THE SUGARMAN SAYS
There are 3
levels of social class in tennis: Upper middle class, middle
class and lower middle class
As SW19 becomes the focus of British psyche once more, The
Sugarman returns from an 18 month exile with a question to put
to the Bookiebusters faithful. Why has Britain failed to
produce a men’s singles champion for nearly 70 years?
Not since Fred Perry triumphed in 1936 has the famous silver
gilt cup been held aloft by a British male on centre court.
The answer is startlingly simple.
Tennis in England was, is, and forever will be firmly in
the grip of the middle classes. Like the top public schools,
the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, Royal Ascot and the
Henley Regatta, Wimbledon is a closed shop.
An ‘old boy network’ in the form of the ‘all England
club’ has held tennis in a vice like grip for 130 years, and
with it they have denied Britain a champion.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that provision to
actually play tennis in England is socially divisive. Good
clubs with decent coaches are expensive and beyond the means
of most. Municipal courts are run down and badly funded. State
schools have sold off tennis courts and playing fields for
housing development to fund the shortfall in government
In short, the only people rich enough to play tennis in
Britain are the middle classes.
Thus we move onto the poster boy of middle class tennis in
Britain, a man who is a personification of everything wrong
with the sport, one Timothy Henry Henman.
Born is the ghetto of Oxfordshire in 1974 ‘Henners’ (as he
likes to be called) toughed it out learning his craft on the
‘family court’ in his back garden (didn’t we all
Timothy). Lacking in roll models the young Tim had to rely on
the exploits of his grandfather Henry Billington, who played
at Wimbledon 3 times, to inspire him to greatness.
Indeed, with his pet Labrador, golf handicap of 4, his
‘charitable foundation’, his love of excellent wine and
his ‘strictly missionary’ wife, Henman is a living
breathing pastiche of British middle England.
Yet for 14 years he has been the ‘great white hope’ of
British tennis. Why? Correct me if I’m wrong but Henman is
not a winner. When it mattered most, when it really mattered,
‘Tiger Timothy’ choked against an aging Croatian and blew
his chance of glory.
Fast forward 6 years and Henman again made hard work of it
against a man who hasn’t set foot on a grass court for 3
Does anyone actually buy it when Henman ‘pumps his fist’
or mouths ‘come on’ in an attempt to gee himself up? I
know I certainly don’t. Middle class mummy’s boys like
Henman do not make sporting icons. The issue is simple. He
wants to win Wimbledon, but he doesn’t need to win
A life of privilege and sporting greatness are seldom
intertwined. Henman’s social class has hindered his career.
If he’d been born in the inner cities rather than rural
Oxfordshire perhaps maybe, just maybe, he’d have had the
passion, desire and hunger to grow into a proper champion.
I didn’t really care what happened in the 5th set against
Carlos Moya. Even though Henman showed some grit against the
clay court specialist, even the most causal observer has seen
enough to know that Henman’s days at Wimbledon 2007 are
I for one am glad we’re reaching the end of the ‘Tiger
Tim’ era. He’s a plastic ‘champion’ in a sport that
will never get my vote until it breaks down the barriers of
entry to average British kids from average British background.
‘The All England lawn Tennis club’….
‘All England?’ I don’t think so.