Keeble retains Cromer Squash Club’s handicap title

As has become the norm over the past 30 years there was once again a packed balcony at Cromer Squash Club on Friday evening where a large and appreciative crowd enjoyed yet another five-game thriller in a long line of classic finals in the club's annual handicap tournament.

Twenty-seven-year-old club champion Richard Keeble, who was not born when the first tournament was held, successfully retained the title he won for the first time last year.

In 2011 he joined the select band of players who have completed the double of both club champion and club handicap champion while this year he became only the second player, after John Baker in 1991, to successfully defend his crown.

In the final Keeble, a beaten semi-finalist in 2010 and again playing off a handicap of -15, needed all his skill and athleticism to once again defy the handicapper and overcome the spirited challenge and five-point advantage of long serving first team captain and 2009 champion Henri Paul (-8) eventually coming out on top 15-9 10-15 15-6 13-15 15-13 after five enthralling games of squash.

Keeble dominated the first game, in which Paul, who is the reigning club veteran's champion, was only able to win three points off his own serve, comfortably taking the game 15-9. Paul drew level in the second as he won four successive points at the end of the game to move from 11-10 to 15-10 after the players had traded point for point throughout the game.

The third game really was in a similar vein to the first as Keeble dropped his serve just six times and allowed Paul not a single point on his own serve, but the fourth followed a completely different pattern. Paul's all action style enabled him to storm ahead 6-0, 11-5 and 14-10 before he took the game 15-13 to set up a nail-biting deciding fifth game.

Paul won the first three points to open up an eight-point advantage, but Keeble gradually clawed the handicap back to draw level at 7-7 only for Paul to edge ahead once again. With a 12-10 lead Paul had every chance to add to his 2009 title, but Keeble won four successive points to lead 14-12 and after his veteran opponent saved one match ball Keeble made no mistake on the second as he took the game 15-13 and the match 3-2.

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Keeble thereby clinched his second title and will again have his name, along with the 23 other winners, perpetually inscribed upon the winners' board which is on display in the club house.

After Keeble received his winner's trophy he said: ' This was a tremendous match and The Claw who is an experienced campaigner pushed me all the way. I couldn't afford to relax my concentration at all and tried to break the match down into little compartments as I had to score four points to his three. Luckily I was just able to do that and the handicap committee got the handicaps just right although one more point in Henri's favour could have made all the difference.'

In the semi final Keeble had defeated Matthew Jordan (+6), after earlier victories over the rapidly improving Nick Dunnett (+6) who he just beat 15-13 in the fifth , the 2007 handicap champion, Ben Herrieven (-10) who he beat in a hard hitting second round match and last year's beaten finalist Alistair Dunnett (+7). Paul , who had a first round bye defeated the much younger James Broughton (+9) in the semi-final after beating the 2004 runner-up John Pelton (+6)in the quarter-final and the unpredictable Derek Mackey (+9) in Round Two.

The plate competition for first round losers was won for the second year running by the 2010 beaten finalist , second team regular ,Martin Sanville (+2) who just did enough to beat a relative new-comer at the club, Danny Doran (+10) 17-14 6-15 18-13 8-15 15-12 in another well contested match. After 'qualifying' for the plate by losing to Nick Dunnett (+6) he went on to beat Alistair Dunnett (+7) and in the semi final he beat the 1992 tournament runner-up Jean Spruce (+8).Doran lost in the first round to Sue Guest (+13) but went on to beat Adam Sexton (+2) and Derek Mackey (+9) in the plate competiton .

Cromer second team went into their important Norfolk League Division Three relegation play-off match against UEA II this week more in hope than expectation but at the end of the day hope, helped by some dogged determination, came out on top as the Cromer team made sure of retaining their place in the division with a hard earned 3-2 victory.

With only three wins to their credit this season Cromer could have been forgiven for thinking that they had little chance but two of those victories did come against the students' second string, although the last of these was way back on November 29th when the Cromer team won 19-3 to add to the 14-8 victory they had on the UEA courts in the first match of the season.

Technical Director Barry Starling was able to select a strong team for the play-off with Matt Copeman, despite not being fully fit, available to play the first string match, former club champion John Baker at No.2 and the experienced trio of Martin Sanville, John Chandler and Kim Payne at 3, 4 and 5.

Payne got the match underway and although he went down to a straight game defeat he pushed his young opponent all the way and could easily have won both the first and third games of his match before losing them both 9-8. At No.4 veteran John Chandler, who had lost his last four matches, was in a determined mood and he had put himself through a rigorous training session with England international Martin Pearse prior to the match. He opened up a 2-1 lead after just taking the third game 10-8 but when he was unable to convert a match point in the fourth and lost the game 10-9 it looked as though his chance had gone. However, despite conceding 46 years to his opponent he fought back brilliantly to take the decisive fifth game 9-4.

Martin Sanville, playing at No.3 looked to be heading for defeat when he lost the first two games of his match and with only one win to his name all season his confidence appeared to have gone. However, in a remarkable transformation he re-discovered the form that the large crowd on the balcony knew he was capable of and he won the next three games for the loss of just five points to win 3-2 and give Cromer an important advantage..

The dependable John Baker was playing the second string match and when he opened up a 2-1 lead victory seemed assured but this match too was remarkably transformed and the former club champion was not able to win a single point in the next two games as he went down 3-2 to set up a nail biting final first string match.

Matt Copeman was not fully fit and almost had to pull out on the morning of the match but his competitive spirit and determination came to the fore as he opened up a 2-0 lead. He trailed 5-8 in the third and then won five successive points to take the game 10-8, the match 3-0 and give the Cromer team the 3-2 victory they needed.

Starling was overcome with excitement at the performance of the team and said 'I am proud of the way they all played. I couldn't have asked for any more effort and it is just a pity that we found ourselves in this position at the end of the league matches. Hopefully this will be the turning point and we will remember what we can do when the chips are down'


Matt Copeman bt Adam Morfakis 9-4 9-5 10-8

John Baker lost to Philip Slack 9-6 4-9 9-5 0-9 0-9

Martin Sanville beat Ben Constant 6-9 5-9 9-2 9-0 9-3

John Chandler beat Calum Pearson 9-5 4-9 10-8 9-10 9-4

Kim Payne lost to Andy Keel 8-9 2-9 8-9