Sunday, 14 July 2013

Sporting bandwagons

I had a little argument with Chris Read on Facebook the other day about politicians latching on to sporting success. The occasion was, of course, the Downing Street photo-shoot featuring Andy Murray. I'd love to know what Murray, who has occasionally shown that he has a sardonic sense of humour, said in private about this circus.

Chris reckoned that this political bandwagoning was a recent phenomenon and I was possibly too quick in countering with Harold Wilson's readiness to milk show-business and sporting successes. (This all turned sour in 1970, of course.) On reflection, Wilson seems an exception. The other leaders of that era - Heath and Callaghan - eschewed such publicity. Indeed, in that silver jubilee year of 1977 when Virginia Wade won Wimbledon, Geoff Boycott completed a century of centuries and Liverpool won the European Cup, I can find no trace of Callaghan associating himself with any of them. Heath was PM when Ann Haydon-Jones won in 1971. In spite of the fact that she had married a businessman and might therefore have played into the Conservative image, Heath did not seize the photo-opportunity. Thatcher would no doubt have used such an exceptional event as a Wimbledon title if she had had the opportunity, but her memorable photo appearances relate to more business-like subjects (e.g. with the armed forces or cradling a calf on a farm).

Looking back further, Angela Mortimer beat Christine Truman* (now Janes) in 1961 towards the end of the Macmillan era. Macmillan did not hold garden-parties even for lions of literature (his main interest outside politics) let alone sportspeople.

There is another aspect to Labour leaders pre-Blair and their relationship with lawn tennis: that of class. Even Wilson would have found it difficult to associate himself with an event contested until 1968 by people of independent means. Both Callaghan and Wilson would surely have known of the way Fred Perry, the son of a Labour MP, remained unaccepted by the LTA establishment even after winning the men's title three times. Association football, the people's game, would have presented no such worries.

Finally, while we are remembering British Ladies tennis title-winners, I must add that Angela Mortimer, Shirley Bloomer (Brasher), Ann Haydon-Jones (twice), Christine Truman and Sue Barker have all been French champions since the war. No British man has been successful in Paris since Fred Perry in 1935.

* Truman would surely have won that year, as she had been widely expected to, if she had not been handicapped in the final by an injury incurred in an earlier round.

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