UK Racketlon

Written by James Pope

Junior(s) Senior(s) Move Their Feet To Claim English Medals

A large England contingent travelled to Wroclaw in Poland in search of season ending glory at the FIR Racketlon Doubles World Championships and World Team Championships (20th-23rd November 2014) and it was our senior and junior players who found it.  Piers Boden, Hannah Boden, Leon Griffiths, Alex Oliver, Barbara Capper, Rakesh Gupta, Graham Norton, Bruce Shepherd and Richard Middleton all plundered medals in the Doubles Championships.  Whilst in the World Team Championships, medals went to the U16s, U21s, +45s and +55s as youth and experience showed the way for Team England.

Double World Champions: Piers Boden & Leon Griffiths (U16s Doubles & U16 Teams World Champions)

 

Day 1: FIR World Doubles Championships

After a day of relocations and a variety of travel plans throughout Wednesday, some dodgy tweets rewriting Jerusalem in a fitting way for Racketlon and some rather late arrivals, Thursday brought the first day of competition, the Doubles World Championships.  James Simpson, partnering Jason Granville got the English contingent underway in the Men’s A, alas it was not the start Team England had hoped for after the pair fell to number 1 seeds Krenn/Dickert from Austria.  They were soon followed by Graham Norton & Neil Rayner (Men’s +45s) and James Pope & Oliver Oxland (Men’s B) who both lost their first round ties, Graham & Neil missing out in a match featuring tightly fought badminton and squash as they paid the price for a heavy table tennis defeat, whilst James & Oliver were left to reflect on poor starts at the table tennis and tennis in their 10 point defeat.  Next up was Richard Middleton, partnered by Iraq’s Ahmad Bahadli (Men’s B) who started the England wins, as they defeated their Polish opponents with relative ease, requiring a solitary point at tennis.  Like London buses, having waited nearly 4 hours for an England win, they soon started flowing, with Andy Griffiths & Simon Iron (Men’s +45s), Rakesh Gupta & Luke Barnes (Men’s B) and Barbara Capper & Sidse Trier (Denmark) all finding the next round in the space of 30 minutes.  Next up were the Boden siblings, Hannah & Piers (U21 Mixed), having arrived in Wroclaw at 5am starting with a brutal 11:45 court time, and that probably played a role in their 3 point defeat to Bugl (Austria) & Bodzioch (Denmark), whilst two England/Switzerland pairs, Steve Kneller & Graham King (Men’s +45s) and Maureen Thompson & Susan Rutschmann (Women’s +45s) lost to Kleiber & Schlepphorst (Germany) and Kottova & Vancurikova (Czech Republic) respectively.

Richard Middleton continued in the B, however Andy Griffiths & Simon Iron fell in the 2nd round of the Men’s +45s to the eventual champions Nowacki & Alte (Germany), whilst Alistair Prades & Martin Joosten (Holland) were eliminated by a strong Polish pair eventual Men’s B bronze medallists Szymczak & Wajda.  Will Coley & James Watkins (Men’s B) also fell at the first hurdle, whilst Richard Middleton, now with Fleming Brerup (Denmark) progressed in the Men’s +45s as well, alas Andy Griffiths & Simon Iron were not to follow in his footsteps as their Men’s B challenge fell to the Swedish pair of Bittar & Rickan.  However Barbara Capper continued in the Ladies +45s, but as mid-afternoon on day 1 was reached, it brought the arrival of English big guns Ray Jordan and Duncan Stahl.  Within moments of their arrival, they were on court taking on Thorsten Deck (Germany) and Kresten Hougaard (Denmark) in the Men’s A.  Sadly their challenge was short lived as defeat came in the first three sports.  The early evening saw Team England go joint top of the medal table, with afternoon disappointments sidelined as Barbara Capper & Sidse Trier defeated Kottova & Vancurikova of the Czech Republic to seal the Women’s +45s Doubles World Title, the first title to be decided.

Elsewhere the Middleton machine continued into the evening, but sadly Dianne Baker & Katie Barclay were a short lived affair in the Women’s Doubles going down to Altmann & Fischer of Germany.  Sadly, in match 4 of his day, Richard Middleton crashed out of the Men’s +45s at the quarter final stage, to the same Swedes who had already conquered Griffiths & Iron, a sense of shock passing around the venue that the evergreen Middleton could actually be defeated!  Into the evening and senses of a chink in the Middleton armour were short-lived as Richard rediscovered the winning touch reaching the Men’s B semi finals and ending his day.  Barnes & Gupta, dug in for two evening victories and also progressed to the semi finals, were they would meet Richard and his partner Ahmad, sealing victory as the clock hit 23:30.

Day 2: FIR World Doubles Championships

Day 2 began in a far more positive way for Team England, with Piers Boden and Leon Griffiths (U21s boys) starting with a win.  This led neatly into the England vs England/Iraq Men’s B semi-final, as Barnes/Gupta took on Middleton/Bahadli.  A strong TT set from the England/Iraq pairing put them in the lead and after a belting badminton match taken 21-17 by Barnes/Gupta it was all to play for.  A big squash win for Middleton/Bahadli left them requiring 2 points in the tennis to win, which they confidently sealed.  Defeats soon followed for Maureen Thompson (Mixed B) partnered by Taavi Suorsa (Lichtenstein), Prades & Joosten (U21s boys) whilst in the Mixed A, Ray Jordan & Therese Malmberg, whilst easily winning prizes for greatest height difference in a partnership, were not able to get past the eventual runners up Lindholm (Sweden) & Jonsson (Denmark).  There was also an Elite debut for James Watkins & Dianne Baker, who offered an early scare to the Swedish pair Andersson & Wall, with tight TT and badminton sets, but ultimately a heavy squash defeat left them too much to do in the tennis, despite a Watkins second serve ace on the first point!  There was victory for the Mixed B partnership known only as “Barnacles” (Katie Barclay & Luke Barnes) whilst there was double success in the Men’s +55s for Nigel D’Arcy & Neil Rayner and Graham Norton & Bruce Shepherd.  Duncan Stahl, partnered by Karin Geertsma (Holland) earned first round victory in the Mixed A, whilst Pieter De Bleeckere (Belgium) partnered Alex Oliver to victory in the U21s boys first round.  Hannah Boden, partnering Bettina Bugl (Austria) progressed in the U21s girls, however Barnes/Gupta missed out on the podium in the Men’s B.  A bitter blow for the pair who were already racking up the matches and has left Barnes more determined than ever to claim a World Champs medal.

The afternoon saw quick defeats for Piers & Leon, soon followed by Barnacles, but our Men’s +55s pairings rolled on.  The tie of the afternoon saw Ray Jordan with Therese Malmberg come up against the Watkins/Baker pair, could they cause an FA Cup style giant killing upset? Ray was clearly not in the mood to go the way of Newcastle United (1972) or Exeter City (2014) with a dominant TT performance leading into a strong badminton and squash phase that was enough for Ray and Therese to avoid the banana skin.  Barbara Capper reappeared with Rakesh Gupta with victory in the Mixed +45s, the category also saw a win for Steve Kneller & Dianne Baker.  Friday evening started with a flood of England players in semi final and final appearances, alas with little joy.  Alex Oliver with Pieter De Bleeckere lost the U21s boys final, well beaten by Danish pairing Bodzioch & Christiansen, whilst D’Arcy/Rayner and Shepherd/Norton both lost their Men’s +55s semi finals.  Next up it was Richard Middleton in the Men’s B final.  Richard, described by many as a fine wine, getting better with age, has shown in recent events there is no schedule too tough and once again he was up for the battle.  Sadly, the German pair of Neidhardt & Sach was too much for Richard and Ahmad as they had to settle for silver.  Graham Norton & Bruce Shepherd won the all England 3rd/4th place play off to take bronze in the Men’s +55s.  All that was left was the Mixed +45s with Baker/Kneller and Capper/Gupta representing Team England.  Sadly whilst Baker/Kneller fell short, Capper/Gupta continued on to the final, Barbara’s second.  So, as the clock drifted past 22:00 hours, these two final doubles battles commenced.  Sadly, Dianne Baker and Steve Kneller were unable to get past Team Zeoli from Germany finishing 4th, leaving just Barbara and Rakesh.  They struck first taking the table tennis to 10 over their opponents Anneli Druve (Sweden) & Jack Larsen (Denmark), but were edged in a cagey badminton 22-20.  After a 21-16 squash defeat, they were left needing 16 at tennis for the win.  Cheered on by a sizeable England crowd for 22:50ish on a Friday evening, they set about a near clinical tennis set, with one small exception, Rakesh burying a smash at the net only to finish up by also giving the net a strong whack from his racket.  But, that was the only blemish as Barbara secured her second gold and Rakesh a worthy medal for a big two days of competition.

Overall there were 2.5 Golds (Piers Boden & Leon Griffiths, Barbara Capper, Barbara Capper & Rakesh Gupta), 1.5 Silvers (Hannah Boden, Alex Oliver, Richard Middleton) and 1 Bronze (Bruce Shepherd & Graham Norton).

Day 3: FIR World Team Championships

England II l-r: Luke Barnes, Keith Lesser, Jo Shelley, Will Coley, Oliver Oxland

Day 3 arrived and with it the teams competition.  Team England, was the biggest team at the competition, with England I (A), England II (B), England III/Invitational (B), England U16s, England U21s, England +45s & England +55s.  Joined by some fresh arrivals and gleaming in our new kit it was the U21s who got us underway.  Up against the favourites Austria, they faced the toughest possible start to their campaign and it was to be a start in defeat.  However, the U16s team, reigning World Doubles champions Leon Griffiths & Piers Boden gained swift revenge defeating the Austrian U16s.  Now it was time for the invitations to come to the party, England III vs Belgium I.  Sadly, a truely horrendous start saw them lose all 4 table tennis matches, followed by 3 of the badminton sets, it was only when James Pope got the badminton set that the team were on the board.  Despite their best efforts on the squash court, there was too much to do and the Belgians sealed a deserved victory following an overall clinical performance.  The U21s got their first win on the board against Switzerland, but England II went down in their first game against Germany II, a Germany side that was to provide the surprise champions of the Amateur teams event.  A game later than planned the invitations arrived at the party as England III sealed a top 10 finish in the Amateur teams with a hard fought victory over Hungary II, coming back from a 25 point post TT deficit to seal victory with a booming ace on the final tie of the match.  It was a belting match with both sides playing hard but fair racketlon, something that I think makes this sport great to play.

England III ("The Invitationals") l-r: James Watkins, Simon Iron, Katie Barclay, Andy Griffiths, James Pope

So, the scene was set for England I in the Elite teams.  Up against Switzerland and having avoided both Denmark and Austria in the draw, a potential semi-final was on offer.  In a belting match, England I led into the tennis with a narrow lead, just needing to stay close to their opponents to secure the win.  Sadly, the Swiss tennis went to clockwork and they took the tie 142-141 to defeat England I by a solitary point.  A frustrating way for the side to lose, but they will be back!  However, the U16s were unperturbed and they marched on with victory over Germany.  Enter now, the Vets, and the +55s started the senior charge with victory over the Czech Republic, quickly followed by the +45s with victory over Austria.  The U16s were crowned champions as Poland withdrew handing them the title.  This resulted in Piers and Leon being crowned double world champions, admittedly in a less than ideal fashion, but it was a deserved result for a weekend of consistent play from the pair.  Piers will be too old to defend his titles won here in Poland, however there is unlikely to be much rest bite for the Racketlon juniors, as Leon will return most likely with his equally talented younger brother, U13s singles bronze medallist, Luke!  As the evening went on, England II secured a victory over Austria III whilst England III lost a bad tempered match against Poland II, to finish 10th.  I could add further comment on Poland III, but probably not on this website.  Suffice to say, they weren’t playing their Racketlon in the spirit of the Hungarians or Belgians that England III had previously encountered.  There was a further blow as the +45s lost their semi final against Germany, but the U21s (vs the Czech Republic) and England I (vs Holland) got wins on the board, securing third place for the U21s in a highly competitive U21s draw.  England II had the final tie of the night, playing Poland III.  However despite vocal support from (mainly England III), the II’s were unable to beat the Poles and finished 6th.

Day 4: FIR World Teams Championships

The final day commenced with England I opening up against Poland I.  With the +45s looking to medal and the tight schedule, Hannah Boden came in for Barbara Capper to make her Elite debut, and despite a good team effort, the Poles were just strong enough to take 5th leaving England I 6th.

So, it was time for two seniors medal matches both against Hungary.  The +55s were going for gold whilst the +45s were searching for bronze.  Sadly it was not to be for the +55s, as the defending champions were defeated by 16 points across their ties, but the +45s struck back.  They opened up a healthy lead through the table tennis and badminton, setting up a crucial squash.  The Hungarians were the clear favourites, but how much of a dent in the lead would they make?  Rakesh Gupta started with a brave fight dropping just 3 points.  Next on court, Barbara Capper slipped to a 9-2 deficit, but with supreme grit and fight she fought back to lose by 4 points.  A formatting mix up, required Richard Middleton to play the first leg of the doubles squash, opening up a 6-1 lead.  Ed Harvey took to the stage and soon was down 8-6, despite giving it all he had wasn’t able to get the winners his play deserved.  But Ed has both looks that defy him to be +45 and a steely determination.  He fought back and dragged the squash out, eventually going down 13-11.  Simon Whale then fought hard also losing by 4 points, ensuring the +45s were 16 points up in the tennis.  Rakesh was heavily defeated in the tennis, but Barbara struck back, and so the doubles went to the court 15 up, could they seal the bronze? Ed and Richard quickly slipped to 4-0 down, including a body blow of a volley to Richard in the mid-rift.  But the fine wine is both nice and tough, and he sucked up the pain for him and Ed to rattle off the winners and turn 6-2 down into an 11-8 victory, sparing Simon Whale the need to serve out for the tie.

England +55s: (clockwise from front right) Neil Rayner, Bruce Shepherd, Duncan Marlow, Graham Norton

As the clock struck 13:35, the tournament was concluded.  Overall the juniors and seniors led the way, special mention to Barbara Capper, Leon Griffiths and Piers Boden who took home enough silverware to threaten their baggage allowances.  The open category teams were left to reflect on what could have been, but the seniors showed just how much we have to offer in these categories.  I hope these events continue to expand in the coming seasons.  Considering that 2 weeks before the tournament was due to start there wasn’t a venue, that we made it through to the end was due to the huge efforts of the FIR team, but two people in particular deserve special mention.  Mateusz the tournament director was never off his feet, no question was too small for him to seek the answer to.  He and his team deserve the thanks of the players.  Secondly, Graham King, the tournament software guru, who despite having paid to be there as a competitor, sacrificed his rest time at the tournament to ensure that the tournament ran smoothly.  The efforts of Graham cannot be overstated and he deserves the plaudits for his efforts.  FIR delegate Lennart Eklundh and Tournament Referee Richard Middleton were also crucial to this tournament running smoothly.  Finally, it is important to thank England team captain, Duncan Stahl.  Duncan arranged some superb looking kit, of which the hoodies were the star.  The entire England team looked great and the effort Duncan put into the organisation of the England teams was tremendous, and I’m sure we all want to thank him for his effort.  Overall it was a fantastic 4 days in Wroclaw, the size of the England contingent made for an enjoyable experience and as a group of us dined in Poznan ahead of our flights home on the Monday, we were all agreed we had had a wonderful experience and belting time.

Personal Observation

As a final personal observation (the advantages of having access to the website!), there was for me no greater feeling than being asked to play for England.  I was honoured to be asked and I hope I did the shirt proud.  When I hit a smash winner in the badminton against Belgium, the chorus of cheers from twenty odd England players gave me such a lift, the most incredible feeling.  I have often heard of the crowd being the “12th man”, but never really believed it till I felt that feeling.  Ed Harvey agreed when he fought his titanic squash battle in the +45s bronze medal match.  Serving the ace to secure 10th place for England III is a memory I will cherish for a lifetime, if the celebration (fuelled by nerves) was a tad over the top.  However, I am left with one over-riding feeling, I want to do this again.  I want to continue to play for England, but this is not a trivial task.  I have to improve (I have to learn to play table tennis), because there are no secure spots in the England squads.  With the Boden’s, the Griffiths’, Katie Birt, Alex Oliver and Alistair Prades rising through the junior ranks (and Hannah making her England I debut) there are no guaranteed places in the teams for anyone.  Similarly, across the senior groupings there are new players qualifying all the time, yet some of these players continue to shine at the open level as well.

Myself Vs Hungary wearing a cheeky grin after a winner, a proud day for me

I would encourage anyone who wants to experience this to go for it, work on your game, get fitter, stronger, more productive and challenge for these places.  Play more UK events, start looking to play more international events and go for it, because that England call up can be for anyone, if you want it.  Believe me, it is an incredible experience.

 

England Teams 2014

England I

Jason Granville, Ray Jordan, James Simpson, Duncan Stahl, Barbara Capper & Hannah Boden

England II

Luke Barnes, Will Coley, Keith Lesser, Oliver Oxland & Jo Shelley

England III (Invitational)

Andy Griffiths, Simon Iron (The “Griff-Iron” doubles), James Pope, James “Wiff-Wat” Watkins & Katie “Barcles” Barclay

England +45s

Rakesh Gupta, Ed Harvey, Steve Kneller, Richard Middleton, Simon Whale & Barbara Capper

England +55s

Nigel D’Arcy, Graham Norton, Neil Rayner, Duncan Marlow & Bruce Shepherd

England U16s

Piers Boden & Leon Griffiths

England U21

Leon Griffiths, Alex Oliver, Alistair Prades, Katie Birt & Hannah Boden