelchev was onto something. It remains to be seen whether Currys PC World featuring Carphone Warehouse is indeed a good place for all sorts of applicances, and the question of whether you can trust a man who takes 45 minutes to go through what is by his own admission a simple process of filling in a form to buy a laptop will have to remain unanswered for now.

I digress.

Smith correctly called “rough” and elected to serve. Soon the thwacking of rubber on concrete was subsumed by the grunting and wheezing of these two veteran warriors. Both men sought to find a weakness to exploit. Both men probed; both men posed questions of his adversary. This was as much a game of chess as it was a game of squash. Every inch of the court was covered as Smith and Webb employed a full array of shots in an attempt to gain the decisive match-winning advantage, and as time passed it became clear that stamina must be a crucial factor in this match. But unlike Achilles and David Haye, Smith’s Achilles heel turned out not to be his Achilles heel, but his backhand. Webb smelt blood and moved in for the kill, ruthlessly exploiting Smith’s weakness time and time again. Smith cried out in anguish as the tide turned and Webb gained the upper hand. As the ball flew from Smith’s racquet and into the ceiling with a thud of finality and dare I say it, destiny, Webb fell to his knees, raised his fists in victory and wept tears of joy.

The loss of this first point seemed to sap Smith’s resolve. The outcome of the match was then never in doubt as Webb romped home with a victory of 11-3, 11-6, 11-4.

The end.

Journalist: Adrian Webb

Match Report (2/7) – Matthew Tighe v Adrian Webb

Venue: unknown

Date: unknown

That Matthew Tighe trades on his reputation for being a gentleman in the game of squash is no secret, his commercial relationships with Nike, Kellogs and Max Factor among others attesting to that fact. But the elephant in the room remains that missed drug test in 2011, an as yet unexplained anomaly in an otherwise impeccable career. Rumour has it that Tighe’s biography, ‘Court Short’, will address those unanswered questions, and many in the world of pro squash will be expecting some sort of mea culpa when he appears on Loose Women later this month. While those close to Tighe – and his sponsors – have stood by him, he has clearly been driven over the past few seasons by a desire to bury his past under an avalanche of titles, world records and speaking engagements in his role as UN Goodwill Ambassador.

When you see Tighe on television, his boyish good looks and easy smile come to the fore. Whether he is munching on a bowl of cornflakes or liberally applying mascara he exudes a calm confidence we all aspire to. But in reality he is awkward in company, and a slightly mad eye is such that many feel unsettled in his presence. Talk in the locker room is of a man haunted by the events of 2011; it is said that Tighe is often to be found walking the darkened corridors of Kirkstall Leisure Centre at night with shoulders hunched, muttering something about a “secret B sample” and grinding his teeth.

It was in this context that Tighe faced Webb at the Gryphon on Friday. Tighe entered the arena wearing his customary tight white shorts and bandana; Webb followed in his Leeds Half Marathon 2014 finisher’s t-shirt. But Webb’s true fitness levels were cruelly exposed under the gaze of Tighe’s mad eye. Redemption came another step closer for the mighty Tighe as he pummelled Webb 11-1, 11-4, 11-1, and as he acknowledged the acclaim of the crowd, never has 2014, or indeed 2011, seemed so long ago.

Journalist: Adrian Webb

Match report (3/7) – Gladiators: Webb and Akroyd

Arena: Court 2, The Edge

Time: 12:45, 13.03.17

Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon.. just a small number of men inspired by the excitement of the Great War to record their experiences in poetry. There can only ever be losers in war (though today Akroyd was more of a loser than Webb, losing as he did 9-11, 11-1, 11-6, 11-3 or something) and the shots that rained down on Court 2 at the Edge today, like shells falling on the German trenches at the Somme, can really only be faithfully honoured through the medium of verse:

The Dead-Beat

Akroyd dropped, — more sullenly than wearily,
Lay stupid like a cod, heavy like meat,
And they could not kick him to his feet;
Just blinked at Webb’s squash racquet, blearily;
— Didn’t appear to know the match was won,
Or see the court on which he was undone.
“I’ll beat the others,” he whined, “If this hand’s spared,
I’ll murder them, I will.”

A low voice said,
“It’s Huddersfield, p’raps, he sees; his pluck’s all gone,
Dreaming of all the valiant, that too once were ahead:
Bold uncles, smiling ministerially;
Maybe his brave young fiancee, getting no younger
In some new home, improved materially.
It’s not these stiffs have crazed him; nor Webb’s greater hunger.”

Webb sent him down at last, out of the way
Unwounded; — stout lad, too, ‘fore facing Webb’s play.
Malingering? Stretcher-bearers winked, “Not half!”
Later they heard the Doc’s well-whiskied laugh:
“That Akroyd you sent last night soon died. Hooray!”

Journalist: Adrian Webb

Match report (4/7) – Who? Connor Michaels v Adrian Webb

Where? The Gryphon, Woodsley Road, Leeds

When? 22.03.17 at 12:45

As the sound of the victor’s footsteps slowly faded into the distance, a palpable sense of disbelief at what had just occurred hung over the Gryphon, the crowd stupefied by the savagery of what it had witnessed. Stunned silence was at first punctuated only by a thickset man quietly vomiting through his fingers. From somewhere, the sound of a sobbing child could be heard. Then a woman stood slowly, her shaking finger pointing at Webb’s abandoned banana, recumbent astride the ‘T’. She began tearing at her hair, eyes becoming wild with horror as her voice reached a screeching crescendo:

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this! This should never have happened!”

Then a seat, ripped from the viewing gallery, landed with a clatter on the court. And all hell broke loose..

To understand what happened to cause the ensuing riot, one has to cast his mind back to a distant time and place. Romania in the 1980s was a country suffering under the brutal rule of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, crippling external debts giving rise to austerity which caused economic stagnation all the way from Timisoara in the West to Constanta in the East. Living standards had plummeted; heating and hot water became the preserve of the few, while the majority rolled around in their own filth. It was in Cosoveni Village Orphanage in Sud-Vest Oltenia that the young Adrian Webb and Connor Mihais (as he was then known) grew up together, and where the greatest rivalry in the history of squash was forged. The Matron, a wizened old thing named Mariana Creanga, was sadistic but fair, modelling herself on the dictator’s wife, Elena, whose portrait adorned every wall. Webb and Mihais, born just a week apart, lived well on a diet of cabbage peel and potato leaves and wanted for nothing. When the orphanage candle was extinguished at bedtime, Webb studied trigonometry, algebra, and Euclidean geometry while Mihais stubbed his cigarettes out on kittens and volleyed frogs at the dormitory wall, howling with laughter as they burst.

Mihais and Webb were rivals almost from the beginning. It wasn’t unusual for an argument between the pair to result in a bloodied nose for Webb, and many was the minor disagreement that saw Mihais take a plough handle to Webb’s face and ribs. But friends they were, and friends they would remain. Though Mihais never sought Webb’s help with Pythagorean theory or reading, the quiet, studious Webb would always turn to the vulgar, loutish Mihais for advice on whittling sticks, gutting rats and the like. As the years slipped by, Mihais’ thuggish behaviour did not go unnoticed by the Departamentul Securității Statului, and at aged 6 he became Romania’s youngest ever recruit to the secret police to much public fanfare, an opinion piece in Scînteia declaring him a “shining example of Romanian manhood, in the mould of Ion Luca Caragiale, Mihai Viteazul, Aurel Vlaicu and Gheorghe Hagi.” The popular press bestowed on Mihais the affectionate moniker ‘Mad Dog’ (‘Cainele Nebun’) in recognition of the imaginative ways he was rumoured to obtain confessions from counter-revolutionaries. He earned the honourary title ‘Hero of Socialist Labour’ soon thereafter, commandeering a tractor and driving 230 kilometres to Bucharest to receive his medal from none other than the Conducător himself, Nicolae Ceausescu.

While Mihais was rising through the ranks of the Romanian state apparatus, Webb concentrated on his studies, winning a scholarship to Alexandru Ioan Cuza University where he excelled in Mathematics, obtaining a level 10 Diplomă de Bacalaureat. Perhaps it was jealousy or perhaps it was Webb’s propensity to display bourgeois tendencies such as washing and reading, but either way Mihais denounced Webb, then aged 6 and a half, as an enemy of the people, and Webb was faced with a choice of either defecting to the West or listening to Romanian folk music until he confessed to his crimes.

As might be expected, Webb planned his escape meticulously. First he underwent gender reassignment surgery and assumed the identity of well-known Romanian gymnast Nadia Comaneci. Then, with 6 other orphans all masquerading as gymnasts, he crossed the border into Hungary from where he made his way to the American embassy in Austria. Eventually arriving in New York, Webb reluctantly stopped pretending to be Nadia Comaneci and took up squash. Armed with his knowledge of angles, he became American national champion just shy of his 7th birthday.

Back in Cosoveni Mihais flew into a rage and vowed to exact revenge on his former friend and fascist agitator for his treachery. He bought himself a squash racquet and dared to dream of the day he would face and destroy Webb on court. News of Webb’s exploits spread throughout Romania, illegal radio stations such as Radio Free Europe and Voice of America bringing squash commentary to the masses, and Webb became a hero to the long-suffering and the downtrodden throughout the land. Despite the efforts of Ceausescu, the people- imbued with hope and inspired by Webb- rose up against the oppressor and in December 1989 smashed the system that had dominated them since 1947.

Given Mihais’ association with the fallen regime, he had had no choice but to flee. With a baying mob hard on his heels, like Webb just months before him and in a twist of poetic irony, he himself escaped across the border into Hungary. But it was not New York, but Brighouse where Mihais claimed asylum, and where he changed his name to Michaels and learned to read and write. Despite no one caring any more, Michaels spent the next 28 years pestering Webb on Myspace for a game of squash to settle old scores. Webb only relented and agreed to play Michaels on 22 March 2017 because he happened to be in Leeds that day signing copies of his autobiography in Waterstones and thought it would be churlish to refuse. Even though Michaels paid some second-rate actors to cause a bit of a scene following the game, the game itself was an utter anticlimax, Webb unsurprisingly thrashing Michaels 3-0.

The end.

Journalist: Adrian Webb

Match report (5/7) – Bonner vs Webb

Venue: The Edge, Leeds

Time: 12:45, 21.03.17

There once was a squasher named Bonner Whom to play Webb today had the honour And if you read on You’ll find out who won And who stands in good stead to face Connor

The atmosphere at the Edge was electric By all some game was expected But here I should mention That due to the tension Zach’s nerves were adversely affected

Bu Zach still sashayed into the arena With the grace of a pro ballerina “Now that’s why he’s feted” Thougn Webb, “in his native Bosnia and Herzegovina”

The First game began – add what drama! Whilst Webb had never been calmer Zach found the going tough He huffed and he puffed And he snorted and spat like a lama

The first game went much like the second Webb a force with which to be reckoned Withh merciless play Webb seized the day For Bonner an early bath beckoned

Game three saw Zach looking sickly He had to change tactics and quickly He pulled out a feather And then asked Webb whether Or not he was in fact tickly

But Webb was immune to distraction He exclaimed “such effrontery demands a reaction!” With his racquet a-flashing He gave the balls a good thrashing Which gave him immense satisfaction

One sees now why Webb’s known as The Slayer He is a heck of a wonderful player His secret? A good diet You cannot deny it There’s vitamins galore in paella

And what of young Bonner, poor chap It was not meant to end up like that 3-0 he was beaten Due to his two left feet ‘n’ His being as blind as a bat

In truth Bonner took one of Webb’s spankings His out-thinkings and yea, his out flankings “I was put to the sword!” Cried Zach as he pored over his descent down the world rankings.

Journalist: Adrian Webb

Match Report (6/7) – Michaels vs Waller

Venue: Unknown

Date: Unknown

It’s morning again. I don’t know how I can tell that but I just can. I’ve got that feeling deep within me. I’ve got the fear again. On days like this I find myself falling into the same familiar routine. I sit. I contemplate. I wait for the inevitable. Paradoxically time speeds by, agonisingly slowly. This won’t be any easier. I know what to expect now.

Minutes, hours. Movement. It’s time again, I can tell. I know I’m getting closer but I can’t tell you how. It’s always 1 of 2 places I go to. Two hells. Pandemonium. Inferno. I was on edge again today. I won’t even say its name. Not properly. The familiar smells and sounds haunt me like a neighbourly apparition. The piercing screech of shoe on court. The pungent stench of chlorine in the nearby pool. The echo. The bastard echo.

Then, once again, the dance is danced. I can’t tell you how long it lasts but it lasts. God it lasts. Sometimes there is laughter. Laughter! How can there be joy in a world this cruel? Then end. Solace. The sweet embrace of silence. Until the next time. There’s always a next time.

Ben is my favourite. He misses me. He doesn’t hit me as often or as hard as the others, and when he does he’s almost apologetic about it. I like him. My gentle captor. The violence of the others, l’m almost numb to now. My torment is over and once again, all is still. Everything tranquil. I return to my fearful, lonely vigil but no one will care. No one cares. No one ever tells the ball’s story. (Final score Michaels 10-0 Waller by the way).

Journalist: Ben Waller

Match report (7/7) – Lewis vs Waller

Venue: Unknown

Date: Unknown

I’m telling you, me as Stewarts Law squash champion? It ‘s gonna be beautiful. So beautiful. I’m gonna bigly do all the squash champion stuff. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you. They’ll tell you, that Ben Waller guy, why isn’t he Stewarts Law squash champion already? They’d tell me, The Ben, why don’t you run for it? Okay, now it’s time to run. It’s gonna be amazing. So amazing. Stewarts Law squash champion Ben Waller. What have you got to lose? Nobody knows more about forehands than me. Nobody serves better than me. Nobody’s faster round the court than me. This guy Mark Lewis, I’ve heard him going round telling people he beat Ben Waller 11-2, 11-2, 11-2, 11-2, 11-4, 11-6, 11-2, 11-0. FAKE NEWS! Never happened! I’ve got some of the main guys looking at all the results of this and you know what they’re telling me? They’re saying that you take away all the illegal points and I got more share of the points. You take away those illegal points and I get the biggest points share of any of the matches in history.

You know what else? You shoulda seen the crowd watching my match at The Edge, Court 1. The biggest crowd for any squash match in Leeds ever. It’s true! Stretching all the way down to the Headrow. Don’t let anyone tell you anything else. Broke all records for crowds watching lunchtime squash matches at The Edge Leeds. It was beautiful. So beautiful. Don’t believe the FAKE NEWS saying it was just a caretaker polishing the window.

And all these BAD DUDES saying they’d make a better squash champion than me? Tighe, Bhaskaran, Webb, Carson, Lewis, Fidler, Doherty? They’re running scared, these guys. Scared of The Ben’s squash skills. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you. They’ll tell you these guys in the squash establishment are running scared of me. SAD!

Journalist: Ben Waller