In 1939, Maurice Gamelin, the French World War Two general, said the French forces would “dismiss Germany like a man hitting a lame rabbit with a spade”. Ever since, no-one has really topped Gamelin’s chronic lack of prescience. Until, that is, this squash match, at which Lancaster’s captain Daglish proclaimed that he was “60% confident of victory”.
And so it was that, just like Hitler’s tanks storming bathetically through the French forest, the York men’s squash team struck through the very heart of Lancaster, capturing the metaphorical Eiffel Tower of victory before two matches had to be played and dropping only two games in the process. It was the purest alabaster of whitewashes.
York Captain Davenhill was, like his opposite number, characteristically confident of victory and was visibly riled when he heard about Daglish’s claims. “Mark my words,” he said, and without finishing the sentence, strode on to court, racquet clutched rapier-like in his right hand. Davenhill put his troubled private life firmly behind him with a display of waspish agility and ‘power play’ shot making that overwhelmed his opponent.
James Birkhead followed his Captain’s lead on the adjacent court, comprehensively defeating a man known as ‘Pirate Dave’ (because of his nautical appearance). Having dissected his opponent in the first game 11-2, the only real enjoyment for the crowd was caused by Pirate Dave’s hat falling off after some Keaton-standard slapstick. To be fair, Dave came into the match in the second game, narrowly losing out 12-10. The third set saw a tremendous comeback from Birkhead who fought back from 10-6 down to snaffle six unanswered points and the match to the raucous cheers of those on the balcony.
The only real scare was for York number three Paul Atkinson who took part in a game wrought with emotional turmoil and physical agony. Atkinson faced a player, known only as ‘Jez’, who was supposed to be the Lancaster number one, but having sustained an ankle injury, found himself lower down the pecking order. Atkinson had not played squash for six weeks due to a religious commitment for Easter and so was perhaps not at the top of his game. Indeed, Jez took the first game 17-15, after the both players had spurned numerous game points.
But ironically, this was perhaps a Pyrrhic victory for the Lancastrian, as it seemed to further exacerbate his injury. He seemed to feel his ankle more in the second set, usually after he lost a point for some reason. Expletives flew, primal cries of anguish punctured the packed balcony. Atkinson took the second and third games. At the end of third, Jez fell to the floor braying like a crippled horse. Typically, Atkinson scented blood. And he wanted more. In the fourth, Jez had to deal with more drop shots than a dyspraxic bartender. Atkinson said, “you’ve got to exploit weakness. I once played a guy with no right eye and took advantage by playing to that side. It’s just tactics isn’t it?”
York had already secured the points by the end of Atkinson’s third game, with the tardy Matt Pollen defeating his portly opponent. Due to his lack of stamina, the Lancaster man tried to end the points early, leading him to take risks which yielded a game, but ultimately cost him the match as his accuracy wavered.
All that remained was for York golden boy Callum Fraser to put his opponent Tony to the sword, which he did with a coruscating display of inventive squash, flummoxing and outclassing his foe. The match ended with a serve from Tony going out of play: an apt metaphor for the whole encounter. Fraser saluted the assembled Yorkite masses on the balcony, the females inevitably chanting “Off! Off!” with regard to Fraser’s T-shirt. But as he said afterwards, “always leave them wanting more”.
The Lancaster captain watched in horror, like Saruman in Lord of the Rings, his once-loyal forces disintegrating, the inescapable reality of defeat enveloping him. He folded up his Lancaster shirt sodden with sweat and tears and placed it in his decrepit hold-all. In Davenhill’s eyes, he was ‘just another victim’, the collateral damage of a York elite team that simply doesn’t know how to lose. There will be no surer source of points throughout Roses.