Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Summer of Sport (Part 2)

So I did develop a flicker of interest in the footie when I was awarded Ivory Coast in our local veg box scheme's World Cup competition. Whenever your awarded country exits the tournament you get a prize, and the longer the team lasts, the higher the prize. Would Ivory Coast do well enough to win me a bottle of wine or a quiche? Or even go all the way and bag me a large barbecue meat box? Even if we don't own a barbecue? But no, a last-minute Greek penalty and they were sent home in the first round, just like England. But I get a Montezuma chocolate bar for their pains, so that'll do nicely, thank you, Riverford.

I've not been to Ivory Coast, needless to add.

The next event on the summer of sport's calendar is Wimbledon, now in its second week. Quite extraordinary to see a British male reigning champion kicking (or rather hitting) everything off on Centre Court on the opening day. Andy Murray described the experience with typical aplomb - (shrugging gruffly) -"Yeah, uh, it was nice."

Annoyingly John Inverdale is still allowed to present the highlights programme on BBC2 in the evenings, despite his comments about Marion Bartoli after she won the women's final last year. Thankfully John McEnroe usually shows up to say something worth listening to, before they slip back to showing us footage of silly moments to silly songs and talking about socks. But with a rare flurry of nights out recently, I haven't been able to indulge even in this inanity too often. However, the tennis is on screen as I write this, as Andy Murray is playing Dimitrov. An interesting encounter for a certain two tennis-loving Bulgarians I used to work with, I am sure. Things are not looking too good for Murray at the moment.

I have at least been to see the tennis live at Wimbledon. Not for a long time now, but it was firmly in my London calendar when I lived there. For the 18 months I lived in Earlsfield I was in walking distance of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club. Naturally, that is an irrelevance for 50 weeks of the year. Nonetheless when the tennis was on, it was great to be able to stroll across fields to Southfields tube rather than battle my way there on the District Line. And I could stop off for the finest, most delicate and beautiful curry of my life at the incredible Sarkhels (now, alas no more) on Replingham Road on the way home.

Most years I just turned up and queued, smuggling in my own strawberries and cans of Pimms to save money, but one year I was lucky enough to get tickets in the ballot for Centre Court on ladies quarter-final day. Unfortunately the weather wasn't particularly kind that year and - as it was before the roof was built - there were a lot of rain delays. However, as the ladies in the quarter final consisted mostly of the Williams sisters in their element, the matches were rattled through very quickly when they did get to play. And our seats were far enough up in the stadium that we had shelter through the downpours. Because hanging around on the outside courts does get a little tedious when rain stops play. It's extraordinary how long it takes to get things started up again even after just the briefest of showers.

It's all been rebuilt since, but a good place to go with a general grounds ticket used to be the standing area at the top of No 2 court. From there you were so high up that you could see not just the number 2 court but also several other outside court matches, as well as the scoreboards on Centre and No 1 Courts. (In the days before the giant screens on Henman Hill/Murray Mount, this was as close as you got to seeing anything of the biggest matches of the tournament.) You could also - if you kept turning round to look behind you - see various tennis stars go in and out of the competitors' area. Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg the first year I went.

One year I got stuck up there watching what I thought was the most boring match I had ever seen. Jonas Bjorkman slugging it out against some boring Swiss bloke in a headband. It was a never-ending five-set struggle that had not one but two rain delays. The tennis was totally uninspiring. I was on my feet for hours with little reward. We were all waiting for Serena to come on next. The boring Swiss bloke won in the end. No one had ever heard of him, but in his next match he went on to beat defending champion Pete Sampras. And then everyone suddenly sat up and took notice. His name, of course, was Roger Federer.

Some boring Swiss bloke in a headband
When I was a child, we used to play tennis with genuine Wimbledon tennis balls. As a student, my mother had worked there every summer in her vacation. Not as a ball girl (how I used to dream about being a Wimbledon ball girl, crouching down by the net and running to and fro!), but selling strawberries (so she claimed) to Harry Carpenter. The balls (still white in those days) were sold off cheap after matches (they had only been used for nine games after all) and were still going strong, if a little grey round the edges, in our back garden 15 years later.


  1. I love the fact that, as I sit here at my computer in France, I was alerted to the Wimbledon tennis match that I should have been watching by reading the blog post that you just wrote in Yorkshire! Murray is now on the other screen. The score is Dimitrov 2-0 Murray... Come on, Andy! And thank you, Rebecca!

    1. You are welcome, Michelle! The Internet is a wondrous thing. And Dimitrov is a wondrous player.