Master Championships. Toronto. 1985.
A new country. At 28 years of age I said goodbye to my sporting aspirations. It was December 1959, when together with my wife Maria Rosa immigrated to Australia, an Anglo-Saxon new country. It took several years to learn the new language, do a course at the university and settle down in Townsville, North Queensland. It was then 1967.
Squash It was our family doctor and good friend, Joe Leong who introduced me to the new game of squash (never heard of if) He reasoned that if I were Basque I would have played “pelota” and squash was a pelota modality. I was 36 years old at the time. He convinced me, took me to play the first game and I got hooked for the next 2 decades.
Competition. By 41 years of age I had conquered every imporftant open title in QLD Country. And I had enough merits to make the QLD Open Team, at number 4. My team also won an Open State Team Titles.
From now on, my aim was to gain the QLD and Australian Masters Titles. I achieved it. I also won the New Zealand and the "Stellar Veterans International" in Sydney; and I represented Australia in Test Matches against New Zealand. In 1984 the Inaugural World Masters Sport Championships, which included Squash, was announced, and I decided to give it a go. I trained hard, very hard, like for the Australian Championships. Apart from Squash I did a lot of aerobic conditioning, cycling up the hills (Castle Hill, Mount Stuart, Harvey Ranges and Paluma) and long distance (Woodstock and Giru and Dalbeg)
The championships were held in Toronto and I convinced Maria Rosa to accompany me as we could from there, fly to Spain, for our annual holidays.
World Championships. I won easy the eight-finals. In the quarter final I was playing a Khan. He was a “hard ball squash” specialist (he eventually won the individual and doubles gold). I was very fit and won with comfort the first game. He wasn’t fit but any loose ball would put it away for a point. He was all skills. But Mr Khan was also a canning guy. He realised that the referee had no experience and every time I won a point, he would come out, discuse with him and make him reverse the score. He took the next two games. I was desperate. He and the referee were robbing me the match and there was nothing I could do but keep trying as hard as I could. I could see the match and the world championships slipping of my hands.
It was Maria Rosa who complained to the referee and rallied the German players, who were barracking for me to act. One of them, Otto, questioned the referee if he was qualified. He said that he was not. That as a matter of fact this was his first match. He added: after I finished my match somebody approached me and asked me to referee the next one and I obliged. And addressing to Maria Rosa, he asked her, would you like to take over? What a shocker! Otto, from the German team. took over,
When Otto took command I was match point down. I won the deuce and twice more I fronted a match ball. But eventually won the game, made the score 2 all and started the fifth game with more confidence. I won it 9 -0 After this episode I thought I owed one to my wife.
Injury. But the physical effort I made, took its tall and I hurt my left gluteus. Without having a shower not changing, we took a taxi to the clinic, where the medical staff attended to our injuries but we arrived too late. By now I had lots of difficulties to walk. We went straight to our residence, the Valhalla Inn, where Maria Rosa started the treatment of “hot and cold”. And she kept doing it all night.
[As a curiosity I asked Khan if he was related to Jahanger and Jansher and Hashim. He answered that he was not. That all families from the Peshawar area took the name Khan]
Next morning I had to play Brian Mackay, player with whom I played few years earlier in Townsville, when he beat me 3-1. Once we arrived to the courts, Maria Rosa organized an appointment with a physiotherapist. When he saw me in so much pain, he said I could not play and he would notify the table. I said, if you knew how much I worked for these championships, you would not “disqualify” me. Please patch me the best you can and I’ll play. They were already calling me to play. I was late but I made it. I asked Maria Rosa not to let anyone know about my trouble.
When I arrived, Brian was waiting for me. I saw Maria Rosa, in the gallery, seating together with Heather Mackay. As a good professional (coach) he started by getting a good length into the back corners which suited me. But when the ball went to the front corners I had difficulty in retrieving. Bending caused me extreme pain of the gluteus.
As the match proceded my pain eased and I was able to play my game -- it is not the first time that in the heat of the match I forget the pain; the theory of the endorphins must be true -- I won the first game, the second and the 3rd. Alleluia!
I played next day the semi-final against the American soft ball champion. I decided to play making the minimum effort required to win. I never have been able to win like that before but I had to give it a try. I always play flat out. I lost the first game. Therefore, I took the risk and put all into it. I play as usual and won the next 3 games and the match. Next day, was a rest day and we took the opportunity to visit the Niagara Falls.
I knew the other finalist, Ian Hockins, a Tasmanian professional coach. We already met in the court once, at the Australian Championships in Melbourne. I won the match 3-1 and he wasn’t happy. I remember he promised to beat me the next time we would meet. Well, this, the final of the Wold Championships was it.
Niagara Falls. We coincided with Ian at the bus to the Niagara Falls. At the first opportunity, Maria invited him to a beer. He said he would drink one if I join in. I had been abstemious for 12 months and I wasn't going to drin before the final. That settled it.
The final. Before the final match, I had a good "rubbing" from the physiotherapist and came well warmed to the court. Ian was waiting for me. I started flat out from the word go. The going was very tough, with very long rallies but I conceded very few point in the first two games. In the third, I was 7-0 and could not finish it. Ian started to get the points I was getting worried. I had to break his rhythm somehow but I wasn’t achieving it. He got to 7-7. I was trying to concentrate. I was telling myself that after so much hard work I could not give up.
[I was thinking of the time when playing the State Team Titles, in Brisbane, against a professional player. They tend to put a high pressure on you and wait for you to make a mistake; I could not make a point in the first two to games. In the third I finally got the point I needed. I was then 1-7. Then I got the next point and the next and I won the game, the next game and the match. Well, this was a similar situation but in reverse, and I could not let it happen.
I had to win this game. I finally made the 8th point but we changed hands several times. Eventually, after what it looked like an eternity, I won the match point and the Championship.
I have had much pleasure from winning in squash competition and I have question myself which win I enjoyed more. And I must say that winning the Australian Championships in Erina was the one I celebrated more. Yes, more than the World's!