The British monarchy recently issued “Sir” Andy a knighthood, the highest honour of the imperialist state, and gurning wheat-trampling hypocrites like Theresa May continue to sing his sporting virtue while ensuring a new generation of potential Murrays are cut down before they even step foot on a court. The Norwich Radical Film Festival is an organisation genuinely dedicated to seeing new talent get their message out there, and excel in their chosen fields, against all the odds. We will continue to fight to see that ordinary people can live out their dreams, and make the world a more vibrant, enjoyable and inspiring place in the process. That’s why I’m republishing this article after Andy Murray’s latest victory in the third round of Wimbledon today.
With Wimbledon’s 90th anniversary tournament in full swing, it’s important to consider how the status quo continuously fails to value the development of cultural talent, while cynically attempting to reap the benefits once someone comes good against all the odds. This article was initially published on Kett’s Head in 2013, and while Andy Murray has since gone on to win a second Olympic Gold, a second Wimbledon title, a Davis Cup and the rank of World Number One, the message remains eternally relevant.
As Wimbledon crown Scottish number one Andy Murray the new men’s singles Champion, it is all to easy to fall into the trap of thoughtless celebration. However, whilst the seemingly impossible dream may have come true for a survivor of the Dunblane massacre, millions of ordinary people have been denied the opportunity to so much as try their luck in a sport that remains the property of a wealthy minority.
I can no longer live a lie. I hope you’re sitting down as you read this. I hope you have a cup of coffee which, should you need to, you can quickly Irish up to help steady yourself. I hope you’re prepared to be rocked to your very core – for I have a rather shocking admission to make.
I actually quite like tennis. There I said it. That game where you ping a ball back and forth with large stringy flippers is actually something I have enjoyed throughout my life – and I’m not ashamed. Ever since I was little, spending the summer pretending along with my brother that we were the next Agassi and Samprass in the back garden, I’ve had a soft spot for the sport.
And so today, it might also surprise you to hear – I was supporting Andy Murray in the Wimbledon final. Not because I wanted to be associated with the chinless horde of gawkers packing the stands madly waving about their Butchers Aprons – but because I actually quite like the guy. In comparison to the insufferable Nice-but-dim Henman (who is probably the least tigerish thing since hedgehog bread) and the latest cut-from-the-same-tweed ‘hopeful’ Laura Robson, he’s actually about as close as tennis players get to having a personality.
Despite clearly being as insanely privileged as you need to be to participate in an elite minority sport, he is undoubtedly a member of the same species – quite unlike his English equivalents. He grimaces and gripes on court, and the British public remain divided on whether they love or loathe him – particularly after he told a journalist at the beginning of his career he would be supporting “anyone but England” at the football world cup. He remains contentious – and I like that in a world of professional athletes traditionally dominated by the inoffensive and the terminally dull.
However, as much as I may have enjoyed his personal triumph today, the fact of the matter is, his success disguises a host of institutional failures – and the continued decline of public sport in the UK. Meanwhile at the Legion of Doom, I guarantee you an assortment of shady ministers and government czars are conspiring to cash in on Murray’s achievements, despite having taken actions that have made it nigh on impossible for kids from poorer backgrounds to emulate him.
Last week, I was surprised to learn the esteemed tennis coach Nick Bollettieri had answered a question I had tweeted on BBC 5 Live – one calender year before, but better late than never. I had asked if there was Is there some way of making an expensive sport like tennis more accessible to ordinary people and suggested that such a solution might halt the steady decline of British hopefuls in the sport. The response, unfortunately, sums up the biggest problem ordinary people face in the sporting world.
@JackBrindelli:We must depend on sponsors & federations to pick up the cost to enable people to play the game.
— BBC Radio 5 live (@bbc5live) June 28, 2013
If it’s private sponsors helping us out in a “big society” sense I won’t be holding out much hope. Because that’s nothing new – it’s why sports like tennis have remained the preserve on an elite minority for generation after generation, with the majority of those with a love for the sport consigned to the trash heap for lack of a kindly corporate kick-down. It is a deeply saddening state of affairs – one I was quickly reminded by after a stream of follow-up tweets informed me of public court closures up and down the country.
— julia (@taxghirl) June 28, 2013
— SafcPorto (@SafcPorto) June 28, 2013
— Cheryl Mathieson (@chezmathieson) June 28, 2013
It genuinely angers me that right now, people who advocate of the ideology that has cut UK sport “to the bone” like David Cameron and the Tories are licking their lips at the prospect of flag-waving hysteria disguising the complete marginalisation of poor and working class kids from sport, and the wholesale privatisation of those people’s hopes and dreams.
It all reminds me of something I heard back in August 2010 – before austerity had even had a chance to make things even worse! At the great Scottish trade unionist Jimmy Reid’s funeral, comedian Billy Connolly recounted something Reid once said to him. As it turns out, it was not only a cutting comment on the failure of Labour and the Tories to help ordinary people chase their own aspirations – but a haunting prophecy on Britain’s future under the coalition.
“You look at these housing estates and these high-rise flats, look at all these windows. Behind every one of these windows there’s somebody who might be a horse-jumping champion, or a formula one racing champion, a yachtsman of great degree. But they’ll never know, because they’ll never step foot on a yacht or a formula one car – they’ll never get the chance!”
How many thousands of Andy Murrays may never set foot on a tennis court for lack of wealth or facilities? How many millions of youngsters have been denied the opportunity to discover their talents by consecutive UK governments? How many more have been doomed to live without hope or happiness after the latest round of savagery from the “natural party of government”? I’m afraid we’re well beyond a three sets to love scoreline – the only accurate answer you can give to these questions is countless.
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