Like so many sports, squash came into existence in the mid 1800’s during the Victorian times. The first form of hitting a ball against walls in an enclosed space was known as ‘Rackets’– developed in a debtor’s prison in Fleet, London. Obviously, the players had plenty of time and plenty of walls to practice with!
This game then found its way into the English public school system where it could be played within the walled quadrangles – 2 players using wooden framed rackets and a fairly bouncy rubber ball. The idea was for the first player to hit the ball to the front wall and the opponent doing the same before the ball had bounced on the floor twice. If the players didn’t have access to a racket then the palm of the hand could be used to strike the ball, this variation being known as ‘Fives’.
Legend has it that during a game of ‘Rackets’ at Harrow School, the ball split and became less bouncy – squashing when it hit the wall. This slowed the ball down and it required much more physical effort to keep the ball in play. The modern game of Squash was therefore born!
During the following decades, the game and its rules became standardised internationally. Mostly played on indoor courts with four walls, on an area of 9.75m long by 6.4m wide. The playing limits are 5.64m high at the front wall tapering to 2.13m at the back wall.
The game is played between 2 players with a standard size racket and a 40mm diameter hollow rubber ball. Depending on the players’ ability different speeds or bounciness of ball are used – the slowest ball (double yellow dot) is used for professionals and most club contests, single yellow dot for beginners and blue dot for juniors. Matches are played as ‘best of 5 games’, with each game to 9 points. Points are only scored by the server.
Play commences by serving from one of the service boxes to the front wall so that it rebounds into the opposite quarter of the court. The receiver has to return the ball to the front wall before it bounces for a second time. The ball can be played via a side wall or the back wall as long as it reaches the front without touching the floor. Play continues until one player is unable to return the ball legally to the front wall. The winner of the rally gains a point if they were the server, otherwise the serve passes to the opponent for the next rally to begin.
Matches between players of equal ability at club level can last up to an hour. At the highest level, scoring of points goes to the winner of the rally, irrelevant of who served, and is played up to 11 points for each game. Some matches can last over one and a half hours. A full set of rules and court dimensions can be found at www.worldsquash.org.
In the early part of the 20th century the game was purely amateur, played mostly at public schools and universities and had a reputation as a toff’s game! It then spread to tennis, cricket, and rugby clubs as an additional recreational facility. The game was mainly played by the old Commonwealth countries with Egypt and Australia initially providing the better players. As the game progressed to a professional level, the Khan family of Pakistan provided some virtually unbeatable players, particularly Jahingir Khan who took the game to new levels of fitness and skill. Geoff Hunt (Australia) and Jonah Barrington (Ireland) took this even further in the 1970’s with the former doing 10 consecutive 400m runs on the track with a one minute interval between each lap as part of his training regime! Today’s frontrunners internationally are Egypt and England in both the men’s and women’s games.
Further expansion of the game came when squash facilities were introduced at public leisure centres. As with tennis, carbon fibre technology revolutionised the design of rackets making them much lighter, stronger and reliable. This opened up the game to younger players who, with coaching, could now compete successfully against the older established generation.
A study published in the British Medical Journal in 2016 found squash to be one of the top sports to keep you fit and healthy. It has been described as needing the endurance of a boxer with the strategy skills of a chess player! As a close proximity sport, squash players need to be aware of their opponent’s position and the flight of the ball to avoid injury. All in all, squash provides participants with one of the best 45 minute workouts they could ever have!
Most towns have a squash clubs which are affiliated to England Squash as the parent organisation – www.englandsquash.com. Brackley is typical of a small private club offering 2 courts and membership to all ages. It provides coaching from qualified staff for both juniors and adults and organises internal competitions in the form of leagues, ladders, handicaps and, of course, the club championship.
Players can progress to play for one of the two teams currently competing in the Oxfordshire County Leagues, winter and summer. They have around 145 members from ages 7 to 70 showing that squash is truly a game for all seasons and generations – www.brackleysquash.co.uk.