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For the seventeenth consecutive annual squash tour to Newcastle, twelve players from up and down the country were selected to represent the Army against Tynemouth SC and Northumberland SC in the North East. Including; Lt Col Phil Ashman AGC, Maj Luke Doddington RAC, WO1 Sean Carey RAPTC and Bdr James Burke RA. Representing for the first time on the tour were SSgt Paul Ryan AAC, LCpl Joe Nickleson RE, Cfn Adam Smart REME, Tpr Paul Jones RA and OCdt Arthur May. Also, touring as guest players for this tour, were WO1 (Retd) Craig Webb and SSgt (Retd) Ray Burke MBE. Cai Younger, a member of the Tynemouth SC kindly agreed to play for the Army team against the Northumberland SC to match Ex-professional Dave Barnett at No 1 seed. Maj Joe Rawsthorne LANCS (Army Team Manager) coordinated the event.

Another year has passed already as we again travel North East to engage in some very competitive squash in preparation for the 2018 Army Individual Championships later in the month. For much of the first day, most endured the long trip North in ‘predictable’ motorway traffic, stopping at the usual motorway traffic jams on route! The journey for some ended eventually after 7-8 hours, but we arrived in good time at Tynemouth Squash Club. There was a good atmosphere around the club, plenty of spectators and our hosts were keen to get started. Adam Smart was first up against Paul Millington, a regular and formidable player at the club. The first match was played at great pace and the first game, taken by Paul, was arguably the best game of the match with each point hard fought, some long rallies and quality squash from both players. Adam was quick to respond in the second with a contrasting game that he very much dominated. The third and fourth games were also well contested with the spoils being shared and the match now poised at two games each. Despite Adam making a strong start in the fifth, it was the experience and determination that we have seen many times in Paul over the years that changed the momentum of the game and in the end, it was our hosts that secured the first victory. One of the more competitive matches of the evening was between the No 5 seeds involving Phil Ashman against the club manager and principle host Glen Ward. A match played in great spirit between two equals and veterans of the game, which was destined to go the distance and proved to be a real battle. The first game seemed to last forever with both playing tight squash and many long rallies, but eventually the game went to the host. Phil battled on and took the second and ‘almost’ the third, but Glen found a few ‘nick’s’ to steal it and then went on to take the fourth, and the match. Phil seemed to have strength on his side in the fourth and took the early points, but credit to Glen, it has to be said, who dug in deep and with a series of tight boasts he ‘nicked’ it to claim the match.

Other games included Ray Burke who was up against the club manager’s daughter Samantha Ward, who continues to improve year on year, climbing the seed order!

Again, this was a very close match and good to watch, it could have gone either way, no doubt. But, experience again won the day for Ray. This match proved to be a tough five setter. Equally, another veteran of the game Craig Webb who is playing very well at the moment enjoyed another five-game match and was always one step ahead of Hannah Cliff  taking the final game comfortably. The only other victory for the Army team came from Arthur May who proved to be a convincing winner against Sam Evans in a very entertaining match.

The final match of the evening was less predictable. Sean Carey was taking no chances and spent some 25 minutes warming up and stretching off his weary limbs before the arrival of his opponent Lennox Lockwood, very much his junior!  Sean, another veteran of the game and a regular team player was a little shocked as he struggled even before the start of the game to return some of the accurate cross-court lobs and drops played by Steve and gave nothing away in the warm up! The first game set off at great pace and Sean did well to keep up despite losing the first four points. Lennox’s ability to take the ball early and send Sean the wrong way time after time was enough to take the first game, then the second and also the third! Some would say that decisions made by the marker (Lennox’s good friend) favoured the host? But in fairness, he was consistent throughout the match and Sean was a mere spectator on this occasion.

Also tasting defeat against strong opposition this evening were James Burke at Number 1 seed, Paul Jones at 2 seed, Paul Ryan at 8 seed and Joe Nickleson at 9 seed.

The night proved to be a convincing victory for our hosts in the end. But, there is no shame in coming second to Tynemouth squash club who have, and continue, to produce some quality young players. There is always a special friendly atmosphere at the club where members and visitors a like go out of their way to accommodate visiting teams and make us feel very welcome. We remain grateful to all at the club and particularly for the after-match food, which was excellent. It was good to see some of the regular players again and meet some new ‘younger’ faces. The final match score of 7-3 saw the Army handing over the match trophy, but only for a year!  It was a truly great evening of squash and we look forward already to returning to Tynemouth next year.

The team were very comfortably accommodated in the Holiday Inn Express on the edge of Newcastle town centre. On the Saturday morning we were well rested and headed the short distance across town to the Northumberland (Jesmond) club for an 1100hrs start. The team were boosted for this match (our hosts traditionally being the stronger opposition of the tour) with the arrival of Major Luke Doddington and Cai Younger, our ‘ringer’!

Ross Graham the Club Manager greeted us on arrival and he seemed in confident mood as we confirmed the teams. He was boosted this year with the return of their No1 player and club coach Dave Barnet. In support there were the other usual formidable top seeds for the opposition in Michael McKay, Brian Beeson and Mathew Carr, but, this year there was plenty of new faces to inspire our confidence. With the Army v Jesmond Challenge Cup at stake the competition was soon underway. The Army got off to a good start with Ray Burke straight on and proving to be too strong in the end for Steve Twaddle, who gave a really good account of himself, but Ray’s ability to take the ball early was the difference. By contrast however, Joe Nickleson knew that he had his work cut out as he warmed up against Mark Haigh, a Jesmond player that usually plays higher up in the order. The match was very competitive and good to watch, but Mark proved to be too strong for his Army opponent and it ended 3-0. Fortunately, we were having better luck on the other court with Luke Doddington taking on the experienced Michael Grinton who is renowned for his very accurate lob serves and deft touches. But, Luke concentrated on his return of serve and forced Michael to the front of the court where he was scoring heavily and earned himself a convincing win, taking the match 3-0. Another well fought match was between Sean Carey and Neil Campbell, a regular player for Jesmond who had seen off some strong army opposition in previous years. It started at a really quick pace and the first game seemed to go on forever, which was eventually taken by Sean. Neil took the next, but as the pace slowed a little Sean seemed to take control and fought hard to win the third. The remaining games were hard fought and could have gone either way, but the tide turned and it was victory again for our hosts.  At the mid-way point the match was poised to go either way, and credit must go to the middle-order players Ray Burke, Craig Webb and Phil Ashman who were consistent in their play throughout the tour, winning their matches convincingly and restoring a narrow lead for the Army team. Adam Smart, Luke Doddington and Arthur May were also un defeated on the day and played very well. The final match of the day was a classic between the No1 seeds Dave Barnett and Cai Younger. Both players justified their seeding by producing squash of the highest order in front of a packed audience.. There were long rallies and some brilliant shots from both players as the points were shared equally right to the end of the fifth game where Dave just managed to pip Cai to claim the match, and with it, the competition. It was a fitting end to the competition and the overall result was a fair reflection on the day. A hard-competitive match played again in great spirit, It ended 6-6 on the day, but Jesmond prised the cup from the Army on count-back, winning more games in their losing matches.

Overall the tour was very successful and thoroughly enjoyable. The links between the Army,  Tynemouth and Northumberland squash clubs are as strong as ever. All players benefited from some competitive and challenging squash, played as ever in Great Spirit. The date for the next Annual Tour to Newcastle is 11-12 January 2019 and the aspiration remains to field a strong Army team and to attempt to regain both the “Army v Tynemouth SC and the Army v Northumberland SC Annual Squash Match Cups.