Balls to the Wall – November 2017

I came to a Castle

My “care-free” varsity days were starting to wave at me, as Work, pointed his gnarly, responsible finger at me, calling my name. My final year at the then, UPE, had been a ball. Without being too academically tested by my Teachers Diploma, I had moved into digs, tested my un-kitchened cooking skills, discovered that I sometimes walk in my sleep, had fallen in love, been given the proverbial boot, and had a competitively, festive 1st League squash side.

Our last League match was against Crusaders. The courts at Crusaders, back in 1981, were housed in a lonely little grey concrete block, attached to the famous St Georges Park Cricket Stadium. If I remember correctly, you entered via a dingy, dark passage way, with courts to the right, and change rooms on the left. There were 4 courts. Two, with galleries, and two, which were dungeon-like dark, tucked under the ground or so it seemed. The change rooms were narrow little slit-like cavities. There was no room for swinging cats. That was it. Post-match drinks called for a long schlepp up to the main bar, which was cavernous, colonial and beautiful. And remains the same still!!

Somehow, despite this cold, dungeon-like castle atmosphere of the courts, the Crusaders people were always warm, welcoming folk. Particularly for a particularly thirsty student, and his particularly thirsty team-mates. I had always enjoyed playing there. Perhaps it was the coldness of the courts that suited my style of play. Or maybe, it was the people.

On that night, whether by design, or by good fortune, the post-league party continued, up-stairs, long into the night, onto the Grand Hotel, and into the early hours of the next morning. The pupils in my prac-teaching class that morning learned little from me, barring possibly, that they should keep a distance from this alcohol-fanned “future leader of young men”.

Sometime, somehow, during that night, a couple of us had been invited to take part in the Crusaders Summer League. The Squash was apparently, competitive, but the idea of the league was to grow the spirit and camaraderie of the club. It all sounded like a good idea to me. But the Saders folk were under-stated when they spoke about the Summer League parties. I was whooshed away on a swirl of summer league nights that had my varsity parties looking like kindergarten garden strolls. I exaggerate!! But they were a lot of fun, and we, future ex-students were welcomed warmly. Mentions were made of joining the club but there was no pressure applied. I was heading off to teach at Grey High School, but needed an outlet where I could be, “just me.” And so “by accident’, I fell into the Saders Castle and became one of their Squashing Knights.

The club has become like a second home. A place where I can go a release tensions, release happy endorphins, catch up with friends, share beer-times, meet people, and if I am in a bad mood, often I trundle down, and bash a ball against a wall, all on my own. Just sommer. And I feel better for it.
People have come and gone, committees have risen on waves of great ideas and crashed into rocks of non-action and others have quietly gone about growing the club into a family-based Castle of fun. I shudder to name names as I will leave some out but I think back on years of friendships bonded by competitive sweat and frothy beers. Happy league sides, sometimes winners, but always competitive (and who remembers those League titles anyway?) Fights have flared, tempers have tippled, politics have played their poisonous games but that is expected in a competitive environment. Summer Leagues have remained sunny, funny and lots of Fun. And then I think back on those club tours to East London, Cape Town and Durban. Bleached into the memory bank. (We need to get these going again)

Probably most important is that the club has rarely stood still. From that grey concrete block attached to the St George’s Stadium, the club has gradually grown. Initially, an extra Main Court (with unfortunate floors) was added, together with decent Change Rooms, a tiny crooked hook of a bar, and a little kitchen with a treed outer-braai area. The Saders Castle was a good place to be.

Then, some new Knights rode in, with new ideas. Very new, and very different.

Squash, stupidly has always sold herself short as a Poor Cousin to other sports. We have made membership fees cheap, light fees cheap, and coaching rates low. Barely survival stuff. Consequently, we have struggled to grow. While Mountain Bikers and triathletes pay handsome sums to punish themselves across the country, Squash, which offers, all, and some more, of whatever any other sports, offer, has kept her hands in her pockets, and pleaded poverty.

“No more” the New Blood said. “Double the Membership Fees, do away with light fees, – add them to membership fees. No more Pay for Play offers to 1st League players. If they want to play for Saders, they must want to play for Saders.” The walls of the Saders Castle wobbled!
Let’s offer “added value” Not just a Club. With some courts. Let’s offer a bit of class, a place where families can safely gather and have sporting fun together, where corporates can bring clients. Let’s make it more than Just a Squash Club.
And so, they did. And the walls came tumbling down, literally. A new entrance, proud, and welcoming, finger-printed access, Courts 2 and 3 became Glass backs, the galleries – (a mother’s nightmare) were pulled down, the bar was ripped apart, and a new Lounge-ified area was established. The Changerooms were 5-starred but Courts 4 and 5, the Dungeons, remained the same. Dark, cold, and mysterious, but strangely, away from prying eyes, loved by some.
Some were mortified at this metamorphosis. “How will we afford this?” they asked. But they did. Family Memberships, 10-year memberships, a beefed-up Summer League, a new Corporate League. And from a membership of about a 100 good folk, …within about 2 years, the membership doubled, and some…with more good folk.
With a revolving, evolving committee, while things were good, like Oliver Twist, they wanted more. We have the space. Membership is growing. Booking court-time is becoming a nightmare. Let’s add a new court! What?
All around, courts are closing. And you are wanting to build a new court?
And they did. A Brand-New Court, with an extended ‘drinking “gallery” Plus, add a deck, opening out from the bar, with braai area below. Chuck in an up-graded kitchen, and security cameras which double up as Coaching auxiliaries.
Players from The Masters Inter-Provincial Tournament were amazed at the facility. “This can stand up to any club in the world” they said.
A Drunken Decision turned good. I am proud to have been called to the Saders Castle.

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