Tireless Tim makes everything tick
BY ALAN THATCHER
As we celebrate a milestone anniversary, Tournament Director Tim Garner discusses the formation of the Canary Wharf Classic with joint founder Alan Thatcher. They explore the hurdles that had to be overcome in the early days, the many innovations down the years, and the loyalty of so many star players, volunteers and spectators.
The Canary Wharf Classic has grown into one of the most successful tournaments in squash after two decades of sellout crowds enjoying top-quality entertainment from some of the world’s most amazing athletes in a stunning venue.
Twenty years is a huge milestone to celebrate and tournament director Tim Garner has been the driving force behind so many of the innovations that have made Canary Wharf stand out from the rest.
Fittingly, we have the strongest draw in the tournament’s history with all the world’s top 12 PSA male players guaranteed to put on another spectacular week of squash.
When we first discussed staging a tournament in the bright lights of Docklands’ futuristic financial district, we were always confident that it would be a success. And our first view of the beautiful venue confirmed those feelings, especially when we realised that this amazing building is shaped like a squash racket!
However, there were plenty of anxious moments as we worked hard to assemble a talented cast of players to help sell tickets.
Tim explains: “It was a massive leap of faith pressing the ‘Go’ button in 2004. Thankfully, having former world champion Peter Nicol involved gave the other top players at the time some comfort that it would actually happen and they agreed to play, which helped draw in the crowds even in year one.”
Canary Wharf quickly established a reputation for hosting a fantastic tournament with many innovations down the years, including experimental scoring, video reviews (using the big screen at the venue), providing corporate hospitality, and building the VIP Bar on the gallery level.
Tim adds: “If squash didn’t try things, we would still be playing with wooden rackets on white courts.
“It’s been great to have the ability to trial stuff over the years, even if it didn’t work such as the best-of-seven to PAR9 final in the first year. It’s important to trial stuff in a robust environment to see if it really does work outside of exhibitions, and I think PSA has really appreciated that opportunity to develop the way our sport is played and broadcast.”
While launching the tournament we had high hopes that we could attract sponsors from the many finance companies based at Canary Wharf. But the reality was very different.
Tim reveals: “Peter and I were in the conservatory at Lambs Squash Club when ISS facilities management company said they would put some money into the first edition. We knew it wouldn’t cover all the costs, but it gave us some security that we wouldn’t lose our shirts and enabled us to take the plunge.
“They were wonderful supporters of the event in the early years and the Hilton Docklands was the Official Hotel that year and still is now (albeit with a gap in the middle of a few years).
“Likewise, the Canary Wharf Group believed in us from the outset and have been incredible supporters of the event, not just financially but through the assistance of their Arts & Events team.”
Ultimately, sponsoring the tournament and entertaining potential clients during the tournament reaped solid rewards for ISS. They attracted numerous business connections and finally moved their company headquarters from south of the river to the Canary Wharf estate itself.
Managing the logistics of staging a major event is a challenging task and Tim adds: “All events have lots of moving parts and none more so than in the middle of London.
“Canary Wharf also has a high bar in standards and this has helped us look to set the standard for squash events. Occasionally (especially early on) we did things that were always done at squash events that weren’t up to those standards and we were quickly picked up on it!
“This meant that we always look to deliver the highest quality event, often on a budget that is barely breaking even.”
Our ethos for the tournament is simple: to look after all of our guests, especially players, sponsors and spectators.
Tim adds: “Players are always a challenge, but that’s understandable as they are all unique but driven individuals who are ultimately wanting whatever works best for them.
“However, they are also great to deal with, especially when you work out what their character is and what makes them tick.
“The players have supported the event from the very first year. They realise the event has a very special atmosphere and thrive on it.
“Clearly, they also enjoy the event as seen by so many returning over the years and us ending up with an outstanding entry for the 20th event this year.”