Northumbria Select squash team suffer international defeat
After travelling more than 9,000 miles to Britain’s shores and playing 33 matches at different UK clubs, the South African Knights, a team of the most promising South African squash players, found themselves up against a collection of Northumbria’s finest talent on the evening of January 11th.
After the introductions had concluded, the gallery of the main court at the Northumberland Club, Jesmond, was filled to capacity with local squash fans.
Despite the Northumbria Select side being beaten 3-2 by their South African visitors, the crowd were treated to more than three hours of top quality and competitive squash in one of the SA Knights’ final matches in the country.
Founded in 1960, the SA Knights tour the United Kingdom on a biannual basis. From Torquay to Conwy to Aberdeen, the Knights have covered all corners of the United Kingdom. The five team members, aged between 18 and 25, played a total of 35 matches in a tour that ended this week.
2015 marked the 27th tour for the Knights, who began their tour on December 1st, 2014 at the Royal Automobile Club, London and concluded their British squash experience at the Edgbaston Priory Club in Birmingham on January 13th via a number of local squash clubs.
The Northumbria Select side consisted of the Northumberland Club head professional and 11 times North County champion Dave Barnett, as well as current PSA Tour player, Liam Gutcher.
The fixture was finely balanced from the off with Northumbria’s Dan Wareing beating Daniel Thompson 3-1 while the Knights’ Charl Fourie overcame Andrew Staley by the same score line. In the threes, Stefano Garas overpowered Michael McKay 3-0 before Liam Gutcher was defeated by the Knights’ captain Michael Shean 3-1 in a fascinating ding-dong battle that could have swung either way.
The Knights had already won overall by the time Dave Barnett, Northumbria’s number one, had taken to the court to play his South African counterpart, Kyle Maree. Barnett spiritedly fought off Maree 3-2 in another highly competitive match in which Maree nearly came back from 2-0 down.
The final score was 3-2 to the South African Knights, the same score line when the two teams last clashed two years ago in the 2012/13 season.
One of the highlights of the evening was the fiercely contested match between Northumbria’s Liam Gutcher and Knights’ captain Michael Shean. Gutcher, a 26-year-old squash coach based at Northumbria University, Northern Squash Club and Alnwick Squash Club, fought bravely but narrowly lost the fourth and deciding game.
Gutcher commented, “I really enjoyed the match against Michael, he was a tricky customer for sure. I think we both played well, maybe a bit too open at times but that made it more entertaining for the crowd. It’s the second time I’ve represented Northumbria against the Knights and both times it’s been superb.”
After travelling 2,400 miles across the country in five weeks and playing 35 matches, the Knights finished their tour with 27 victories and eight defeats. Captain Michael Shean said the Northumbria side “was one of the stronger sides we came up against and we did really well to secure the fixture. I believe that the guys’ style of play matched well to make some exquisite viewing from string 5 to 1.
“That challenge, having a sizeable crowd and strong opposition forced the Knights to rise up and personally winning the fixture for the team against a quality player in Liam Gutcher was very enjoyable.”
Shean and his teammates’ visit to Jesmond may have been fleeting, but overall the Northumberland Club was a venue that hosted a memorable contest for fans and players alike. Shean reflected, “to spend such a great deal of time with these true gentlemen has been fantastic and I’m sad that the tour is complete and our time together has come to an end. Touring the UK has been a life changing experience and something the team and I will treasure forever.”