Monday, 24 September 2012

Anyone For Tennis? My Failed Sporting Career

The clever thing about Wimbledon, a friend reminded me, is the fact that it has changed dramatically, yet kept the same atmosphere without anyone noticing. Different from other large sporting events, barring the rowing at Henley and a few others, which have succumbed to the X Factor school of presentation and encourage drinking, flashing cash and other ways in which to show off.

Wimbledon has quietly changed its always good facilities into outstanding ones with state-of-the-art grandstands with sliding roofs etc. This has made sure it has maintained its rightful place as the best tennis tournament in the world by a mile.

Look at the above list. It was always organised in a slick military way. It would be interesting to see how many people are employed today. Probably not many by the Club itself, but there may well be more agency and sub-contracted staff.

I love tennis. I have always had a great admiration for Andy Murray, partly for his superb athleticism but mainly because I have always viewed him as the original 'Grumpy Scot' with a very good, hidden dry, sense of humour. On the basis that it takes one to know one, Andy will improve with age and may well become an excellent and funny commentator in years to come. Just look at John McEnroe. Who would have thought he would be such a great comentator when he was stomping around the court, smashing racquets as he tried vainly to beat Bjorn Borg.

As for the Accidental Bus Driver's career on the tennis court? The best way to describe it is in similar terms to his driving. Patchy. Good in parts. Promises much yet fails to deliver. In fact my complete sporting career I can be summed up in the following events and here is some good advice associated with my failures:-.

1. Never play football with a relative and a dog. I did. Whilst playing football with my brother, my mother's wild Dalmatian called Sheila (she was called Sheba when she came from the dog pound but my mother vhanged her name), who loved the sport, came hurtling down the hill, missed the ball and connected with my ankle sending me tumbling. I ripped all the ligaments. My ankle was never the same again. My unpromising career at the time became even more hopeless.

2. Never play snooker with jockeys. I did - in Hong Kong once. Never again. They looked so innocent before they say 'let's have a little bet' before playing like Hurricane Higgins and relieving you of a great deal of money. I was taken to the cleaners in Hong Kong. One of the jockeys, Brian Taylor, who had won the 1974 Derby on Snow Knight and four years later tragically died after the horse he was riding, Silver Star, stumbled and threw him out the saddle at the finishing line, smoked a pipe as he cleared the table in one sitting.

3. For a safe life avoid jockeys altogether. They love the high life. They used to head for the most dubious of clubs. Once I took an American jockey around London. As I drove, he sat on the front seat, on his girlfriend's lap in the front seat and everytime I pointed out a famous landmark, he would enthusiastically shout 'Wow!'.

4. Never agree to take part in a charity running race at a greyhound track. I did. At Hall Green in Birmingham. I had no choice. My boss entered me in, with some other representatives from rival bookmakers, a Warwickshire county cricketer, a small time actor, whose name I cannot remember and Sonia Lannaman who had just won a Bronze Medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics in the 4 x 100 m Relay. It was meant to be a bit of fun.

It wasn't.

It was an arduous trip from London to Hall Green in those days. No M25 and the M40 only went as far as the outskirts of Oxford. I wasn't meant to be there. I had entered a girl from our firm, who when she was not working for us was a near top class athlete. The race was at 9pm. She rang at 5pm saying she had a bad cold.

'You'll have to do it,' said my boss. 'There's no other option. Go now.'

I jumped in the car and arrived just as the others were limbering up. The cricketer took me to the bar and made me sink a couple of pints, which I later realised was a deliberate attempt to nobble me as he thought it would be like giving a horse a bucket of water before a race. He needn't have bothered as I was a smoker then. A heavy smoker. Between 40 and 60 a day.

The other bookmakers representatives were already on the track. They were dressed in the latest athletics garb, looking every inch the professional, feigning the fact that they were unfit and hiding the truth actual that they had been in serious training for the last six weeks. As I had left London in a hurry I had no clothes, so I had to take off my jacket and tie, and ask for a pair of scissors to make my white jeans into shorts just above the knee. In the hurry the symmetry was all wrong and one side was above, while the other covered the knee.

We were paraded in front of the stands. As the spectators were behind glass, there were few detrimental comments, though I did hear a gateman say:

'Look it's Del Boy's twin brother,' as I walked past.

We walked as the bugle tune 'First Call' was played over the loudspeakers, as it usually was when the six greyhounds were paraded before any race. We were taken round the bend, lined up in starting blocks and started by a starting pistol. The bookmakers representatives shot off into the distance, closely followed by the cricketer. I lolloped a long way behind and Sonia Lannaman gently trotted a metre or so behind the puffing billy. We jumped a hurdle and with all my effort, I thought that the indignity of finishing 5th out of 6 would soom be superceded with the pride of beating a Commonwealth Champion. This was not to be as with ten yards to go, Sonia Lannaman swept past with grace and ease as if she was walking up her garden path.

Afterwards I stood at the bar, trying to ease the pain. I did. But not the humiliation as, having no other clothes, I stood there in my frayed, uneven shorts.

5. Never take on past champions who are now pensioners. I did. On several occasions and to my cost.  Henry Cotton was as good at golf in his later years. Runners can still run fast. Footballers can still score.

So, if you are tempted by an elder who was a good athlete in their time, who suggests having a little wager for interest's sake - take care, be wary.

You have been warned.  

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