So, the sporting delight and typically British institution that is Wimbledon is here to grace the public’s attention and domain for the next fortnight.
Despite being an avid follower of virtually most sports – some more than others, I make no apologies for the fact that I just cannot get excited about Wimbledon, and tennis itself for that matter.
Not any more anyway.
Strange perhaps as I did actually enjoy tennis growing up as a teenager. Not only were their great household names of McEnroe, Borg, then Becker and Lendl, but back then as kids a group of us would play pretty much two to three times every week for 2-3 hours (sometime more) from spring to autumn. That and cricket. Evenings, weekends, we’d thrash out five sets until dark.
The fact we were not technically supposed to play where we did (on the hard courts – not the sacred turf of grass I should add, of so-called ‘private sports grounds’ or on those in schools) was a different matter.
The fact is we enjoyed playing, but where could we play?
Which in some ways is what tennis was and is still all about.
It is still every bit an elitist sport.
Unless you are one of the privileged few that know the right people and can afford everything from the membership fees, court fees, racquets, equipment, you may as well forget it.
Let alone exorbitant costs for coach fees and lessons that may come into the equation should an ounce of talent be recognised.
Over the last two decades and invariably trying to ride on the wave of ‘great’ (?) British players such as Henman and more recently Murray, The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) have invariably tried to stimulate growth in tennis, from grassroots up to the [aptly-named] Elite level.
However when you consider the millions that have been thrown at them over the years against the level of return (excuse the pun) in the number of people playing regularly and also the ‘success’ of the country’s top players, it is no wonder that questions are again being asked and Sport England has once again threatened to withdraw funding to the LTA unless there is a marked improvement in player numbers.
So where would and should it start?
You would have thought with the stupid money thrown at it, it would be The LTA, an organisation which has a turnover of £60m, a £40m National Tennis Centre and an outgoing chief executive earning £640,000!!
Their statistics suggest that there are 4,118 places to play tennis in England, Scotland and Wales, including 97 performance centres, 21,186 courts (1,645 of which are indoor) and 3,904 registered or licensed coaches.
Tennis for free, which campaigns for better access to tennis facilities, says there are 2,594 free public courts and 16 free park coaching programmes in the United Kingdom.
All very well, but you would think that schools would be one of the first port of calls for developing growth and interest. Not so apparently according to many, including those I know actually working in the teaching profession.
Yet over the years, millions have been spent on players at the top and it has not worked. Surely as with anything you need foundations, a base to develop things up from.
How many boys and girls out there would love to have the opportunity to put racquet to ball, but simply don’t have the opportunity to do so….unless you have the funds and backing available to do it.
One great comment I saw recently summed it up. One British player told BBC Sport “A lot of the young British players get funding without doing an awful lot or, if they don’t, their parents help out.
So while ‘Murray Mania’ (madness would be a better term) again hits everything from our TV screens and newspapers in the next week or fortnight (depending on success on the court), and the masses congregate on the oh-so-gloriously-pretentious Henman Hill in the vain hope and wild expectancy of British success (past week 1), it is the bigger picture of what goes on (or does not go on) away from the Strawberries and Pimms and outside of the courts of SW19 that is the real ‘spectacle’ where British tennis is concerned.