My best teacher

16th October 1998 at 01:00
I first met Eric Farr when I was about 10 years old, and playing squash at Inverurie, about 15 miles north of Aberdeen. Eric loved squash and working with children. He had joined the squash club a few years before, and his own children played a lot of squash. He started to coach them and realised how much he enjoyed it. He had seen a lot of talent in that area and had thought about getting a squad together, training together once a month. And that's how it all started.

We got on instantly. He was unbelieveably enthusiastic about everything he did. That made me enjoy squash all the more. At the training sessions you would have 20 or 30 children and Eric. I loved every minute. I played football and rugby as well, but what made me decide on squash was the atmosphere Eric built up around the squad. It was structured but it was tremendous fun. He had other people coming in to help us - we were always being helped and encouraged.

The sheer enjoyment he got from seeing you play and teaching you how to do things was obvious - he would show you how to do something and if you managed to do it properly that was great. When you feel you are achieving something and it's fun, you want to do it all the more, and that's what he did. So many people in that squad went on to become good squash players. Five years later, when I was 15, seven out of the eight national junior champions were from north-east Scotland, who had been involved in Eric's squads. He didn't sit you down and talk to you. He wanted to see you enjoying yourself. He gave you free rein to express yourself on the squash court. He wasn't too technical, he wasn't too tactical, and he wasn't a disciplinarian, he was purely interested in making sure we had a great time.

He wrote a lot of short stories about golf and rugby; he observes sports and sportsmen superbly. He writes everything down. I think he wrote one about me - about the first time we met, when I wouldn't come off court. I just kept playing and playing and playing. He made some throwaway remark about me being world champion one day.

When I was 12 or 13, he had a bet on me becoming British Open champion by the time I was 25. I got it on my 25th birthday. I think he had Pounds 5 at 200 to-one or Pounds 2 at 500-to-one.

He's got a doctorate - he's a professor in agriculture. But he would never lecture you. A good teacher doesn't have to. He would never impose anything - he would listen and speak to you. He always made you feel comfortable, and you always wanted to be with him, spend time with him. At the same time, my father, who was a PE teacher, was coaching me in between the sessions with Eric. He was a great coach as well. I started playing badminton when I was four, tennis when I was five, so it was very natural to me. See ball, hit ball.

I was fortunate to have them both all the way through my junior career. As the years went on my father coached me more, but Eric was always there. They got on well and they would both talk about my game.

Eric is about five foot seven with dark hair. I'm sure he won't mind me saying that he dresses quite scruffily, quite professor-like. And he is intense in whatever he is doing, whether it be eating, drinking, watching squash, playing squash -he would really concentrate on it. Generally alive, that's the best way of explaining him.

Eric isn't very well - he has Parkinson's disease. But even now that he is ill and struggling to control his movements, you can still see the spark of life in him. He hasn't let it affect him - he refuses any sympathy. He just gets on with things and refuses to be downhearted. He's a tremendous character. Peter Nicol, 25, is the world number 1 squash player. Last month he won gold in the Commonwealth Games tournament. He was talking to Harvey McGavin

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