By Andy Crossan
September 2 2020, 11:49
“It was in January. I had scored 30 goals already. I was the most prolific striker in Europe!”
At 27-years-old, Rangers’ Marco Negri was on a scoring streak unlike any footballer in the men’s game in Europe during the 1997/98 season.
The ‘it’ he speaks of came on the squash court however, not the football pitch.
Like riding a bike without a helmet, but I didn’t know it
“I was at the top and we were top of the league,” he proclaims.
Now 49, he recounts his first ever squash match – with team-mate Sergio Porrini.
“No warnings were on the court. It was like riding a bike without a helmet, but I didn’t know it.
“I played a shot and turned my head towards Sergio. He played a shot… and the full power of the ball went straight into my right eye.”
Despite his traumatic experience, Mr Negri is in a jovial mood.
“We stopped at the first hospital we came to and the receptionist said, ‘this is the wrong place’ – it was a maternity hospital,” he joked.
“I can speak with a smile on my face now but at the time it was really hard.”
He suffered a detached retina and high pressure in the severely damaged eye.
He recalls: “I would wake up and see blood. I couldn’t run, walk or travel. I couldn’t do anything.”
Returning for Rangers’ final ten games, he scored just three times.
He reflects on the lasting effect of the injury and the remainder of that season and his career.
“You can imagine how many times the word ‘why’ ran through my head. Why me?” he says.
“I was back on the pitch, but I wasn’t normal. I had problems focussing because of the floodlights.
“I was out for three months – I lost the touch, the feeling. I lost everything. I couldn’t be like I was before.”
Miraculously he still scored nearly double his nearest rivals in the full season, including Celtic’s Henrik Larsson – even as Celtic won the Scottish Premier League title.
PROLIFIC: Marco Negri scores all five of Rangers’ goals in a victory over Dundee United before the eye injury
He adds: “Squash is like the movement in a penalty box. I used to play tennis, so I wanted to try it.”
He played that day to maintain his sharpness – on his only day off.
It’s like wearing a seat belt – 22 years later
“Squash is much more physically demanding than tennis – no-one is going to convince me otherwise. I love the grind. Squash is hard!”
This view from men’s squash former world number 9 Daryl Selby shows that Mr Negri’s devotion to fitness through squash was justified.
Something more tangible links the two sportsmen, however.
The 37-year-old explains: “I managed to turn my head just enough for half of the ball to hit my eye, and the other half my eye-socket.”
Playing competitively in Nottingham in February, Mr Selby suffered the same bad luck.
He reflects: “I’ve played squash for thousands and thousands of hours and only ever been hit once.
“If I can get hit in the eye though – and I’m a professional with good reactions – then any other player can.
“I felt for my opponent – Englishman Oliver Pett – because he absolutely didn’t mean it. I would’ve hit the exact same shot.”
Reacting quickly, he played a shot common in the professional game from behind his back.
Selby – a professional for 16 years – is known for his inventive style on court.
BETWEEN THE LEGS: Daryl Selby executes a ‘Tweener’ winner
His vision immediately blurred but made a quick recovery.
“I’ve worn eyewear ever since. Training, playing, everything,” he adds.
Donning eyewear the following month, he almost defeated current men’s world champion – Egypt’s Tarek Momen.
“The key is to get amateurs to wear eyewear. It’s like wearing a seat belt,” he says. “You must wear eyewear in a private club in America – do people moan? No.
“By the sixth or seventh time I just forgot I was wearing it!”
His advice? “Crack on with it.”
The best thing for injury prevention, is to prevent the injury
“The best thing for injury prevention, is to prevent the injury… I know that sounds stupid,” chuckles former women’s squash world number one, Laura Massaro – when quizzed on Facebook Live.
She goes on to explain how yoga prevents injuries, but in the context of eye injuries it appears no explanation is needed.
Squash England director of sport Mark Williams comments: “Protective eyewear is already mandatory for all England Squash junior sanctioned events.
“England Squash strongly recommends the use of protective eyewear whilst playing squash whether recreationally or competitively.”
Mr Negri’s final words agree.
He says: “Squash is not a dangerous game, but eye protection is the most important thing to wear.
“Take all the precautions.”
RISING STAR: Egypt’s 19-year-old Mostafa Asal appears in ‘Shot Of The Month’ donning eyewear