By Bob James
It is arguably the premier rackets club in the North West of England, one famed from attracting some of the greatest names of tennis like the legendary Jimmy Connors to its superb grass courts, but now The Northern Lawn Tennis Club is about to boost its appeal even further with the introduction of two Padel Tech installed padel courts.
Established in 1881, within the Old Trafford locale on grounds leased from the De Trafford Estate, the initial membership was limited to 250 people who had to pay a princely sum of a one guinea entrance fee plus a further guinea for subscription.
In 1909 the club then moved to its current location in Didsbury and over the years ‘The Northern’ has hosted many international tournaments including the Manchester Open, which started way back in 1880 as the Northern Lawn Tennis Championships.
Now boasting a 2,000 strong membership, Padel Tech are delighted to announce that The Northern is on schedule to open two of our superb AFP Court's Redsport Pro Model posted canopied courts at the end of next week.
All of which means that it is a good time to catch up with John Egan, Operations Director for the Executive Committee of the NLTC, so that we can share the club's journey through time from Victoriana to New Millennium thanks to a bit of help from Padel Tech.
So let’s start at the beginning and allow John to reveal the origins of padel’s introduction to The Northern as he explained: “The idea of having padel courts at ‘The Northern’ came from discussion with members who had played padel overseas previously, so something we had talked about in that respect and then we further developed this with the LTA, initially around three years ago.
“We have taken a while to get there through funding challenges and then also planning considerations with the club being located within a conservation area which also proved a challenge.
“But padel is the dream crossover between tennis and squash and we have probably had as much if not more interest (in padel) from the squash players than the tennis devotees.
“Yet there is a notable level of interest from all our existing members and we have also had a number of non-members contacting us to enquire when the courts are opening.
“So the interest level is strong and anticipation high both within and outside the club for our new padel courts.”
When it comes to the question: ‘Why Padel Tech?’ we are delighted to share that our reputation came before us thanks to some fairly famous existing clients in the Greater Manchester area as John shared: “It has been a while since we originally made contact with Paul (Ross, Padel Tech MD) and he had just completed a court over at Manchester City (FC).
“From there our links with their Capital Projects Team, who spoke very highly about Padel Tech, came into play and we subsequently made contact around our interest to bring padel tennis to the Northern.
“So that was probably after the initial introduction and it was obviously a positive.”
John was also keen to highlight one important positive which will be realised by the introduction of The Northern’s new padel court installation and it is one which we have noticed is a recurring theme at establishments who boast several racket disciplines.
He explained: “Historically tennis and squash have always had a healthy rivalry and they were more separate than they should have been given we are all from the same club, although I think that is just the way it is when you have people who love their own sport!
“Although in the summer months the grass tennis courts were well used by most members padel will really be the next step to move the club forward and it is a sport which we expect will actually put us all on court together.”
Yet, as with all projects, there have been challenges which have been unique to the Northern installation as John revealed: “Yes, there have been challenges and possibly being adjacent to existing properties and the impact of acoustics in terms of the layout of the second court was one of these.
“But we have actually replaced two of the grass courts with three new artificial clay tennis courts and two covered padel courts so we have made best use of the space.
“This was one of the main considerations and why we decided to go end on end with the padel courts as it meant we may have had minus two grass courts but then plus five padel and tennis courts if you will.”
When it comes to providing some helpful advice to those who are also contemplating adding padel courts to their membership services, John shared some sage wisdom: “The challenge around the canopy was related to the courts being within a conservation area and we tried to make sure the massing and shading of the canopy itself was in keeping with the surrounding structures and that was really important for the club.
“Also you have to do your testing with regard to the acoustics and it’s vital to make sure you engage with the neighbours as well and remember that padel courts are still relatively an unknown to the general public.
“In fact when we were going through the planning process it was clear that the councillors who sat on the planning committee were not au fait with padel so it was a bit of an unknown for them which is now hopefully not the case. Taking them on a journey with us was really important in that respect.
“Also in support of one of the Lawn Tennis Association’s key drivers we are making the courts available to the community as well as our members. This is an important part of opening up tennis and padel.
“Really if people come through your door whether a member or not this can only be a positive in helping our ability to survive and prosper.”
When it came to working with Padel Tech, with the finishing line now in sight, John was happy to admit it has been a case of satisfaction guaranteed and he shared: “Padel Tech has supported us really well throughout the long pre-construction period which was very welcome and was a key part of making this plan a reality.
“Following the competitive tender process Padel Tech were successful in winning that tender and have delivered so far and we are now on course for a successful completion.
“Padel Tech communicated well throughout and provided professional pre-construction support which you very much need when you are faced with the challenges around planning on a sensitive site.
“The courts are not complete in their entirety but to date we are satisfied with the on-site delivery.”