History of UK Racketlon
Since the early tournaments in Finland in the mid 80's, Racketlon has grown significantly. From the first UK tournament in 2002, British Racketlon has developed from just 20 players to 410 unique players (playing a tournament in 2015). UK Racketlon growth is now arguably the fastest of any country in the world. This is not surprising considering the number of racket clubs, the length & breadth of the British Isles! Since 2006 Racketlon growth has continued apace, but perhaps our boldest move was to apply for and host the 2014 World Singles Championships. The event catalysed the UK Racketlon scene and in the seasons since we have seen an explosion of new venues and new tournament hosts. UK Racketlon has come a long way, but there is still quite a distance to go, but we seem to only be facing the exciting questions that while requiring work are all positively focussed on continuing our growth.
In the beginning
British Racketlon began with possibly the first ever Racketlon tournament outside Scandinavia in Monifieth, Dundee, Scotland in August 2002. The inaugural Scottish Open was organized by Phil Reid, who was inspired by his own experience at the 2001 Racketlon World Open in Gothenburg.
The first English Open
Among the participants were Michael Auchterlonie, an English racket enthusiast and former international table tennis player who went on to organise the first English Open at Heston near London in early October 2002. The participants were made up of 10 international players and 10 British players.
The first England team
The English Open event effectively doubled up as the trials for the England Team to compete at the inaugural World Team Championships which took place in Sweden towards the end of 2002. At the trials Stuart Foster beat Michael Auchterlonie for the 3rd team place. The England team of Rebecca Macree, David Lazarus, Gary Zuconni, Stuart Foster & reserve Wayne Donaldson, came fourth in the 2002 Racketlon World Open Team Championships in Gothenburg. The Scotland team of Phil Reid, Steve Thomson, Judy Murray (mother of tennis stars Andy and Jamie) & Jonathan Russell defeated the England team to take third place, with Phil Reid defeating Stuart Foster (+3). The full team results can be found here.
The inception of Governing Bodies
The International Racketlon Federation (IRF, now FIR) was ratified at the Swedish Open in Stockholm in January 2003 and Stuart Foster was asked to join as the English representative. Michael Auchterlonie decided not to continue with racketlon after the English Open 2002, handing the mantle to tennis enthusiast Stuart Foster who took over the running of the English Open 2003 and also instigated the British Open in Watford on the 2003 IRF World Tour. Stuart must be commended for taking this on. Katy Buchanan gave Stuart good support in getting these off the ground. The 2003 English Open saw debuts for Keith Lesser & Ray Jordan. Magnus Eliasson beat French International badminton specialist Nicolas Sene.
The first UK Racketlon website
Katy Buchanan helped Stuart Foster create the first UK racketlon website in 2004. Stuart also organized the first set of IRF doubles rules and organised the first ever IRF tour doubles event at the 2004 British Open.
A change of leadership
The English Open mantle was handed over to Keith Lesser and team in 2005. The transition from the IRF to FIR occurred when the first FIR COUNCIL was elected in October 2005 at a General Meeting chaired by Stuart Foster during the English Open in London.
The origins of the UK Tour
With the English & Scottish Open events forming part of the World Tour, 2006 was the year the "tour" grew up. April 2006, with the introduction of the British Championships, saw John O'Donnell and Natalie Lawrence crowned the first ever British Champions. The first doubles only tournament followed at Thurrock, where Robbie Wong and Gareth Shaw hosted 32 budding rackateers. Next, the Hampshire Open saw the introduction of Steffan Morgan, followed by the South of England Open at Eastbourne, where O'Donnell defeated Morgan. 2005 World Cadet Champion, Ashley Watling then took the plaudits in September 2006 at Ipswich. English & Scottish Opens followed with honours going to Calum Reid, Doug Struthers & Magnus Eliasson. In the women's events, Sarah Reeves & Lorna See traded titles.
The growing UK Tour
2007 saw the tour double in number, including the first ever English Championships. In July, the inaugural London Open, was hosted at King's Club, Wimbledon by Steffan Morgan, exemplifying the spirit of taking the sport back to club & community! The 2007 English Open was moved to August & provded the first real surge in interest. the tournament was held at Redbridge Sports Centre, one of the best multi-racket centres in the UK. The venue allows for five matches running parallel, for the benefit of both players and spectators.
Further UK tour expansion
2008 saw further growth with fledgling events at Romford, Cambridge, Bristol, Dudley, Nottingham & Dulwich venues. 2008 also saw the re-introduction of the British Open at Ipswich, a World Tour 'Challenger' event with world ranking points. A number of non-tour events were also in evidence as Racketlon became more widely publicised.
Media interest builds
The BBC provided Racketlon with some great publicity during 2008, with features on BBC Sportsround, BBC Breakfast & Chris Evans Radio 2 Drivetime show, all generating an upsurge in registered interest. The 2008 Doubles World Championships attracted BBC TV coverage and former world squash number one player Peter Nicol, who took part in an exhibition with 2012 World Champion Stefan Adamsson. The Chris Evans drive time show on BBC Radio 2 also hosted ERA Vice-Chairman Ray Jordan for a 5-minute chat about Racketlon in November 2008.
Induction of the ERA
Keith Lesser, Ray Jordan and Stuart Foster set up the English Racketlon Association Ltd in late 2008. Another key figure in the English Racketlon Association is Gary Tovey who has been instrumental in pushing onwards the communication, marketing and development of the sport. Dominique Ford has additionally made several key contributions, particularly to the British Tour and the "headline" events including the national championships and international opens. With other key individuals like Richard Lawrence and Stuart Hobden on board, racketlon is set to go from strength to strength. Thanks also to the wider team in recent years who have helped take the English Open in particular to the next level. The International Racketlon Federation (FIR) has promoted the setting up of national bodies & it is hoped that associations in all UK constituent countries will be ratified, following the English example.
An increasing online presence
The UK Racketlon Portal Facebook group, created in 2008, has over 425 members, & unlike other Facebook groups, these members are active racketlon participants. The group is growing, introducing new people to the exciting sport of racketlon & is complimented by the World Racketlon 'fan' page with over 875 members.
The ERA website was launched at the end of 2008 & tournament entry now requires registration to the site. This has meant that over 95% of tournament entries are completed on the site & payments made at least a week prior to the relevant event taking place. We thus have a player database with over 700 players already registered after just over year with the new system.
UK Racketlon takes off
We can now say that we have well over 1000 players who have played UK tournaments in recent years, although with busy lives & the demands of racketlon, not all are tour regulars. The majority of tournaments in 2009 were oversubscribed, with typically 100 competitors for a two day, 2+2+2+2 court set up. We also increased the number of 4+4+4+4 tournaments, allowing for 150+ competitor entries.
2009 was a bumper year for events (24), as greater publicity, including the first Welsh language coverage, produced an upsurge in interest & record attendances. Successes included the inaugural Welsh Racketlon Open in Cardiff, the 170 entries of the 8th English Open, & a record attendance at the 8th Scottish Open in Edinburgh. 2010 saw a further strengthening, with 12 tour events, 16 non-tour events & 4 further Scottish tour events, a total of 32 events. 2009 set more records as both Racketlon awareness & participation grew, with new tour events being added, including the inaugural Welsh Racketlon Open.
2010 kicked off with the English Championships at a new home & with a new sponsor. The event moved to Redbridge, the home of the English Open, & with at least 4 courts of each sport available, attracted over 100 entries. The one day inaugural Surrey Open attracted both a new sponsor, Stealth Rackets & 75 entries. 2010 marked the beginnings of a Scottish tour with 4 additional regional events added to the Scottish Open. 2010 has also seen the advent of regular racketlon events at Redbridge, making it very much the home of racketlon. In total, 2010 produced 13 British tour events, 4 additional Scottish tour events & 17 non-tour events, a healthy increase from 2009.
The 2011 English Open was arguably the best ever in terms of organisation, player experience, and standard of play with British winners in the majority of events (even with a large overseas travelling contingent). 2011 has also delivered a geographic expansion of the tour to new regions like Cambridgeshire and Lancashire and a return to the Midlands. England Juniors achieved another bronze medal at the World Team Championships and with development gold is possible in 2012. Racketlon also reached out further into social networking with greater YouTube and Twitter presence.
English Open again steps up as we had the 2012 Champions League, one of the best tournaments as part of the event. The World Number Ones and 2012 World Champions came to play. We had new tournaments, the best of which was at Manchester. Poker player Gus Hansen arrived for the tournament in London. More Junior medals in Bulgaria in July. Video blog presence on youtube starts and more facebook and twitter action.
More tournaments, more organisers and more players, the sport is growing every year. For details of the provisional 2013 tour, visit the 'Events' page, or for tournaments open to entry, visit the 'Tournament Entry' page.
UK hosts Singles World Championships
Perhaps our boldest move was the plan to host the 2014 Singles World Championships, the premier Racketlon tournament in the world. With outside tennis part of our chosen venue, the FIR had to shift the World Championships to August from its usual November slot in the calender. 381 players (4865 entries) descended on the UK in our biggest ever event in the UK, hosted at the Surrey Sports Park. A fantastic team of volunteers, led by Leone McKinley ensured that the tournament ran like clockwork, built on the work of the UK Racketlon team, led by the trio of Duncan Stahl, Keith Lesser & Ray Jordan. All the draws from the event can be found here.
The World Championships legacy
We have not rested on our laurels since hosting the World Championships, new events have been hosted in Shrewsbury, Keele, York, Bath and Norwich as the UK Tour keeps on expanding. Internationally the UK has the most players ranked on the FIR World Rankings whilst at both the 2014 World Team Championships and 2015 European Team Championships we have entered a third team, a team which has not disgraced itself, 6th in the Euro's and 10th at the World Championshps, that 10th place probably featuring the most excessive Racketlon celebration of all time by James Pope.... We continue to push ourselves and to push Racketlon. In 2015 we moved away from being the "English Racketlon Association" towards being UK Racketlon, a rebranding process that encompassed Facebook, Twitter and a change in website domain. We continue to strive to be bigger, better and push the development of Racketlon here in the UK and around the world.