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THE SUGARMAN SAYS

 There are 3 levels of social class in tennis: Upper middle class, middle class and lower middle class

As SW19 becomes the focus of British psyche once more, The Sugarman returns from an 18 month exile with a question to put to the Bookiebusters faithful. Why has Britain failed to produce a men’s singles champion for nearly 70 years?

Not since Fred Perry triumphed in 1936 has the famous silver gilt cup been held aloft by a British male on centre court.

The answer is startlingly simple. 

Tennis in England was, is, and forever will be firmly in the grip of the middle classes. Like the top public schools, the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Royal Ascot and the Henley Regatta, Wimbledon is a closed shop.

An ‘old boy network’ in the form of the ‘all England club’ has held tennis in a vice like grip for 130 years, and with it they have denied Britain a champion.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that provision to actually play tennis in England is socially divisive. Good clubs with decent coaches are expensive and beyond the means of most. Municipal courts are run down and badly funded. State schools have sold off tennis courts and playing fields for housing development to fund the shortfall in government funding.

In short, the only people rich enough to play tennis in Britain are the middle classes.

Thus we move onto the poster boy of middle class tennis in Britain, a man who is a personification of everything wrong with the sport, one Timothy Henry Henman.

Born is the ghetto of Oxfordshire in 1974 ‘Henners’ (as he likes to be called) toughed it out learning his craft on the ‘family court’ in his back garden (didn’t we all Timothy). Lacking in roll models the young Tim had to rely on the exploits of his grandfather Henry Billington, who played at Wimbledon 3 times, to inspire him to greatness. 

Indeed, with his pet Labrador, golf handicap of 4, his ‘charitable foundation’, his love of excellent wine and his ‘strictly missionary’ wife, Henman is a living breathing pastiche of British middle England.

Yet for 14 years he has been the ‘great white hope’ of British tennis. Why? Correct me if I’m wrong but Henman is not a winner. When it mattered most, when it really mattered, ‘Tiger Timothy’ choked against an aging Croatian and blew his chance of glory.

Fast forward 6 years and Henman again made hard work of it against a man who hasn’t set foot on a grass court for 3 years.

Does anyone actually buy it when Henman ‘pumps his fist’ or mouths ‘come on’ in an attempt to gee himself up? I know I certainly don’t. Middle class mummy’s boys like Henman do not make sporting icons. The issue is simple. He wants to win Wimbledon, but he doesn’t need to win Wimbledon.

A life of privilege and sporting greatness are seldom intertwined. Henman’s social class has hindered his career. If he’d been born in the inner cities rather than rural Oxfordshire perhaps maybe, just maybe, he’d have had the passion, desire and hunger to grow into a proper champion.

I didn’t really care what happened in the 5th set against Carlos Moya. Even though Henman showed some grit against the clay court specialist, even the most causal observer has seen enough to know that Henman’s days at Wimbledon 2007 are numbered.

I for one am glad we’re reaching the end of the ‘Tiger Tim’ era. He’s a plastic ‘champion’ in a sport that will never get my vote until it breaks down the barriers of entry to average British kids from average British background.

The All England lawn Tennis club’….

‘All England?’ I don’t think so.

 
 

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