The London Squash & Fitness Club is the city of London’s premier destination for all things relating to the sport of squash. It features four international singles courts and a North American doubles court, as well as all of the amenities one expects from a world-class fitness facility. The London Squash Club is located in a beautiful part of Downtown London, just south of Ann Street Park and east of the Thames River at 76 Albert Street.
The story of squash in London, Ontario begins in September, 1966 when the London Squash & Fitness Club was established with a focus on both squash and fitness and an organization that prides itself on being non-profit and member-owned. The building that the London Squash & Fitness Club is housed in began life as a family home, which is clearly visible from the street. Additions have been made to the original building, of course, but the façade of the club still resembles many large family homes in the area, especially with regard to the yellow brick that was at one point extremely popular for houses both in the country and in the city. It’s a unique look for fitness facilities in Ontario and brings a level of warmth and charm that is often lacking in such places. The additions have added a lot, of course; the fitness centre on the second floor and the club lounge with licensed bar are both additions after the fact, and the $500,000 worth of upgrades that were completed in 2011 made the London Squash & Fitness Club a top notch and modern athletic facility.
The London Squash & Fitness Club now boasts over 300 members, all of whom own a stake in the club. The club and it’s members pride themselves on offering a healthy competitive atmosphere for those who have been playing the sport for years, as well as an atmosphere of educational support for people who are new to the sport and looking to pick it up in order to stay fit and have fun in a social setting. The social setting is also a big part of the membership to the London Squash & Fitness Club; the lounge provides a great meeting place for members, and the activities that the club sponsors – including member ladders, tournaments, the city squash league, and social events – keep members fit and social. The yearly pinnacle of this is the Nash Cup, an official tournament sanctioned by both provincial and global squash authorities that brings some of the world’s top squash players to the London Squash & Fitness Club.
What Is Squash?
What is squash, though? Squash is a racket-based game played by two players (called “singles squash”) or four players (called “doubles squash”). The squash court itself is a four-walled room (often times today the back wall will be glass). To play, players must use a racket to alternate hitting the ball onto the playable surfaces of the walls of the court. A racket is spun to determine the first serve, and then after that players have to hit the ball to the part of the wall above the service line, but below the out line. On the way back from the wall, the ball is allowed to hit the floor once before the player hits it back toward the wall. The ball can bounce off of the side and back walls as often as necessary, but the only once on the floor.
That seems fairly straightforward, but it gets more complicated when you add in how to score points and keep track of who’s winning. There are three systems of scoring in squash, and which one you use depends on how you learned to play squash and how emotionally attached you get to specific scoring systems in small sports organizations. The following is a brief although certainly not exhaustive breakdown on each of these systems.
The English system (also known as the Hand-In-Hand-Out system) is the one that the sport originally used when it was created. This is more like the tennis system, where if there server wins the rally they get a point, and if the returner wins a rally they get the advantage of serving in the next round (and thereby potentially being able to score). The first person to get to nine points wins the match. If the match is a nail biter, however (tied 8-8), the first player who reached 8 gets to decide if 9 will be the winning point, or if the match will get played to 10. These two conditions are known, with typical English obscurity, as “set one” and “set two.”
The Point-A-Rally Scoring system (or PARS) gives the winner of a rally the point for the round no matter whether they’re the server or not. In this system the match point is 11, although the winner has to win by two full points so the game can in practice score quite high. The PARS system is the one used on both the men’s and women’s professional tours and in other types of “official” matches.
Finally there is the American Scoring system. American Scoring is virtually the same as the PARS system except the match point is 15. This isn’t used much, since a match to 15 points tends to be more of an endurance match than it is a good game of squash.
This was the same rationale behind the professional squash world’s adoption of the PARS system, as well. Under the English system, official matches could vary wildly in length; since the system tends to produce matches where players trade serving back and forth for a while before scoring a point. Thus it, too, became an endurance match. Switching to the PARS system allowed tour organizers to more accurately predict match length, and thus made it easier to schedule days. However, many players prefer the English system because it adds a psychological element to the game, whereby a player can tactically wear down their opponent by drawing out the length of the match. There is some controversy in the professional world over which scoring method is superior; the Professional Squash Association switched to PARS in 2004 and the World Squash Federation switched in 2009, but many player organizations claimed that the essence of the game is contained in the English system and that the PARS system destroys the strategic planning that many find essential to the sport.
Who Comes Up With These Things?
Squash is an old game that is based on even older English games. The idea of using stringed rackets to hit a ball was something that came out of royal court tennis, which dates back to an even earlier set of sport in France in the 12th Century that were played in the courtyards of medieval towns. It is also clearly descended from the English game of rackets. Rackets was first played as a way to kill time while serving time in one of London’s debtor prisons in the 17th Century. All one needed was a wall, a ball, and a racket, so it became a popular casual game in a place where that might be all you have. Prisoners released after working off their debt brought the game out into the wider world, and by the late 1700s it was a popular pastime in the alleys behind bars and in school yards.
Squash, in the modern sense, was first played around 1830 by students at Harrow School in London, England, one of London’s elite boarding schools. It became a choice pastime first as a more adventurous sport played anywhere, which led to some rather dangerous situations involving water pipes, chimneys, and ledges. Eventually the school stepped in and built four courts specifically for playing squash and provided natural rubber balls for play. The sport’s ‘play-anywhere’ aspect had an effect on the racket design, though; because so many of the spaces the sport was originally played were in cramped areas, the rackets had to be redesigned to have a shorter reach. It was no good to have to play so close to your opponent that your rackets tangled up, so a shorter, more efficient racket was desired.
From Harrow School, squash spread out across England with schools, clubs, and private citizens building squash courts and taking up the sport. At the time there were no real regulations on how a squash court was built, only that there were walls that balls could be bounced off of. The sport spread to North America by the late 19thCentury, with the continent’s first squash court being built at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire in 1884. The first national association for squash was formed shortly after, when the United States Squash Rackets Association was formed in Philadelphia in 1904. In 1907 the organization in charge of setting the rules for tennis and rackets decided to lay out the standardized rules of the sport. These rules were modified in 1923 when the Royal Automobile Club met to discuss the official rules and regulations of squash, squash rackets, and squash courts. An actual organization specifically meant to maintain the rules of squash, and change them when necessary, was formed in 1928; this was the Squash Rackets Association. In 1922, the first international squash match was played when the U.S. and Canada sent athletes to play for the inaugural Lapham Cup. In 1924 Britain sent athletes, making it the first truly global squash tournament in history.
After the Second World War, squash began to very quickly grow in popularity. Championships and tournaments grew and the number of nations that sent athletes to them grew as well. By the time that the London Squash & Fitness Club opened in 1966, international matches were becoming a passion across the Commonwealth and the United States. The very next year, representatives from Australia, Britain, Egypt, India, New Zealand, Pakistan, and South Africa met to form the International Squash Rackets Federation, which regulated international play and held world championships. The United States and Canada were admitted in 1969, and within ten years the number of countries in the International Squash Rackets Federation doubled. A name change happened in 1992, with the International Squash Rackets Federation becoming the World Squash Federation. The Federation worked hard at getting squash accepted as a more prestigious sport, and in 1998 it was first played at the Commonwealth Games. Today, the World Squash Federation comprises 119 nations across the world.
The Nash Cup
Today the London Squash & Fitness Club holds its own professionally sanctioned championship, called the Nash Cup. The Nash Cup was originally called the NASHionals, and it was first held in 2003 with around 70 participants. In 2008, it was decided that the NASHionals would become a professional event, with a purse of $5,000. This professionally sanctioned tournament was a big success and was repeated in subsequent years. A women’s purse was added alongside the men’s purse, and in 2018 the Nash Cup was the only tournament in the Professional Squash Association that featured a larger women’s purse than the men’s purse. In 2017, the Nash Cup’s $30,000 total purse was the largest Professional Squash Association event ever held in Canada; both the men’s and the women’s events featured some of the hundred best squash players on the planet.
Not A Pro?
No need to worry if you’re not up to the exacting standards of professional squash, of course. The London Squash & Fitness Club focuses on getting players of all skill levels out onto the court, and there are a few ways in which they do this. The most organized of these are the club’s in-house leagues, which feature flexible match times that can work around the player’s schedule and ability. Lessons with expert players are also available, for those who want a leg up on the next match. This training program also extends to children and adolescents, who can take lessons even if their parents aren’t members of the club. The club also takes the fitness part of the equation seriously. In addition to the fitness training facility on the second floor, the club also maintains the services of a professional massage therapist and runs a pro shop where you can purchase the best available gear with sharp advice from expert players.