The 26th Knights Squash Team met for the first time at the farewell fixture against the ex-knights at John and Tracy Davenport 's house. The team consisted of: Esjee Robinson- a 25 year old MSc student at North-West University, Mick Gouweloos – a 22 year old from Pietermaritzburg about to start his career in education, Francois Cloete – a 22 year old student at North-West University, studying Tourism, Nell van der Merwe – an 18 year old about to start studying Quantity Surveying at the University of Pretoria, and myself, Craig Stephens – a 20 year old student at the University of Pretoria, studying Physics and Education.
In our first fixture against the ex-Knights, consisting of Craig Wapnick, Jimmy Schlebusch, Christo Potgieter and Rodger Harris we thought it best to let the older players to win, for the sake of tradition. An excellent meal had been prepared for us and we were only to happy to hear some stories from the ex-knights as well as receive some valuable last minute advice for matters both on and off court – mainly off court though.
After the meal we were presented with our team kit and wished all the best for the upcoming weeks, by Chris Richards.
Our flight left on the 30th of November. We decided to have our first drink for the tour on the plane, after our two professional students, Francois and Esjee, had instated a number of rules that would apply to any drink to be had on tour.
We were met by Joe and Maggie Richardson upon our arrival at Heathrow and taken to a pub for breakfast, after which we were shown our apartment that Joe had arranged for us in Bakers Row. The kindness and help we received from the Richardson's during our time in the UK was phenomenal and I find it hard to imagine this tour being a success without them.
We spent the rest of our Saturday in London trying to find our way around. Since it was Saturday night, we decided that we should have a drink and go and see what all the hype about the “English Pubs” was all about. We found a pub that happened to be very close to our flat, unfortunately this was not the traditional sort of pub, it seemed that we had stumbled into what we now know to be a “Gentlemen's Pub”. Being the professional athletes that we are, we left immediately in search of a more traditional pub. We succeeded in getting lost, but found a pub where we could have our first Guinness. The trip back was not as simple as we had expected, it took us about an hour to get back to our flat, which was about twenty minutes away.
We woke up the following day, fit, strong and excited for our first fixture against Coolhurst Lawn Tennis & Squash Racket Club. Fortunately we left early enough to lose Mick and find him before the fixture was due to start, it would seem that public transport was not something that we were used to. We lost the fixture 3-2, in a disappointing fixture that could have gone either way. We were given a nice meal and a couple of drinks before we had to start our journey back, without losing anyone this time.
We played against St George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club the following night, after a day of sight seeing in London. The team from St George’s proved to have the edge over us, defeating 3-2 in another close fixture. We were hosted to a great meal and a number of drinks. It only took us two fixtures to decide that San Miguel would be the official beer of the 26th tour. Playing at St George’s certainly was a great experience and the grounds around the club were magnificent.
The following night was the much anticipated fixture against the Jesters at the Royal Automobile Club, hosted by Peter Chalk. The Jesters proved too strong for the Knights claiming a 4-1 victory over us, with our only win coming from an outstanding performance by Mick. Peter Chalk took us all out for dinner, while the Jesters entertained us with stories of the past Knights in this fixture. After dinner Peter escorted both teams to one of the more upperclass Gentlemen's Clubs in London, where we spent the evening drinking champagne while being entertained. This fixture certainly lived up to the stories we have all heard, thanks to a great group of hosts and the legendary Peter Chalk.
The Knights were starting to get a bit frustrated by the number of close matches that had gone the other way and we were keen to register our first win. The next day saw us taking the Oxford Tube to play against Virgin Active Oxfordshire Health & Racquets Club. We were met by Mike Savage, who gave us a brief tour around Oxford before our fixture started. We won 5-0, I finally logged a win after going two love and match ball down. We were fortunate enough to be in Oxford on a Wednesday, which happened to be student night and we were keen to celebrate our first win on tour. After what can only be described as an eye-opening evening in Oxford, Mick and I decided to stay over night on Dave Phillips' couches and see more of Oxford the next morning. Mike was kind enough to give us a more comprehensive tour of Oxford the following day before we had to head back to London.
Bath and Racquets Club, yet another legendary club, was our next fixture. We narrowly lost the fixture 3-2, in which we lost two five setters. The Bath and Racquets Club was a top class club and we were hosted by fellow South African and ex-Knight, Jason Barry, who took us to George’s – a top class restaurant. We were once again on the wrong end of a 3-2 result and wanted to start registering a couple of wins for the Knights.
Our next fixture was against Roehampton Club where we won 4-1. Our host, Paul Lindsay, treated us to a magnificent meal and kept on surprising us with drinks, saying: “Guess what this is!”. We were directed toward a nearby nightclub where Esjee and Francois decided that they would stay and find their own way home.
The following morning we had to wake up early in order to get to our midday fixture against Wimbledon Racquets & Fitness Club. As it runs out Esjee and Francois had only got into bed two hours prior to being woken up, since it took them almost three hours to find their way home. They had a number of interesting stories to tell of the night before, however I am sure that a number of those stories were forgotten. Somehow we managed a 3-2 win against Wimbledon, with an outstanding performance by Francois Cloete, all things considered.
The following day was a much needed rest day and we went to Hampton Court to be taught a lesson in how to play Real Tennis by Simon Fox, Joe's son-in-law. I could not possibly explain how this game works, because I still do not know. Mick seemed to have found his true calling a Real Tennis player, he beat us all left handed.
After a day's rest and some good food from Prue and Simon Fox we were ready to get back on court and continue in our winning ways. We played against Bexley Lawn Tennis and Squash Rackets Club and officially started a winning streak, three in a row, with a 3-2 win, thanks to a good win from Esjee. After a good meal and a couple of drinks we headed back to the train station to catch our return train to London, surprisingly we missed the last train and found that there would be a bus coming in two hour's time, just before one o'clock. We were in high spirits and Nell spent first hour at the bus stop trying to teach us how to two-step. Thereafter it became too cold and we all huddled together in a doorway trying to keep warm. The bus arrived eventually, half an hour late, but it got us home nevertheless.
The next day we played against the Escorts at the Oxford and Cambridge Club, yet another great club. The Knights won 3-2, thanks to an excellent win from Esjee in the fifth. We had a meal and a number of drinks after our fixture with a great group of players.
We left our beloved flat in London and were kindly hosted by Prue and Simon Fox for the night before we rented our car for the rest of the tour. After some intelligent packing got all of our luggage into the car and set off for Brighton. It took us a while to get out of London, it turns out that South African taxi drivers might not be the worst after all. We did not realise how small England was, so we arrived in Brighton early, which gave us a chance to see the beach. Nell had promised that he would swim if we went to the beach but got cold feet when we actually got onto the beach.
We won our fixture against Corals Squash Club 3-2, thanks to an excellent win from Nell. This extended our unbeaten streak to five. After a well deserved meal and a couple of drinks we decided that we would go out and experience the Brighton night life. After yet another eye opener in the club we headed back to our host's house. We woke up the next morning to find that our host, Pete Smith had made us a full English breakfast!
Our next fixture was against Beau se Jour Centre on Guernsey, where we were hosted by David Caine, and ex-Knight. We won 5-0, extending our streak to six. Our opponents took us out for a great pub dinner after which we went to another pub and then a club. The Guernsey team was a great bunch of hosts and we enjoyed our time there thoroughly.
After our flight on what can only be called a “vomit comet” from Guernsey to Jersey we were met at the airport and given a brief tour of Jersey before being taken to the Jersey Squash and Racketball Club, where we met with Nick and Sarah Taylor, our hosts for the weekend. We spent the day trying to recover from our exploits the previous night before our fixture in the evening. Our streak finally came to an end in front of our biggest crowd to date, we lost 3-2 against a strong team from Jersey. After dinner we headed in to town to experience the Jersey night life. We were given mattresses and were only to happy to sleep in the squash centre that night, unfortunately the Jersey people like to start playing quite early so we had an early start on our rest day. We spent the day on court with Nick and his family, Francois played Racketball for the first time and had an extremely tough match against Sarah. Nick and Sarah's children, Charlie and Olivia, are definitely going to be two juniors to watch out for in future. We were each hosted by various members of the club that night and enjoyed a good night's rest before heading back to England. The people from Jersey squash were great hosts and we all really enjoyed our weekend with them.
The next fixture was against Winchester Squash Club were the Knights got back to winning with with a 3-2 win, in a fixture where we won two five setters. After the fixture Phill Bull took it upon himself to teach us the legendary drinking game called TINK! The rules of this game are extremely hard to remember and even harder after you have lost once or twice. Phill hosted all of us and we all felt a bit worse for wear the next morning and Mick – our non-drinker – was no exception, Mick did push ups instead of drinking. While some of us had a sore head, Mick had a sore chest.
We took the ferry across to the Isle of Wight, a beautiful island. Francois decided that some of the fields looked perfect for running around in, so we pulled off the road and ran around the fields for a few minutes. We won 4-1 against Westridge Squash Club and were kindly hosted by Martin Phillips and treated to an English breakfast the next morning at one of their member's cafe.
We had a long drive to Bury St Edmunds for our next fixture, where we won 3-2 against Moreton Hall Health Club, with a good win coming from Nell. We were hosted by Peter Alexander and allowed to use the club facilities the following morning. We all tried floating therapy and it helped us recover a bit before continuing with the tour.
Our next fixture was against Lexden Squash Club where we won 3-2. We were kindly hosted by Paul and Karen Selby in their guesthouse. We all enjoyed having our own bed for a change as well as the knowledge that Paul had to share with us.
We lost 3-2 to Racquets Fitness Centre in Thame and were hosted by the Noakes family. I played against the late Harry Faulkner and lost 3-1. He was a great player and sportsman, I enjoyed getting to know him. Our condolences go out to his family and friends.
We won 5-0 against the Windsor Club. After a great meal and some story telling we decided to go for a night out in Windsor. We managed to get into the most expensive club in Windsor, the expensive drinks led Nell to start the game called roofdop. Mark Quinton was our host and the club was kind enough to put us up in a hotel for the night.
The last fixture before the Christmas break was against Caversham Health and Fitness Club. We won 5-0 and were taken out for a pub lunch. Dan Ford and Matt Baynes decided that we should do a pub crawl towards the casino, in turn we taught them to play TINK. On the way we took part in a pub quiz, which we found very difficult, since they had no questions about South Africa. Dan and Mick both won a considerable amount at the casino and Dan took us out for schwarmas with his winnings. After which we went back to Matt's house and continued to play TINK until it became clear that I was the loser.
After a much needed night's sleep in an hotel that Joe put us in, he had us over for breakfast at his house. Congratulations to Simon and Prue on the birth of their first child and Joe and Maggie's first grandchild.
Mick's aunt and uncle, Cathy and Dave were kind enough to host us at their house near Bristol for the three days over Christmas. We did a pub crawl on Christmas eve, after the first couple of drinks we spent the rest of the evening trying to tame our rottweiler, Nell. We all had a chance to recover from our exploits over the past month and we were treated to a traditional Christmas dinner, with an 18 pound turkey and a 10 pound ham! We all helped to prepare the meal, although our role was definitely a minor role in the whole operation.
After a good break we were ready for Torquay Squash Club, we beat them with a 4-1 result. The foyer of Torquay Squash Club had a team photo of many of the past Knights teams and it meant a lot to us to become a part of that history. While sitting in the bar afterwards we were fortunate enough to witness a marriage proposal, to which – after much deliberation- she said yes! We had a good night out in Torquay, and were put up by Bob and Margaret Harvey.
We lost 3-2 to a strong Devon and Exeter side and had a good night out in Devon, before being hosted by Dave and Shirley Hughes.
We returned to winning ways with a 5-0 win over Redland Lawn Tennis and Squash Club. We spent the rest of the evening trying to have a drink in every club in Bristol, in order to celebrate Francois' birthday in style, after which we decided that it might be best for us to take Francois back to Mark and Sue Regan's house, where we were being hosted.
We drove to Wales the next day, hoping that Francois would recover by evening. The Rhiwbina Recreational Club fielded an extremely strong side and the Knights ended 2012 with a 3-2 loss. Francois won his match and deservedly received the man of the match award for his efforts.
We must have made a good impression on Cathy and Dave, because we were invited there for new year again. Mick's sister, Jess, organised tickets to one of the biggest new year's eve parties in a night club. We had our first official fines meeting before going out and once everybody had taken their fines without complaint, we went to Oceana for a great night out.
Our first fixture of the new year was against Pontefract Squash and Leisure Club. We played against three of our fellow South Africans that were training with Malcolm Willstrop, they helped us bring the new year in in style with a 4-1 win to start 2013.
The next fixture was against Queens Sports Club, the Knights came away with a 5-0 win. Special mention must be made of Nell, who played against Sarah Kippax and managed to come away with win. We were about to sleep in the car for the night when two members of the club offered to host us for the night.
Next up was Durham Select at Nunthorpe Squash, we won 3-2 in yet another close fixture, after which we all enjoyed a couple of drinks with our opponents and a good night out.
We were asked to coach some of the juniors at Windscale squash club on the afternoon before our fixture. We enjoyed a big crowd for the fixture and Mick somehow managed to win oven the support of some of the club members. We won 4-1. Special mention must be made of Esjee, he fell over in a club and managed not to spill his drink, a true athlete!
Our fifth win in a row came in front of a big crowd, we won 4-1 over Carlisle Squash and Racketball Club. The Cumbrian squash community was very generous to us and we appreciated their hospitality immensely.
We crossed the border into Scotland and all felt the need to mention William Wallace in any conversation that we had. We played against a West Select Side at Newlands Lawn Tennis Club in Glasgow. The Knights won the fixture 4-1. After a couple of drinks in the club we headed out on the town to experience some of the Scottish night life in one of the local night clubs where we had an extremely eventful evening.
We arrived in Edinburgh early the following day, giving us time to have a look around a truly historic city. We were hosted to a superb dinner and then taken for a night out on the town, which inevitably ended in another casino.
After the stories that we had heard about Aberdeen we were nervous, but fortunately the weather was favourable. Unfortunately we lost the fixture 3-2, bringing an end to our seven match unbeaten streak. We spent the evening teaching the member s of Aberdeen Squash Club how to play TINK.
Northumberland held yet another difficult fixture in tore for us, fortunately we managed to come away with a 3-2 win, an impressive feat after a long drive from Aberdeen. We went our in Newcastle and it lived up to its reputation as well as the many stories that we have heard about it, yet another eventful night out.
Nottingham Squash Rackets Club is a fantastic club where the tired Knights team managed another 3-2 fixture in their favour, thanks good to a good win from the captain. We were hosted for the night by a fellow South African, who understood that we need a huge amount of meat in order to have a proper meal. Ali Gorrie took the team out for the evening, where the team finally learned that it really helps to know the barman.
Our final fixture came at the end of a ten match stint, the team was tired and could not get through yet another tough fixture unscathed. We lost 4-1 to a very strong team from Edgbaston Priory.
We ended the tour with 24 wins out of 34 matches. Twenty of the fixtures ended with a 3-2 result, of which the Knights won 12 and lost 8.
We all learnt the meaning of being a part of a team during our time in the UK, we would often completely disregard our own success or failure in a match as long as the team.
The success of this tour hinges on the involvement of so many people that I cannot possibly mention all of them, to all who were involved in the tour, whether you were a host or an organiser, we are eternally grateful. The experience that we have gained on this tour has changed our lives, both on and off court. Thank you for being a part of this life changing experience.
Sadly, this article could not possibly be long enough to tell every story that we have from this tour and I certainly cannot imagine putting some of the events into words. I hope that you will forgive me for anyone that I have left out and believe that it was not done intentionally.
Since my return I have been asked on numerous occasion what the highlight of the tour was for me. I find it impossible to pick one moment or one fixture out of these 44 days that I will remember more than any other. I would rather say that this tour was the highlight of my life and squash career thus far.