It’s Wimbledon time again. I won’t be watching. I know what’s about to happen. Someone from Spain or Switzerland will win while some guy from Scotland will crumble under the pressure of all that weight of expectation from England’s Union Jack face-painted middle-class. It wasn’t always this way. I’m old enough to remember when Wimbledon was essential viewing.
There’s no escaping the past. Not if you’ve ever turned on the telly. Countless TV hours have been dedicated to toying at our nostalgia strings by dissecting the way we used to live all of about…well…about one month ago in some cases. The 80s comes in for particularly close attention, which means you’re never far from the obligatory clip of some slimy yuppie carrying a ridiculously large mobile phone, Del Boy falling through a bar and Michael Fish making a complete tit of himself. The decade has been tirelessly pored over and dissected, which usually involves a bunch of celebrities you’ve never heard of reading some ‘amusing’ anecdote from an autocue which clearly never happened to them, especially as you’ve deduced that half of them would have been about three years old at the time. One consequence of all this misty-eyed reminiscing is the blatant revisionism that implies everything was so much better back then. While you could present a strong case that music, film, football, fashion, politics, kids TV, Sundays and Robert de Niro were more interesting in the 80s, there’s really not many things you can hand-on-heart say were outright better in Lady Thatch’s decade.
Despite this though, I loved the 80s. I didn’t know that then, but looking back with those heavily rose-tinted glasses strapped to my eyes this was the decade in which I never had to do a single day’s work. And for that reason alone it will always hold fond memories. I entered 1980 as a four-year old in a hand-me-down parka and drainpipes and left it ten years older wearing 20” baggies and a Joe Bloggs hooded top – in the days when hoodies didn’t mean you were about to mug someone – still oblivious to all the stresses and delights of GCSE’s, alcohol/drug misuse and fear of remaining a virgin for life that were all just on the horizon. The 1980s meant no work, no worries. Happy days indeed.
And some of those happy days were spent dossing in front of the telly once school was over for two weeks in June/July watching some of the greatest tennis there’s ever been or ever likely to be – I’m only talking about the Men’s Singles here. With all respect to the Ladies competition it may well have just been called the Navratilova Shoe In – so when I see some bloke who finished fourth on Big Brother 6 telling me about Eddie the Eagle but no mention of Wimbledon it makes me want to do a Why Don’t You? and put a foot through the telly. And on the rare occasion Wimbledon does get a mention it will inevitably feature an excruciating clip of said ‘celebrity’ attempting to say, “You cannot be serious”. Or Cliff Richard. Which also makes me want to raise a boot.
So what was so great about the Wimbledon Men’s competition in the 1980s? Three reasons.
There were a lot more characters back then. Now I appreciate that calling someone a character in everyday life can be code for: bit of a twat, especially after 8 pints of piss. But in sport it usually translates as someone with charisma, balls, madness and an ability to do something truly magical when you least expect it. Just look at the names of some of the guys who graced the Top 10 rankings during the 80s; Guillermo Vilas, Bjorn Borg, Vitas Gerulaitis, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash, Henri “everyone’s favourite Frenchmen” Leconte and Boris “everyone’s favourite German” Becker. These guys were pure entertainers and all tremendous characters. We even had a pantomime villain in Freddie Mercury’s long lost brother, Ivan Lendl. The Czech’s ruthless professionalism was a foretaste of the later generation of Sampras and Federer. His inability to win Wimbledon – despite spending three years as the No.1 ranked player in the world – only added to the sense of spectacle. The fact he was a dirty Communist swine to boot made it even better that Wimbledon became the only Grand Slam trophy to elude him.
Since then who has there been to entertain the masses? Pistol Pete? The Stephen Hendry of tennis; plain old boring ruthless efficiency and not a single Tiger Woods style sex scandal to redeem him. The Fed Express? Technically impervious at his peak, but completely unlovable as a person – he even managed to cry without showing emotion. He’s also Swiss so I will refer to Orson Welles’ speech in The Third Man regarding that nation of heroes watch?v=dv1QDlWbS8g Rafa Nadal? He might get the housewives a bit flustered, but even accepting his brilliance he’s a player who always leaves me cold when watching. So what if he has the perfect backhand? Until he introduces a few point winning Becker-like full stretch mid-air dives into his game I’m not interested.
Beyond the top 4 seeds does anyone really know or care about the rest of them? If they had a personality we might, but where are the tantrums and the ability to self-destruct? And when will today’s players ever look like they are actually enjoying themselves? For most it looks like they’ve just been told they’ve got to spend the rest of their life appearing on A Question of Sport sat alongside the ultimate tool that is Matt Dawson (this show is something else that was better in the 80s. Well, it was only ever actually good for about two weeks, but that was way before Sue Barker got anywhere near it). Today’s stars could only dare to dream of being able to capture the imagination of the public in a way the great rivalries between Borg, McEnroe and Connors once did.
In short, and without getting scientific about it, the clothes were fucking ace. Fila, Sergio Tacchini, Diadora, Ellesse, Lacoste, Fred Perry, Adidas, Puma. Every shirt and every training top from this era was a design classic, becoming standard issue for any self-respecting football casual. Borg even put his name to the greatest trainers known to civilisation – the Diadora Borg Elite. These clothes are so good that when Danny Dyer wore replicas in British gangster film, The Business, it was even possible to stop yourself from laughing like a crazy fool every time he opened his mouth. For a few seconds at least.
The complete understanding that no one from Britain would ever win
In the 80s British men’s tennis had John Lloyd, who was probably too busy trying not to let the complete sausage Chris Evert slip through his fingers to ever be a contender and Andrew ‘king-of-no-one’s’ Castle. There was as much chance of a British men’s winner at Wimbledon as there was of Noel Edmonds making compelling television. This was fine though because it meant the competition never got bogged down by the media’s desperate desire to see someone British and not called Fred Perry win the damn thing. Since then we’ve had Henmania, that Canadian with the shit-eating grin and morose Murray. I’ve seen more personality in an Aussie backpacker’s flip flop than those three put together.
I think that’s all the proof you need that Wimbledon was indeed a far greater spectacle when the likes of Tears For Fears used to be Top 10 stalwarts. Here’s visual proof as well – it even looks great with some bloke waffling in Italian over the top.watch?v=csQRF_p7SSM