By Hayley Milne (for the Herald Online)
Posted on 2nd October 2023
However far their careers in elite sport may take them, home will always hold a special appeal for Matthew and Christopher Grimley.
You could almost throw a blanket over their particular corner of Glasgow and cover most of the significant landmarks in the lives of twin brothers who now travel the world as professional badminton players.
Within a radius of about three miles, you’ve got the family home where both still reside, in between travelling to Asia or Europe for major tournaments, the Sir Craig Reedie Badminton Scotland Centre where they still put in the hard sessions needed to compete against the world’s best … and one other place that will always prompt favourite memories for 23-year-old twins.
There shouldn’t be any easy way to drop a famous name like Harmony Row – footballing alma mater of none other than Sir Alex Ferguson – into conversation.
Yet, with the sort of deft touch you’d expect from someone capable of landing a shuttlecock on a sixpence, Matthew manages to mention both the renowned youth club and the greatest Scottish manager of all time without sounding boastful.
“Football was our first sport,” he said, adding: “We actually started at Harmony Row, just around the corner.
“We’ve got a photo of us with Alex Ferguson opening the pitches. We were there the day he came up. When was that, 2007, 2008?
“I remember it. We were quite young but we were there, we were part of it. We both really enjoyed our football.
“We used to go to football training on a Saturday morning, then get changed in the car heading over to Scotstoun for badminton.
“But had to stop playing when we joined the Glasgow School of Sport, at Bellahouston Academy. To be honest, we just enjoyed running around.”
Sitting side by side in an office at the Badminton Scotland talent factory where so much of the unseen work gets done, the Grimley boys provide the sort of overlapping answers, finishing each other’s sentences and interjecting the odd objection, that can make transcribing an interview feel like trying to crack the Enigma code.
If they occasionally disagree on a shared memory or opinion, it’s never on the major stuff. They couldn’t possibly do what they do, as a specialist doubles partnership, living under the same roof, travelling on the same flights and even playing for the same German club in league competitions, if they were badminton’s slightly less rock ‘n’ roll answer to the Gallagher brothers.
In truth, they’ve always been united by their love of a sport that hooked them at aged six.
Sure, competing against each other as kids might have made for some tearful tantrums and the odd awkward ten minutes on the doubles court. But they’ve found a way to make this work.
Top seeds in the men’s doubles competition at the Scottish Open beginning on October 5, the brothers took to badminton quickly. Like, ridiculously quickly.
“We were so competitive,” said Chris, by way of explanation. “We had our big brother and an older sister, quite a big family to play against. And we did well from quite a young age.
“I remember our first international tournament was in Belgium. We were competing in the under-11s age group, so we could only be nine or ten.
“I remember mum and dad warning us not to expect to win many games against an international field. But we went there and won it. Won the whole tournament.
“The competitiveness really appealed to me. Because we were doing well, that winning feel was nice, so that kept us involved.”
Not that their formative years weren’t without setbacks or complications, of course. Especially before they specialised in doubles.
“I don’t know what our head-to-record is, honestly,” said Chris, turning to his brother as he added: “I think, at under-11, you were doing better.
“Then at under-13 I started doing a little bit better, at under-15 you overtook me, I got it back at under-17 … and then by about under-19 we were quite even. And we stopped playing singles to focus on doubles about then.
“As juniors, we would quite often meet in semis or finals, so we had to deal with it.
“Usually the singles competition was first, so quite a lot of time we would play each other in a final. One would win and the other would lose, obviously.
“But we’d have to play together in doubles, like, half an hour later. We had to kind of make up, say well done and get on with it.”
At this point Matthew felt compelled to interject, pointing out: “When we were really young, there used to be tears all the time!
“I think mum and dad knew to just let us be for 10 minutes when that happened.”
Ranked 50th in the world, the Grimley boys can’t wait to line up in front of family and friends – yes, they’ve been pestered for tickets aplenty – at The Emirates Arena.
Chris said: “We’re going to the Scottish Open to win. But it will be hard, because we’ve got a tough draw.
“Our mum and dad don’t get the chance to watch us in person very often. They used to when we played a lot of Scottish tournaments but now we’re off all over the place.
“They do find a way to tune in and always watch us live on YouTube or whatever. It’ll be nice to actually see them in the crowd.
“When we go out to Asia, you can be there for three weeks but, because the tournaments are incredibly strong, you could get knocked out in the first round, have to wait a week, maybe lose in the first or second round again …
“So you could go a three-week trip with three matches, with a lot of training in between. It’s just part of the lifestyle. So it’ll be nice to compete at home.”
After the Scottish, the guys are off to tournaments in Finland, Abu Dhabi, Germany and then France.
By which time, the German league season will be well underway, Matthew explaining: “We both play for the same team in Germany, a team called Wipperfeld, through to April.
“So we’re quite busy during that period, going over to Germany to play matches. It’s a nice place, actually. A quiet place about an hour from Dusseldorf.
“The club season is quite busy, maybe 12 matches a year, which is good. We’ve got a lot of international players in the team and quite enjoy it.
“A lot of players treat it like: ‘Oh, I’ve got to go and play this club match …’ But we genuinely enjoy playing.
“The crowds and the interest can be quite big, if you get into what they call the Final Four.”
Both boys joke about occasionally being home just long enough to drop off one bag – full of dirty washing, thanks mum – and pick up another on their way to the next tournament.
They’ve been more settled of late, just coming to the end of a long training block at a far-from glamorous venue tucked away in a redbrick industrial building, next to a maintenance firm’s yard – complete with razor wire – and a plastics company that may or may not be in business, judging by the shutters.
It’s not the most scenic setting in sport. But it’s home. And that’s what really matters.
The Scottish Open Badminton Championships is at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena from 5 – 8 October 2023.