Duffield Poised For Historic PSL Success
20 Apr 2009
After securing Benz-Bavarian Duffield's place in the final of the Premier League for the third time in four years, British champion Nick Matthew will be hoping to lead the Derbyshire club to an historic fourth PSL title in the climax of the 25th season of the world's most prestigious squash league on Tuesday 5th May in Nottingham.
Duffield - competing in their 16th season of the PSL, a longer continuous run than any other club - face Chapel Allerton, the long-established Leeds club which first competed in the inaugural 1984/85 season and returned to the league this season after a 22-year gap.
Nick Matthew, the world No6 from Sheffield who is undefeated in eight matches for Duffield this season, will be joined in the club's all-English squad by world No15 Tania Bailey, the former British champion from Lincolnshire who boasts an unbeaten PSL run of 22 matches since March 2005!
Both players featured in Duffield's triumphant 2006 and 2007 finals - and will be hoping to play their part in establishing the club's unique status in PSL history by edging past fellow three-time champions Leekes Wizards, of Cardiff, and Cannons, from London.
Matthew will face Chapel Allerton number one Thierry Lincou, the former world number one and world champion from France who is ranked one position below the Yorkshireman in the world list - but boasts a 12-3 career head-to-head record over his rival.
Nick Matthew, celebrating his sixth season for Duffield, made his Premier League debut in the 1996/97 season - representing his home club Hallamshire. Incredibly, his first PSL experience, then aged 16, was a match against Duffield - which he lost 3/0 in the Derbyshire village.
"I don't remember that match particularly - but I do remember playing Paul Hargrave a few times," Matthew, now 28, recalls. "He was the son of the then team manager Brian Hargrave - and my Dad managed Hallamshire. I used to get some awful stick from the crowd as he was the favourite.
"Thankfully, the Duffield supporters treat me a lot differently now!
"I've been lucky with the Premier League from the start - first playing for my local club for the seven seasons that they were in the league. I was at a bit of a loss when Hallamshire dropped out - and, despite having various offers, wasn't 100% sure what to do.
"But Duffield proved to be the perfect move - not only was it the nearest club, but I was made to feel at home from day one! One of the best aspects, right from the start, was meeting Felix Frixou, who has been the team's sponsor throughout and is now also the team manager. He's become one of my best friends and his company Benz Bavarian is now also a personal sponsor.
"But the spectators are so passionate about the club - it's a real pleasure to play in front of them. They follow us, home and away, just like a football team - you couldn't wish for better support."
Matthew plays down his own personal contribution to the club's success: "It would be testament to everyone involved if we won the title for a record fourth time - not just the team on the court, but the supporters, the people who sell the tickets, make the food, sell the raffle tickets, etc. Everyone chips in at Duffield. It's a really special place."
Duffield, some five miles north of Derby and boasting a population of just 5,000, is perhaps now best known around the world for its squash prowess: "The club seems to be the focus of the village - and I think this is one of the reasons for its success. The whole village supports us," added Matthew.
Success in Nottingham will crown an incredible season for the Duffield number one who was out of action for most of last year following shoulder surgery in January. He won the Dutch Open in September - his first event after nine months - then reclaimed his British National Championship crown this year in addition to winning the Swedish Open. Leaping four places, Matthew returned to the world top five in March to restore his status as Britain's top-ranked player.
"I went through a lot of ups and downs as I recovered from the surgery - but the lowest point was probably last September, just before I played the Dutch Open. I was so keen to get back to playing but kept having setbacks, and went to Holland without any expectations - and won the title!
"So in the space of just a few days I went from an absolute low to a complete high," said Matthew.
"I thought I was ready to win the Worlds after just a few events, but realised I needed more match practice. Squash is a tough sport - but I've definitely come back better and stronger.
"I was lucky to have had a fantastic team of people working with me at the EIS in Sheffield - all on my doorstep!"
As he approaches the climax of his 13th season in the Premier League, Matthew is full of praise for the England Squash and Racketball-run league: "It's definitely the most prestigious squash league in the world - with great strength in depth in the squads - and unique in giving the ladies a position in the teams. England Squash organise it well around the PSA and WISPA Tours.
"You play as an individual for most of the year - so it's good to be part of a team in the league, and all the players want to do well in it. In fact, I remember the last match of the season - against Chapel Allerton, in fact - when my match was effectively a 'dead rubber'. But I played as if my life depended on it - and it turned out to be one of the best matches in the league.
"I've enjoyed this season more than any other - the team spirit has been great, and having Joey Barrington (one of my best friends on the tour) in the squad has really been a boost. Andy Whipp and Joel Hinds have really effective at three and four - and Tania's the most reliable woman in the league," concluded the Duffield star.
The anticipated final line-up is:
Benz-Bavarian Duffield v Chapel Allerton
Nick Matthew (Yorkshire) v Thierry Lincou (France)
Joey Barrington (Somerset) v Alister Walker (Gloucestershire)
Andrew Whipp (Cheshire) v Aaron Frankcomb (Australia)
Joel Hinds (Derbyshire) v Chris Simpson (Guernsey)
Tania Bailey (Lincs) v Carrie Ramsey (Yorkshire)
With Alister Walker and Chris Simpson (ranked 16 & 47, respectively, in the world) both boasting 2/0 career head-to-head records over their opponents Joey Barrington and Joel Hinds (ranked 28 & 178, respectively), it would appear that league 'newcomers' Chapel Allerton have the edge in this PSL finale.
But the Nottingham crowd will no doubt be hoping that Matthew and Lincou will play the decider - and that the adopted East Midlander from Sheffield will repeat his two most recent results over the Frenchman to clinch the title for Duffield.