Friday 7 November 2008

Farewell John

A draw for a men's tournament that doesn't feature the name John White will be all the poorer for it.

The 35 year-old announced his retirement after losing to James Willstrop in the recent World Open.

Here we pay tribute to the original squash nomad ...

Left: John announcing his retirement in Manchester

When I first started to watch professional squash in 2002, John White was securely berthed in the top five in the world and was starting the ascendancy that would take him to the number one spot in March 2004 (a position he held for a couple of months).

John White, European Teams 1999It was evident that he was a tough competitor, and that few on the tour relished playing such a hard hitter. 'Big John' (always a slight misnomer as the six-footer was slimmer than photos suggested - kind of the opposite of my first impression of Ramy Ashour) was living in Nottingham after moving from his native Queensland, Australia via a spell in The Hague, and would always be a contender in the latter stages of the UK events that I attended.

White was tough in a never-say-die kind of way, and was easier for the British crowd crowd to warm to than, say, Anthony Ricketts. When on the receiving end of poor decisions he rarely remonstrated with the officials, and this brought the respect of players and spectators alike.

Rallies were never lost causes to White. Some say that being tall is not really an advantage in squash, but John exploited his reach to keep in the fight - even if it meant risking injury (see below, left!). Probably the best match that I saw him play was against Thierry Lincou in the semi-final of the Canary Wharf Classic in 2007. John's physical commitment pitted against the Frenchman's guile that day was a great display of contrasting styles, and made for a memorable evening's squash - and a great advert for the game. The Canary Wharf event attracts many who would not normally come and watch professional squash, and they could not have picked a better evening to attend.

John does the splits!As I reported at the time (also see video below, left), one particular rally that White eventually won brought the crowd to their feet for the longest standing ovation that I've seen.

White's 1998 conversion to Scottish representation (his father was born in Edinburgh) meant that I saw him competing a number of times in the British Nationals (a title he won in 2004), and he would also represented Scotland in the European Championships, the World Cup and the World Team Championships.

In March 2005 White moved again, this time to the USA, where he and his family established a new base in Philadelphia. His successes in US tournaments brought him back into the top 10, and his frequent trips back to the UK to compete in events brought warm appreciation from spectators.

In 2007, White was appointed Director of Squash and head squash coach at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Aside from his inspiring commitment on court, what also endeared John to spectators was his sense of humour. I remember a double exhibition during the Super Series at Broadgate a few years back, where he pretended to ignore the other three players and go for a lie down beneath the tin.

This - and the other practical jokes, asides etc. - were loved by the crowd. You got the feeling that White - although a model professional - equally recognised that the paying punter came to be entertained.

His biggest achievements? A look back at the records shows that his greatest successes on the tour came relatively late in his career. White went full-time in 1991, but not until April 1998 did he break into the top twenty. He was runner-up at both the World Open and the British Open in 2002 (aged 29).

John winning the first English Open in 2003He then took the PSA Masters title in 2003 (beating Thierry Lincou in the final 15-8, 17-15, 17-16), and then there was the British Nationals in 2004 (beating Lee Beachill in the final). His performances at Canary Wharf (where he also reached the final in 2007), will also stick long in the memory (he reached 30 tour finals in total).

Plus that 'big hitter' label will still remain - 172 miles per hour, which remains a world record.

In the video interview at the top of this page Andy Nikeas sums up White's contribution to squash: "a finer ambassador you could not wish for".

Few would argue with that.

JWSquash - John's website

1 comment:

  1. A great guy and a great squash player-he will be missed. All the best John.


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