Sporting Nation: Peter Nicol has 'no regrets' over controversial England switch

By Tyrone SmithBBC Scotland Sport

Throughout July, BBC Scotland's Sporting Nation series is reflecting on some of the greatest feats and personalities from Scottish sporting history.

Here we look at Peter Nicol, who reached number one in the world squash rankings and won Commonwealth gold for Scotland before controversially switching allegiance in 2001 to represent England.

'I don't regret swapping Scotland for England' - Nicol

For a small country, Scotland has produced a number of world-class athletes, but the pool of talent is not vast, and the loss of a Scot at the top of their sport to another country will always hit hard.

Especially when that country happens to be England.

It was in 2001 that Peter Nicol declared he would be continuing his highly-successful squash career under the St George's flag.

Nicol had already captured a singles gold medal for Scotland at the Commonwealth Games in 1998, a World Championships gold in 1999, and become the first British player to reach number one in the world rankings.

"Do I wish I had to make that decision? No, of course not," reflects Nicol, 47, almost two decades on. "I come from the north-east of Scotland, I love where I come from, my dad in particular is incredibly patriotic and I am too."

Though a difficult move to make for the man from Inverurie, Nicol's switch was based on a belief his career would be better supported by the English squash system, a view he believes has been validated.

"I don't regret it at all, it was the best decision from a professional point of view," he says. "I played 66 times for Scotland and lost once. I loved playing for Scotland, but you have to make these decisions sometimes. For me, in the sport I was in, for what I needed to achieve, it was right."

Peter Nicol
Peter Nicol won three Commonwealth Games gold medals for England

In Scottish sporting terms, Nicol is up there with the best the country has produced. He won four Commonwealth Games golds - three of them for England - and the 1999 World Open, also amassing 49 PSA World Tour titles. He spent 60 months as world number one, 24 of them continuously.

Despite that extraordinary level of success, Nicol will be remembered by many as the man who ditched Scotland for England at the height of his powers. Does that trouble him?

"Not at all," he says. "I think everyone is going to make their own opinion up and decide what they want to decide. I think we see that in the world often enough, I am not going to affect that.

"People have to live their own journeys, be their own people and everyone else can think whatever they want. I know exactly what I did for me, my family, my lifestyle and everything else. It was the right thing to do."

Nicol earned a reputation as a fearsome competitor, with a ferocious desire to be the best. His confident on-court demeanour was in stark contrast to the quiet one off it, particularly in the early stages of his career.

"I was incredibly shy as a young adult, the confidence came from the work because I knew I was good at what I was doing. It didn't come from anything else, because I wasn't a particularly confident human being at that time.

"I just had to keep learning. I am not the fastest, I am not the strongest, I am not the fittest. I don't hit the ball as well as 95% of those I play against, I fare poorly on all the physical tests. But I can learn, and I can continually adapt and understand what I need to do and maximise my potential.

"That was something really important my dad taught me. And I think it is also a north-east of Scotland trait, you get on with it and you work, and if you do that the outcome will happen."

Peter Nicol
Nicol spent 60 months as world number one including a two-year continuous stretch at the top of the rankings

Nicol pinpoints a win in Wales in 1994 as the moment he arrived as a force to be reckoned with. He defeated the Pakistani legend Jansher Khan, an eight-time world champion regarded by many as the greatest squash player ever.

"I remember beating him in the second round of the Leeks Classic," he recalls. "I beat arguably the best player that has ever lived - one of the top two or three for sure - and it was at that moment that I finally realised I could do this. Not that I could be good, but that I could actually be the best in the world."

Nicol retired in 2006, but has not been lost to the sport. He now lives in New York, where he is involved with a number of squash projects.

As he looks back on his incredible playing career, it is his longevity at the top which gives him the most satisfaction.

"I was top 10 in the world unbroken for 150 months, 12-and-a-half years. Most of it was in the top four. When I retired I was still in the top 10. That to me is something that shows a lot of what I am about, who I am and my qualities. It's really hard to do, and that to me is my crowning achievement."

Peter Nicol
Peter Nicol won gold for Scotland at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur.

Top Stories

Around Scottish sport

Explore the BBC