Lockdown has given us all plenty of time to daydream about all the things we miss most in squash. For me, the thing I would love to see return to the squash calendar is the fun and drama of the UK Super League.
I think Super League was an absolutely brilliant concept. You might be too young to remember? It consisted of three matches, all played on one court, and most involved players within the world top 25. Awesome!
I remember watching some phenomenal nights of squash in the late 90s and early 2000s, with the likes of the theatrical Anthony Hill, Alex Gough, Derek Ryan, David Palmer, Stewart Boswell, Martin Heath, and Halifax fielding a young Nick Matthew, Lee Beachill, Adrian Grant and Marcus Berrett (who could beat absolutely anyone in these matches), all playing regularly.
Maesteg, outside of Swansea, used to be a powerhouse of Super League back in the day with a star-studded line-up of Palmer, White and Heath. Other clubs who hosted epic nights of entertainment included Exeter Imperials and Ipswich.
I’ve just listed a handful who I remember watching play the league, but everyone who was anyone in the world’s top 20 played at least one match for a team, where most were regular faces.
I’m sure Jonathon Power and even Jansher Khan turned out once, too. The high standard of play and the intimate settings led to some memorable squash and funny interactions between the players and the crowd, which rarely occur in PSA World Tour events for obvious reasons. Super League truly created a unique squash experience.
With England Squash’s Premier League (PSL, formerly called National League) dying a very slow, painful death, I think Super League could make a thrilling return.
People love to watch incredible squash, but to watch it right in front of you and not on your computer screen is something special and something most of us do not have access to.
It’s also great to see the top players play on a “normal” court and not only ever see them play on a glass court. It’s more relatable and more impressive for a lot of club enthusiasts – to see the likes of Ali Farag, Mohamed or Marwan ElShorbagy, Tarek Momen, Fares Dessouky, Joel Makin, Sarah-Jane Perry, Camille Serme, Amanda Sobhy and any number of Egyptian female stars play on your home court. And then to say Hi to them afterwards … wow, goose bumps!
Elite squash and elite squash players need to be accessible and relatable. Super League is the perfect format to achieve this. And, of course, growing our sport to a bigger audience along the way.
I have outlined what I believe it would take.
Six teams from anywhere in Great Britain: Three teams in the “North Division” and three in the South. Each team plays the other two opponents in their league, home and away – so four matches per season. The top two teams from each league go into a one-off semi-final and then the winners contest the one-off final.
Match nights consist of three-player teams. All three matches to be played on one court, generally expecting hour-long matches. Matches are played on Friday or Saturday nights. Start at 7pm, finish at around 10.30 (eg. number threes play at 7pm to 8pm, number twos from 8.10pm to 9.10pm, and number ones highlight the show from 9.20pm to 10.20pm). To help with timings, individual matches are best of four games – so there can be a 3-0 or 3-1 victory, or a 2-2 draw between the two players. Draws can be highly dramatic. I’ve seen them before in Europe.
I’m thinking numbers one and two are male, and number three is a female. All teams must have two women registered in their squad who are both ranked inside the world top 15. All teams must have one man ranked inside the top 10 and two inside the top 20 in their squad, with other squad members playing to a world top 50 standard at least.
Match nights would be arranged around the PSA World Tour calendar, so player availability is high. (Clubs are simply not allowed to field below-par teams otherwise they would be punished, but the league’s financial support and the careful planning would help avoid this ever occurring. Just one sub-standard match night can quickly kill off interest!).
Firstly, a main league sponsor would be required to put in £120,000. This is not a lot of money for a massive company or a particularly rich individual. This would be to guarantee the league for two years, and of course the company gets title sponsorship naming rights, eg. the Lucozade Super League! This £120,000 is to go directly to the six teams: £10,000 per team per season for two seasons, to pay player fees and travel. Individual teams would also get a sponsor to help cover their costs, eg. Microsoft Maesteg!
The advantage for a company sponsoring Super League as opposed to a major event like the British Open, would be that they would get at least two years of exposure and reach thousands of people and potential customers in that time, instead of just one week of exposure at a major tournament.
Players should each be paid a minimum £1,000 per match, and I suggest all players in a team are paid equally. This costs each team £3,000 per match, plus travel / flights, so assume costs of £4,000. There are a minimum of four matches per season, so minimum costs for a club would be £16,000 each season; minus the £10,000 provided by the title league sponsor. Ticket sales can help toward player costs, or, if you have a generous team sponsor, ticket and bar revenue can be all club profit.
Of course, it needs and deserves to be massively publicised – this is how we grow our sport and grow our clubs. This Super League would literally be the easiest thing to advertise in local and regional news outlets because of the ridiculously high standard of play on offer. What media station wouldn’t want to write about it??
I think it’s a brilliant league to rejuvenate. The match format and the guaranteed high standard lend themselves perfectly to an unforgettable night of squash.
I genuinely believe this should be privately started up again, or if I were the CEO of England Squash, I would get on the case ASAP before someone else did!
As I said earlier, it would not only benefit our current squash community, but it would without a doubt help to generate new interest in our sport in this country.