Sneaking in: Coach Paul Selby Tells About How He Started Playing Squash

Outside The Glass, the world’s leading squash podcast, is a radio show with a new episode coming out at the beginning of each month. Paul Selby is the longtime English coach, director of Off The Wall Squash and father of three world-ranked players. In episode six, he told Outside The Glass about his unorthodox introduction to squash.

Outside The Glass
How did you first get into the game?

Paul Selby
I was twelve years old and the guy who sat next to me in class said, “Do you fancy coming to see me play squash and perhaps join in?”

I said, “I don’t know what it is?” I went along.

What was the club?

It was a very famous club in London called Wanstead Squash Club. A private members club, which most of the clubs in the UK were. This was 1969. This was before Jonah, with Geoff Hunt, really opened it up. An all-whites-clothing club. They played in the Cumberland Cup in London. Neil Harvey’s club, it became. Paul Wright—he was a national coach—he was a coach there at one stage. So it had a lot of history, the club. At that time it had eight courts. Then they built two two more with the glass-back when Neil went there, so it was glass with the seating that pushed back. And then they built two more at the end that were not very popular. So it had twelve at the end. It’s gone now. It’s an old people’s home.

I had half a lesson, which I paid for myself. My parents weren’t interested. I really liked it. I found it quite easy at the time. I used to use my milk-round money, my paper-route money to pay for the lessons because my parents wouldn’t do it.  It was something I liked.

All through my teenage years, because clubs in England were so expensive, my parents wouldn’t join me to a club, so I used to break in to a club. It was in a school opposite my road, a private school with two courts. They couldn’t see the courts from the schoolhouse. So I used to climb on the lobby, go in through the window, turn on the light and hit the ball up and down.

I played around a bit through my teenage years, got on court whenever I could which wasn’t that often. If I had my time again, I would love to have played more, played junior tournaments stuff like that.

But there weren’t that many junior tournaments back then. It was a smaller, more exclusive game, right?

Yes, it wasn’t open to most people. I was living in East London. I was a bus ride away from Wanstead. The private courts that were opposite me were only two hundred meters away. I continued to break in because it was an easy thing to do. It used to be on my own. It was solo practice. The schoolhouse was so far away that it was easy to get in. It was an easy window. There were no alarms.

Then I went to college. One of the lecturers at college used to play so after I left college, I got involved playing. So I played a little bit when I was seventeen, eighteen.

I decided to have lessons. Quite a famous coach in the UK, a fellow named Nick Drysdale. I started having lessons with Nick. I said, “I want to be a professional player.” I was seventeen. It was obviously not going to happen. I had no money. My parents weren’t interested. There was no route to do it.

Then I met my wife when I was twenty-one. She played tennis. Her brother was a full-time tennis professional playing the circuit. She asked me, “Do you play a sport?”

I said, “Well, I can play squash.”

She said, “Why don’t you join the tennis club and squash club where I am.”

I said, “Ok.” It was Connaught. It was where Neil Harvey had all his players, Peter Nicol and all that lot. It was pre-that happening.

So I had to play the club captain. I hadn’t played squash, really, ever. Ever. I played the club captain. I lost but I didn’t play that badly. So he said he’d accept me into the club. I joined. I was twenty-one.