By Lt Col Rich Green (Army Squash Chairman)
This was the flagship event in the year, the single most important thing that every squash player hopes to one-day be part of, and the one event that gives any player goosebumps… why? Because wearing an Army shirt is an honour and a privilege that few will ever have. And this was without a shadow of a doubt the best Inter-Services ever! But why? Well, there are three reasons: first, with Maj Sam Miller and WO1 Dean Boys away, the Army team was nowhere near as strong as it has been over the past decade – which meant closer matches that would be fiercely contested. Second, the match was held at the prestigious Edgbaston Priory Club – one of the best clubs in the World, let alone the UK. Third, on the final day all players and officials would ‘decant’ to Birmingham New Street Grand Central Station to watch the no.1 seeds playing on the all-glass show court that will be used during this year’s Commonwealth Games.
Whilst the U25s, Women and Masters managing to take their respective titles, the Men would have to work extremely hard to survive. Matches were very close (probably closer than ever) and despite losing 3-2 to the Royal Navy, the team managed a 3-2 win against the Royal Air Force. Paul Jones was prolific at no.1, beating the RAF’s Oscar Hill 3-2; Baz Watson was exceptional at no.5, winning both of his matches despite a long operational tour with no squash! Martin Thompson had tired legs after an ultra-marathon at the weekend but still played very well, carving out several crucial team points (he promises to prepare better next year). Adam Smart went down 3-0 at no.2 but didn’t give up easily. Lee Burnie had two tough matches but looked in great shape. Finally, Rich Green captained the side for the first time in 5 years and nudged a 3-1 win at no.4. The team results saw just 5 points between the winning and losing teams. The RN had 22, the Army had 25 and RAF won with 27 points. Such slim margins but much to be hopeful for the future. All players should hold their heads high; whilst the outcome was not a team win, this was possibly the most spirited performance I have seen in the twenty years I have been honoured to wear an Army shirt.
By Major Elaine Radcliffe (Army Squash Ladies Team Capt)
From The Army Womens perspective, the 1st day of the UKAF Inter-Services saw Army match up against RN. With only 3 naval players, it was always going to be an uphill struggle for the Royal Navy and WO2 Hitch took the court to prove this succinctly with a 3-0 win. The RN continued to fall in quick succession with Capt Higgins expert touch proving too much for LT Welch for another 3-0 win. LH Natalia Page managed to hold her own for a short while, with a very competitive running match against Maj Radcliffe, but in the end succumbed with a 3-2 loss.
Illness dogged the Army team on the 2nd day, leaving only 4 players to compete. Sgt Sophie Smith had a close match and the game looked like it could go either way, but in the end the RAF just squeezed through with a 3-1 win. Clinical as ever, WO2 Hitch never let up on court for a moment, sending Flt Lt Freeman running to all 4 corners and taking the match 3-0. Capt Higgins fears over her opponent were unwarranted, as her agility and shot selection kept the ball out of reach of SAC Corrigan for another convincing 3-0 win. Finally Maj Radcliffe faced Wg Cdr Miller and managed to cinch the win after some red-faced efforts from both players.
Excitingly, there was an opportunity to play a demonstration match at the glass court in Birmingham New Street Station, where Maj Radcliffe and LH Natalia Page showcased some fantastic squash skills with punchy shots and nail-biting retrieves. A great opportunity that UKAF were so lucky to be invited by England Squash to take part in.