Since the introduction of Squash TV in December 2009, the broadcasting arm of the Professional Squash Association (PSA) has allowed thousands of squash fans all over the globe to enjoy live squash matches from the World Series and several other major events. Over the years, Squash TV has since evolved quite a bit in terms of its popularity and quality of its productions.
Apart from allowing access to matches for fans, Squash TV has also been responsible for the branding of the top players in the form of nicknames. The trend grew over the years and this year’s PSA World Championships even has a theme of squash superheroes, where the #SquashSupers hashtag is being used as a branding mechanism. This has been taken a notch up by lead commentators Joey Barrington and Paul Johnson, who has shot a video of themselves in a Batman and Robin suit running around Chicago.
A little while back, we were fortunate enough to corner Joey and Johnny Williams at the Qatar Classic World Series event for a chat about a typical day in the office, nick names and getting into trouble with Nafiizwan Adnan’s mother.
For starters, here is a brief introduction of the pair :
As part of the original team who started Squash TV, Joey Barrington has now commentated over 10,000 squash matches. In case you did not know, Joey was a former PSA professional himself between 2002 and 2014, and reached his highest ranking of 24 in January 2007. These days, Joey is passionate about growing the game with Squash TV and is an also an entrepreneur as one of the guys behind the Eye brand.
If the name Barrington sounds familiar to you, it’s because Joey’s dad is the legendary Jonah Barrington. A winner of 5 British Open titles in the 60s and 70s, Jonah was also responsible for starting the squash world tour and today, he is coach to current world number 1 Mohamed El Shorbagy.
John Williams, or better known as Johnny on tour, is also no stranger in the sport. The 46 year old from Melbourne, Australia was a former world number 15 who was on tour in the early 2000s. Now residing in Zurich, Switzerland, Johnny is a full time coach and is the organiser of the popular Grasshopper Cup. He has been commentating for Squash TV regularly for a year now.
I think many squash fans do not realise how tedious your jobs are. Perhaps you could run through a typical day for you during a tournament?
Joey : With the new format, there is an extra day (with no qualification). The volume of matches is massive and we’ve done 31 matches in the last four days. What we usually do is get up early to do a bit of (physical) training. Majority of us commentators, apart from PJ, we like to do some training. Then we’d have breakfast and have a chat about the itinerary – the matches that stick out to us, and just go a little back and forth about that. Then we kick off usually around 12 noon. We go through match after match, and we might get a little break in between to do some other stuff, but generally it’s all the way.
Then in the evening, we might or might not go to the gym again, or we’ll go for a nice meal. I personally enjoy working out. It’s a way for me to clear my head with the amount of squash going on for me all day. If I don’t, I might end up going a little crazy.
As the tournament goes, we get a little more time with the lesser number of matches. But then there will be rehearsals coming in, as we’d be doing a lot more in front of camera work. We go through the content a little, but not too much because we like to work a little more instinctual. I have a format usually, but I don’t have a script. If I have to do scripting, I’d do it myself because I don’t like others to do it for me.
For example, tonight, I’ll be doing a lot of camera stuff with Lee Beechill (PSA Chief Executive Officer), while Johnny will be holding the fort on the commentaries. We’re trying to evolve Squash TV a bit more, trying to get more camera time.
Johnny : I think Joey pretty much summed it up. For me, I have to take care of some business back home in the morning. Just make sure everything is running and whoever is covering for me will actually do so. Like Joey said, with the new format, you start at noon and it goes on through the night, especially if you have someone like Joel Makin playing – 106 minutes. It just takes one of these matches and any break you might have is quickly evaporated. But that’s what I’m here for. I don’t do it as much as Joey but I appreciate the time being on air, and keep learning the craft.
Then we come back and try to get some training. But for me, I don’t like to train too late at night. I want to get something to eat not too late. But now that we’re in the quarters, we have a little more time then the last few days, so hopefully we’ll get some training on, and definitely some sun!
One of most notable things that have come out of the Squash TV stable is the use of nicknames for the top players. Can you share with us how do you decide on one and if there’s a favourite?
Joey : Actually, I was told not to start nicknames, which I of course, I completely ignored. And I am really happy with the way the players and the fans are taking to it. It’s sort of brought a brand to the players.
The way we come up with the nicknames is the personality of the player, what they look like, their playing style, their own name and their background culture. Take the Komodo for Wan (Nafiizwan Adnan of Malaysia). You look at his physique and then the fact that komodo dragons are in that part of the world in Indonesia and I thought, this really stands out for him.
The Wolf for Nick Matthew came out in 2011. He just looks like a wolf and it was perfect for him. Then came the Maestro for (Amr) Shabana, The Marksman for James (Willstrop) and it went on from there.
Most players actually love their nicknames. I’d say 99.9% of them love them. You see them printing it on their shirts, they try and get a brand created within the name. I love this part – as a kid, I was always attracted to nicknames of sports people. My dad used to have nicknames for the players of his generation and before. It just helps build a fan base and it helps relate to that person and you start to look at them more and see different things. So, we’re going to continue with that and get one for Ali Farag.
Johnny : I think the two best ones Joey has come up with without a doubt – Omar Mossad “The Hammer of Thor” because he just absolutely crunches the ball and just that whole image of Thor holding up his hammer. The other one the Columbian Cannonball (for Miguel Rodriguez) because he just bolts around and bulldozes his way around the court.
Of course The Maestro, El Toro (for Borja Golan) and the likes are good names, but those two just have something special about them.
Do you have a funny story about the nicknames?
Joey : Yes! This is something you guys would appreciate, because it happened right in your backyard. Some years ago, after naming Wan the Komodo, a viewer tweeted to PJ and told him Wan’s mom was very upset about us naming him the Komodo. Obviously at that time, I don’t think PJ knew what a komodo was, so he was panicked a little and told me about it. Apparently, she felt it was degrading to be calling her son after an animal.
But all is good now because I met Peter Genever (then Malaysian head coach) later in one of the events and he was telling me Wan absolutely loves it. He even had it printed on his sweatpants and so on. I guess it’s interesting to know that in certain cultures, it can be seen as degrading. But in our western culture, more often than not, it’s quite the opposite.
Finally, what nicknames would you give to each other?
Johnny : I’ve got one. Considering Joey is a rebel and he goes his own way, something like James Dean, but he’s not James Dean. Going back to the Roman times, he loves his history and he loves to bring things back, I think he is Spartacus. That is Joey – Spartacus, even the look!
Joey : Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy!