Middlesex reign supreme in Dudley
David Lloyd Dudley hosted the 5th Racketlon County championships, with 11 teams competing for the UK title and the right to qualify for the Racketlon Champions League in Vienna this September. Teams featured top ranked players from both the Men’s and Women’s UK rankings, including Calum Reid (UK Number 1 and World No. 3), alongside the usual collection of supremely keen highly feisty players from across the Racketlon categories from Juniors to Vets. Certainly the calibre of all the teams showed that everyone saw this as a great opportunity to open their 2014 Racketlon accounts. Or, for some couples, it simply offered a great opportunity to have a romantic Valentines weekend in Dudley!
Middlesex were definite favourites, with Kent, Essex and Surrey 1 all filled with a collection of strong players, and what of The North* and South Wales, debutant counties who held the potential to put pressure on the established counties?
After a chaotic start, with fresh road and rail chaos (in the South, the Northerners and Welsh were fine...), the ball got rolling, as the preliminary matches got underway. Wins for Surrey 1 (over North 2), Cambridgeshire (over Surrey 2) and Surrey 3 in the biggest shock of the day, edging out Essex. These three went through to join Kent, Middlesex, North 1, South Wales and Herts in the quarterfinals, while the remaining 3 squabbled over the minor places.
The quarterfinals, saw Cambridgeshire narrowly defeated by Herts, missing out by a single point over the course of the 4 rubbers. Surrey 1, with a fresh taste for beating Northerners, edged out North 1, in a tie which was tense, until James Simpson exerted his dominance in the Squash over Alex Du Noyer (and some other players during the course of the day). South Wales, up against the favourites Middlesex, battled hard but to no avail, the favourites not getting lost in the valleys. Kent managed to avoid the Essex stumbling block of Surrey 3 to complete the semi final line up.
The semi finals pitted Kent against Surrey 1, whilst Middlesex took on Herts. The semi-finals were keenly contested, with some wonderful match ups, James Simpson edging Ray Jordan in an enthralling tie. In the end, it was early starters Surrey 1 and favourites Middlesex who progressed to the final.
The final was a fiercely contested affair, Callum Reid pulling a shock in his match against James Simpson (namely being the only person to take a point off him (7 in total) in a game of squash), however James couldn’t shock the World No. 3. Middlesex took the crown, not choking on the heavy burden of being favourites. Both Middlesex and Surrey 1 will progress to represent the UK in the Champions League and will certainly be teams to contend with.
Across the rest of the draw, Kent saw off Herts to claim the final podium spot, whilst Cambridge were edged out by The North 1 who claimed 5th place. With 8 counties represented, including entrants from what is normally in Racketlon circles an unheard of place (The North) and a strong Welsh squad ahead of the Welsh Open, these County Championships have shown that Racketlon is truly spreading its roots across the UK. Certainly, the friendly South Wales team have many of us excitedly looking ahead to the trip to Cardiff for St David’s Day. With Irish events in the calendar to come, plus a Yorkshire Open, a Universities Championships and the show piece event of the World Championships in August in Surrey, the UK is in great shape.
Finally a huge thanks to all the County captains, for raising the squads and organising them on the day. It is not a trivial task to set up these teams and the event would be nothing without them. Additionally, thanks to Ray Jordan (and others) for ensuring despite travel chaos that the tournament was quickly up to speed.
* The North – A region that exists closer to the magnetic North Pole of the planet Earth than London contained within the land borders of the United Kingdom. The exact location of “The North” has never truly been established, some state it starts at the Watford Gap, others the north bank of the Thames. That said, northerners claim Nottingham is distinctly southern.....