Retired Lives: the squash champion

 

TROPHY CABINET: Eric with just some of his squash trophies

Eric Robinson worked in the construction industry on oil refineries and nuclear power stations. He retired at 65, returned to work as a consultant, and finally finished working in 2014, when he was 72. He is the current Hungarian Masters squash champion.

You had a very long career. How did it start?

“I left school when I was 15, in 1957. I started working as an apprentice plumber that Christmas, working in housebuilding.

“I was married by the time I was 20, and eventually we had three daughters. I decided to set up my own plumbing business.

“Then I needed to go into hospital for an operation. In those days, you were in hospital for weeks recovering. Being self-employed, suddenly I had no money coming in. I couldn’t afford to continue with my own business, so I took a job on an oil refinery that was being built.

“That led me into specialising in mechanical construction. I worked for different companies, travelling the country on contracts. Eventually, I took a staff job with British Steel. I ended up in Wales. I came for six weeks in 1971, and I’m still here.

“I was working on oil refineries in Pembrokeshire, but I moved to a new job as the construction manager on a new nuclear power station project. But that company got taken over in 1987, and the new owners decided to make everyone redundant.

“I was re-married by then, with another three daughters from my second marriage, and had just taken out the biggest mortgage. I was due to start a big contract. I rang the client and got the contract started early, so the new owners couldn’t make me redundant in the middle of the contract. That saved my job.

“I worked on shutdown on the reactors at another nuclear power station, and from that I got a role as the site manager on a big oil refinery job. After that, I was used by BP on jobs in Holland, the Middle East and Scandinavia until I reached retirement age.”

Were you looking forward to retirement after such a high-powered working life?

“I was really bothered about retirement. I kept thinking ‘What am I going to do?’ I came home for a week, then went back to work as a consultant. I could not see myself as somebody retired.

“For the first two weeks, I worked three days a week. Then I went full-time until I was 72. By then I had grandchildren. I finished work – but I was still nervous about it.”

Where does the squash come in?

“I had learned to play squash in my 30s. That’s when most people are giving it up! I took it up because it was a sport I could play on my travels. When I got to 60 I gave it up, because I thought ‘I’m old now’. ”

Why did you start playing again?

“I had been working away on an oil refinery job. The clients played a lot of racketball. They invited me to play. I borrowed a racket and started playing twice a week. I got into it, but thought I’d rather play squash. So I had a couple of games, but I wasn’t very good.

“When I came home, somebody asked me to play a game with him. I did, started playing again, and ended up the local club Over 50s champion. I thought that’s not bad, considering I hadn’t played properly for years.”

It’s a big leap from local club to international squash. How did you achieve it?

IMGP5795“It started in the pub one Saturday night. Somebody was boasting about what they had done. I thought, ‘I’ll do my best to get into the Welsh team.’ I practised quite a bit, and entered the Welsh Closed championship. I did well enough to get into the Over 65s team, and get a Welsh cap. I got excited about that. That spurred me on to play a lot more squash.

“The 2012 World Championship was held in Birmingham. I thought I would enter; it would be something to tell the grandkids. I did all right. That inspired me to get onto the European Tour. Since 2012, I have played in tournaments in Germany, Holland, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Sweden and the Czech Republic. I’m the current Hungarian Masters Over 70s champion.”

That’s a busy schedule. Do you have time for anything else in retirement?

IMGP5794“I also got involved in metal detecting, because I could do it on my own. Now I’m the member of two clubs in Swansea, and go out once a week.

“My latest find is a Queen Mary groat. I have collections of old coins that I’ve found, and jewellery. Sometimes I put together a collection of old pennies, half-pennies and farthings, and give them to schoolchildren. It’s a great way of learning about history.

“I have a caravan in Gower, and go there at the weekend. I do a lot of walking when I’m there. And I swim every morning, and try to walk four or five miles three or four times a week.”

You have a very active retirement.

“I’m busier now than when I worked. I was the world’s worst for retiring. It was the grandchildren who forced me into finally finishing at 72.

“And I’ve never regretted it.”

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