He was one of the last three men selected for Scotland’s squash team and had thought his chance of competing at a Commonwealth Games had gone four years ago, but Stuart Crawford will set out in Glasgow in July believing he can win a gold medal.
Also the assistant national coach, the 33-year-old will play doubles with Greg Lobban, from Inverness, 12 years his junior but with whom he has formed a partnership that was good enough last month to defeat Alan Clyne, Scotland’s top player, and partner Harry Leitch, who finished fourth at the last Games in Delhi.
That cemented Crawford and Lobban’s place in the team, confirmed yesterday along with the announcement that Paisley’s Kevin Moran (23) has earned his place as partner to Alex Clark in the mixed doubles, in turn allowing both Lobban and Moran to contest the singles.
It is a chance the five-time Scottish champion thought had passed him by four years ago when he and his then partner, Jamie Macaulay, missed out on Delhi in agonising circumstances.
“We had a selection event down in Manchester and we came up against Lyall Paterson and Chris Small,” recounted Crawford, who has never attended a Commonwealth Games.
“The four of us were fighting for the last spot and the way the draw worked out this was the last qualifying event and we played them on the last day in the last match, knowing it was winner take all . . . and we missed out, unfortunately.
“That was the low point of my entire squash career, because I was thinking that was my last chance.”
He barely picked up a racquet during the following six months but during that lay-off from playing he was craftily kept on board by Roger Flynn, the national team’s head coach, who persuaded him to become his assistant coach, running the junior programme.
Two years on, Flynn then tantalised Crawford with the prospect of teaming up with Lobban, the brightest young thing to have emerged during Crawford’s first two years in that post.
“I had a lot of admiration for Greg’s game,” Crawford explained. “Even at the age of 17 I could see a lot of potential in him and I think he had a lot of respect for me as a coach, because I’d helped him out in the early stages of that process.”
He consequently believes they are good enough to challenge for the Commonwealth title, partly because of the emphasis the Scots have placed on doubles – technically very different from singles and relatively rarely played – but also because of the nature of the qualification process.
“There could have been an easy decision that we would just select the biggest Scottish team we can, flooding every event with Scottish athletes and giving people someone to cheer,” Crawford observed.
“However, I think they’ve been really savvy in saying that if you’re not up to scratch and can’t prove you’re genuine medal contenders then we’re not giving you a T-shirt . . . we’re not having any T-shirt collectors in our squad.
“I think that policy has served squash particularly well, because we’ve got guys fighting for places and knowing that unless we can prove we can challenge for medals we’re not going to get in this team.
“From a mental point of view, that’s really good for the athletes, because it means anyone selected is now thinking, ‘I must have done something to prove to them that I’m a medal contender’, so I think we are all going into this thinking we’re there to win medals.
“We might have the T-shirts but that’s not the end result we’re looking for. The prize is the national anthem on the top of the podium.”
Words and images courtesy of Herald Scotland.