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, Racketlon in the UK has developed from just 20 players to 495 unique players (playing a tournament in 2016). UK Racketlon growth is amongst 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. Since then, we have continued to innovate including in 2017 the development of the Super Series, a tour within a tour and a concept now also being replicated by the FIR on the World Tour. 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.
2002 to 2005: A Fledgling Start for a New Sport
In the beginning...
Racketlon in the UK began with possibly the first ever Racketlon tournament outside Scandinavia in Monifieth, Dundee, Scotland in August 2002. The inaugural Scottish Open was organised by Phil Reid, who was inspired by his own experience at the 2001 Racketlon World Open in Gothenburg. Two months later and Racketlon spread south of the border. Among the participants in Monifieth was 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 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. 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. Scottish organiser Phil Reid defeated his English counterpart Stuart Foster (+3). The full team results can be found here. At the end of the 2002 season, Michael Auchterlonie decided not to continue with Racketlon after the English Open 2002, handing the mantle to tennis enthusiast Stuart Foster.
The inception of an International Governing Body
The International Racketlon Federation (IRF) was ratified at the Swedish Open in Stockholm in January 2003 and Stuart Foster was asked to join as the English representative. Stuart was the logical choice for the council as he had taken over the reigns of English Racketlon late in 2002, including the organisation of the 2003 English Open and also instigated the British Open in Watford on the 2003 IRF World Tour. 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
Despite the sport being run separately in both England and Scotland, there was excellent co-operation across the border, particularly between Katy Buchanan (Scotland) and Stuart Foster. In 2004, the pair introduced the first version of this website, www.racketlon.co.uk, as the sport started to grow both sides of the border. Additionally, Stuart also organised the first set of IRF doubles rules and organised the first ever IRF tour doubles event at the 2004 British Open. Stuart was ably assisted in achieving this when the English Open mantle was handed over to Keith Lesser and team in 2005. Finally, there was a change in name for the international governing body, when the IRF changed its name to the Federation Internationale de Racketlon (FIR), when the first FIR Council was elected in October 2005 at a General Meeting chaired by Stuart Foster during the English Open in London.
2006 to 2008: Rapid Expansion & A UK Tour
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 formation of English Racketlon Association was Gary Tovey who had been instrumental in pushing onwards the communication, marketing and development of the sport. Dominique Ford was another key early member having 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 in the UK was setting up 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 was 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.
2009 to 2013: 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 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.
2013 saw the English Racketlon Association face its greatest challenges to date. Having applied to host the 2014 World Championships, we faced our biggest challenge of organisation and promotion, however with less than a year to go to the event, as an organisation we encountered a body blow. In October, just days before the English Open, Richard Lawrence sadly passed away suddenly. Richard, and his daughter Rachel were fixtures of UK Tournaments bring their organisational skills, friendly smiles and genuine warmth to events all over the UK, not just their locality. There were thoughts to cancel the English Open, but with Richard very much in our thoughts and hearts, the event continued including Rachel appearing on the control desk, a sight that inspired the events of 2014 and a catalyst to the following years.
2014 to 2018: The World Championships & Building Onwards
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 (486 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, and one very stressed "Official Metereologist" James Pope. All the draws from the event can be found here.
The World Championships legacy
However, we could not rest on our laurels since hosting the World Championships. Sparked from interest that arose from that event, new players came into the sport and with it new events in Shrewsbury, Keele, York, Bath and Norwich as the UK Tour keeps on expanding. George Roberts was brought in as the man to drive tour event organisation, supporting these new organisers in running events and bringing his own unique style to the organisation. . 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 Championships, 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.
From England to the UK
In the early days of the sport in the UK, it was envisaged that we would form four independent national bodies, however that idea changed in 2015. With the loss of the dedicated Scottish tour and its flagship Scottish Open, the sport was at risk of flagging outside of England. Therefore, 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.
New Blood, New Ideas off the Court
We continue to strive to be bigger, better and push the development of Racketlon here in the UK and around the world. Organisationally, we have drawn on new people to supplement the stalwarts of our organisation. New committee members such as Luke Barnes, Sam Barker, Johnny Bispham, Jack Bishop, Dan Busby, Alex Du Noyer, Lindsay Johnson Farge and Jon Spinks have come onboard whilst Duncan Stahl moved on to become the President of the FIR, our world governing body and Keith Lesser stood down. With this new people have come new ideas. In 2017, Jack Bishop launched the Super Series. As "Tour within the Tour", the Super Series awarded points based on the performance of players at four key events in the season. These events, chosen for their excellent facilities and their geographical spread, are dotted through the tour calendar and the Super Series has gone from strength to strength. In 2019, the FIR are producing their own version within the World Tour, again showing how UK Racketlon innovations are impacting on the sport globally. Meanwhile the social media trio of James, Sam and Lindsay are creating new and innovative content that makes UK Racketlon the envy of the rest of the community.
New Blood, Amazing Results On the Court
It is not just administratively that we are succeeding. On court too UK Racketlon is more successful than ever before. As our Roll of Honour shows, we now win a staggering number of singles, doubles and team titles at World and European Championships, including in 2018 a historic GB Elite Team silver. With junior players from the UK dominating in classes at all age groups, the sport is in a very healthy space as we move to the future, while dedicated members of the tour also earned world title success on the international stage. However, we are still waiting for further British Elite Singles World Champions, with Calum Reid (2011) and Sarah McFayden (2004) our last and only champions in these classes.