Duffield Tennis, Squash & Racketball Club

Nick Matthew, Duffield Squash Club's No 1 PSL player and World No 2

Nick Matthew, Duffield Squash Club's No 1 PSL player and World No 2 - Credit: Ashley Franklin

Ashley Franklin reports on the past, present and future of this illustrious village club

Many sports clubs boast of being the oldest, the biggest or the best. Duffield Sports Club – better known as Duffield Tennis, Squash & Racketball Club – probably has a unique claim. Put it this way: is there in this world an older, bigger or better rackets club situated in a village? With Duffield’s population numbering 6,000, it’s remarkable that the combined club membership numbers over 1,000 – 600 in the squash club, 450 in the tennis club. Naturally, both clubs have members from the surrounding area as well as the village, most of them having been drawn to it by the outstanding facilities.

The tennis club, which in 2010 won the LTA Derbyshire Club of the Year, has grown to seven outdoor courts – six all-weather, one artificial clay – with all but one floodlit; the squash club has five courts, including a glass-backed show court where members can see some of the world’s top players, through Duffield competing in the English Premier League which it has won three times – another remarkable statistic.

Both clubs share a gym, changing rooms with showers and sauna, and licensed bar, all recently refurbished. They also share the belief that they offer the best coaching facilities in the county – for all ages, too.

The tennis club was formed in 1882, which makes it the 12th oldest in the world. It began with the purchase of four rackets at seven shillings apiece – only four were needed as there was only one court – and two dozen tennis balls, which cost 15 shillings and were expected to last a season. There was no pavilion until 1925 and although lady members were allowed – though still not on the committee – no shower was built in the female dressing rooms as this was deemed ‘unseemly’.

In 1937, the tennis club invited the formation of a squash club. ‘Squash is undoubtedly the coming game,’ said the typewritten appeal for members, a visionary statement considering Duffield’s first court was only the fourth in the whole of Derbyshire. The first members found rules and regulations to be quite relaxed: the annual two guinea membership was collected by hand and there was ‘an occasional booking system.’ Right up until the late ’60s, the booking sheets were kept over the road in The White Hart pub – and there was still only one men’s shower.

Meteorological showers were another problem: the River Ecclesbourne had been regularly flooding the tennis courts, leaving thick layers of black sludge. Members clubbed together to erect a wall.

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By this time, however, members had also clubbed together to offer loans so that the squash and tennis sections could obtain the freehold property and in 1972 the current clubhouse was opened, together with extra squash courts. Both clubs had also made considerable strides on the court of play. A plaque on the squash show court is dedicated to John and Pauline White who, over three decades, spearheaded both the development and playing activities of the club. Both were distinguished players: John won 25 county titles and the National Over 45s Championship, and lost only once in representing England over a period of 17 years. He eventually earned an MBE for services to squash. Pauline moved from British Universities Champion to Great Britain captain and Number 3 player, representing England internationally for 11 years. She also revolutionised the club with a coaching scheme that was taken up around the country. Pauline was also an outstanding tennis player, winning 35 county titles and competing at Wimbledon at both junior and senior levels.

The most famous name associated with the tennis club was that of a player who could well have been Britain’s next Fred Perry 50 years before Andy Murray. In 1956, club member Jimmy Tattersall, aged 16, made a spectacular Wimbledon debut, winning both the Boys’ Doubles and Junior Mixed Doubles, the latter with another Duffield player Honor Durose. The following year at Wimbledon, Jimmy won the Boys’ Singles Championships and, again, the Boys’ Doubles. Seventeen-year-old Jimmy was the junior tennis World No 1. Following Jimmy, the names of Federer, Edberg, Cash, Lendl and Borg appeared on the Boys’ singles trophy. All later won the Men’s Singles title. Alas, the name Tattersall never appeared again. Jimmy went to University and forged a career in industry. In his later years, an entry about Jimmy in a staff magazine at the University of Bradford, with which he was associated, said: ‘We were surprised to hear that he had a secret former life.’ Jimmy Tattersall died in 1997, aged only 57.

As for today, the tennis club has a 13-year-old player, Hannah Davey, who is among the top 30 in the country for her age. There has been recent success for one of the seniors, Hudson Oakenfull: he and his Lithuanian partner Jurate Hardy won the European Mixed Doubles Over 45s Championship, gaining Hudson a ranking of sixth in the world in the mixed.

In squash, Paul Hargrave, Joel Hinds, Millie Tomlinson and James Blythe have all, in recent years, achieved national ranking at junior level. Also, club coach Lesley Sturgess has won several British championships at over 45s and 50s level – in racketball as well as squash.

Josh Taylor, who has just joined Lesley on the coaching staff, says he is delighted to ‘see a squash club that is passionate about the sport and is at the buzzing heart of the local community.’ Indeed, the club is very involved with local schools, and as Lesley point outs, squash is a great sport for youngsters: ‘It’s great fun, good for fitness, you don’t need a great deal of equipment to get started, and you are in a sociable and safe environment.’

Both coaches and club administrators fervently hope that in September squash will be officially welcomed into the Olympics from 2020. ‘Squash is played by 20 million people in 185 countries and is arguably the healthiest sport in the world,’ states Josh. ‘Achieving Olympic status will probably be the most important turning point for the sport in its history.’

Although tennis doesn’t need its Olympic status because of the annual promotion given to the sport by Wimbledon, club secretary Keith Murcutt is quick to point out that in spite of the money that is apparently swishing around in British tennis through Wimbledon, clubs like Duffield don’t benefit: ‘Our club sees no money from the Lawn Tennis Association. The club has to be run as a business, trying to pay all the bills while maintaining and improving facilities.’

However, it’s possible Duffield could yet produce future tennis stars with Keith pointing out that the appointment of a new Head Coach, James Grindell, has made ‘a massive improvement’ with over 150 youngsters receiving coaching, confirmed by James winning Derbyshire LTA Coach of the Year in 2009. GB veteran Ashley Broomhead is involved, too, as a performance coach.

‘I love the fact that Duffield is a traditional tennis club with a community feel,’ says James. ‘Because we’re in a village, it’s great that so many youngsters – and adults for that matter – are within walking distance of the club and it’s become an integral part of their lives. Better still, the club is nicely hidden away and is a very safe environment.’

James makes the further excellent point to youngsters who might be inspired to take up tennis because of Andy Murray: ‘You shouldn’t take up tennis to win Wimbledon. We are keen here to promote tennis as a lifestyle as well as a sport. If a youngster goes on to play as a pro, that’s a bonus but it’s not the be-all and end-all.’

For youngsters playing squash, they have the opportunity – thanks to the club’s Premier Squash League manager Felix Frixou and, previously, Brian Hargrave – of seeing some of the top stars of squash play, including two who represent Benz-Bavarian Duffield: Nick Matthew and Laura Massaro are both ranked World No 2, with Laura poised to claim the No 1 ranking having just won the British Open, beating the current No 1 Nicol David for the second time this year.

Importantly, it’s not all squash. Long-time squash players as well as newcomers are increasingly joining the legion of elders whose knees are coping better with the gentler pursuit of racketball. ‘Because racketball is less demanding than squash, it’s enabled our senior members to play for longer,’ points out squash club committee member Bob Allen. ‘Also, because racketball is like a cross between squash and tennis, it’s helped bring the two clubs closer together.’

What also helps the two clubs being under one clubhouse is the sharing of certain costs plus the fact that there is a reduced membership fee if members opt to join both clubs. As squash club President Russell Moore points out, the relationship between the two clubs is ‘more harmonious than ever before.’ Chairman Mike Taylor adds that visitors ‘constantly comment on the warmth and friendliness of the welcome here and our great social activities.’

Both clubs, too, are seeking to improve facilities. The tennis club courts will shortly need resurfacing – at around £12,000 per court – and it’s looking into the provision of a court with a ‘bubble’ surround for indoor playing when raining or snowing. The squash club is introducing online booking, pursuing grants for increased coaching and investigating the possibility of more show courts.

‘Whatever we do, we will always have a special club here,’ says tennis club treasurer Hudson Oakenfull. ‘This is a lovely oasis. You walk in from the hustle and bustle of the A6 and you have this wonderful setting with the features of Duffield Bank changing the backdrop all year round.’

‘For me,’ says squash club membership secretary Sheila Alcock, ‘the beauty of the club is that it belongs to us – the members – and is run by volunteers. That also means our future is in our hands.’

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