Any longer and I may have had to have been cranked from the couch – Wimbledon, that is! Actually, as I write/type the name, I almost feel as though it has been consigned to the annals of time by the majority, much as the concept of a book. What a thought! Of course, those who love tennis and embrace the history and tradition of The Championships will never falter – nor their children or their children’s children – but, in the great scheme of things, we are swimming against an ever-stronger tide. So it was that, awakening this morning and turning on the radio, Djokovic’s triumph was nothing more than an afterthought tacked on at the end of the news. Who cared? England had been beaten by Italy and the country was in mourning … seriously? One would think we had lost a war or Greggs had gone bust! No, the juxtaposition of those two is desperately irreverent and, for that, I apologise. On the other hand, I think the comparison of the two makes a depressing, though very relevant, statement. War? Not going to affect us, directly. Greggs closing? What are we supposed to eat, KFC?!
Scathing. Increasingly scathing but no blooming wonder! The demise of the book – nay, the written word – and the total disregard for Wimbledon? Bear with, there is a connection. We live in a pyramid society and as that pyramid gets fatter and fatter and the point becomes more pronounced, it seems that education and the desire to be the best one can be are no longer of consequence. Support in numbers is what counts and the demand to bring everything down to the lowest denominator. Well, for the lazy, it’s just easier. Manners? History! Learning, knowledge, literacy? No comment. Sportsmanship, then? What’s that?!
The glory of the Wimbledon Men’s Final occupied most of my Sunday. One of the best, Berrettini proved anything but a walkover for Djokovic and I was, literally, on the edge of my seat. A butler would have proved useful, actually, as I did have to get up and down several times to replenish our glasses and produce some sustenance … The tennis was magnificent, no doubting the physical and psychological demands, but Djokovic won out in four sets and I was thrilled for him. Coming from nothing, growing up in war-torn Serbia, he has strived for everything he has achieved, making many sacrifices along the way. Hard work and dedication have ensured he is World No. 1, the ultimate athlete and one of the best tennis players of all time. However, he has never forgotten his roots nor the country of his birth, working tirelessly for charity behind the scenes. Clearly intelligent, he is fluent in multiple languages but he also happens to be polite, respectful, well-mannered … and sporting! Not only did he pay tribute to Denis Shapovalov in his post-match interview but he made a point of going over to the emotional, young Canadian in the locker room afterwards to offer words of encouragement and support. As Denis said, ‘He doesn’t have to do it; it’s very nice of him to do it. He isn’t praised enough.’
Emotionally drained, would I watch the football? The hysteria of anticipation was fever pitch. Let’s face it, the prospect of England winning the Euros had been the only news item to challenge COVID for a month. Yes, I’d, at least, have it on in the background. Little did I know, however, that I would, also, have to exercise the mute button! I’ll admit it, my allegiance lay with Italy. Not only do I love Rome but Becca’s heart will always be in the Eternal City and, together with Austria, it is our adopted country of choice. Roman Holiday, Jack Savoretti, who doesn’t love everything Italy … other than the English on Sunday night?! So it was that, predictably – as the Scottish team had done, also – the fans booed the opposing team as they emerged. from the tunnel. They booed their national anthem, every time Italy had possession of the ball and, then, as their players took the deciding penalties. Once again, proud to be British! I couldn’t bear to listen as neither Gary Lineker nor any of his sidekicks made a comment, as though acceptable behaviour. Perhaps it is nowadays. Not for us. As Manny, Becca and I messaged, furiously, back and forth, I pressed the mute button on the remote and watched in silence.
Sadly, once again, I wasn’t surprised. One thing I couldn’t understand, though, was why England was playing, yet again, on their home ground of Wembley? I’m not sure how many matches they played there but, certainly, that against Denmark in the semi-finals. Why, then, in the final? A definite unfair advantage, surely the final should have been played on neutral ground? As it was, the English support was in full voice, sheer numbers largely drowning out the Italians, the booing echoing around the stadium.
I should make it clear that this is a criticism of the English fans not the team. A young team, they were most certainly deserving of respect, as was/is Gareth Southgate, their manager. He is definitely a huge step up from those of the past; an all-round good guy who, obviously, read the memo stipulating one must chew gum, at all times, on the side-lines, preferably with one’s mouth open! Moving slightly off-piste, chewing gum is definitely one of the first things I would assign to Room 101 …
Naturally, I was gripped as the match progressed. I never tire of the laughter gleaned from watching these grown men feigning agony as they lie, prostrate, on the ground after being tackled. Of course, it is all tactics, in the bid for a penalty or a free kick but seriously? Try giving birth! Meantime, on come the physios with the miracle spray which cures all pain as kiss from mummy used to do … Things have moved on. Growing up, I used to love playing football with my brother and his friends – and I was good at it, too – but they consigned me to the side, complete with sponge and water (no fancy spray), and my ‘job’ was to run on and ‘treat’ the injured! How sad was I?
Suddenly, it was over. I was pleased for Italy but the mood changed, immediately, as the clouds engulfed Wembley. The jubilant Italian fans revelled in their team’s glory as the stadium cleared of English fans, unwilling to watch the presentation. Thankfully, the Italians were oblivious as the English team wandered, dazed and in tears, receiving hugs of comfort from their manager – who, let it be said, immediately on the whistle, went straight over to the Italian manager to congratulate him. Respect. Both teams were deserving of that, having given it their all, and, inevitably, whoever lost was going to be devastated but, once again, sportsmanship was in question: as the English players walked down the presentation line to receive their silver medals, one by one – very pointedly – almost all of them removed the ribbon from round their necks. A statement? Yes, one that reduced these lauded, skilled players – grown men – to little boys on the school sports field, once more, unable to handle not coming first; upset at losing the race.
There are many life lessons to be learned in sport. To win is joyous and a worthy achievement but it is not everything. Life is not like that. The real winners are those who are magnanimous in defeat. I am so grateful to have had parents who taught me that sport is fun; who encouraged me to do my best but, ultimately, were most proud when I was brave and held my head high in the wake of disappointment. Therein lies the greatest strength.
‘If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss.’
An excerpt from If by Rudyard Kipling.
What a wonderful poem! What sage words. Familiar to Wimbledon – and to all tennis players, I surmise – perhaps it should be read in every changing room before every match …
This is Trish, signing off.