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You cannot be serious.

by Robert Mcneil

Scotland's Greatest Living JournalistOH, thank goodness Wimbledon is over. Every year, I dread it. I loathe its faux drama, and its umpires on stepladders, and its scurrying about with covers when it rains, and its little white socks, and its hero worship of grunting chancers with their fancy bats and their halitosis of the personality.

This feeling of loathing began in childhood. I had been on holiday and was looking forward to getting back to playing football with my pals. The sea, the sands, the frequent feeding with fish and chips, while welcome and delightful in themselves, did little as time wore on to quell the longing felt for the well-scuffed ball and the jerseyed goalpost. Imagine my horror, then, when I turned up at the usual place to find all my pals playing... tennis. Quelle horreur Únorme.

Thirty-five years later, the wound still hurts. Indeed, in many ways, it has deepened, as tennis seems every year to grow in popularity, rather than to diminish, as one might expect, like the Rubik's Cube, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Kerplunk.

It is particularly distressing that this essentially English jessie game, with all its snooty appurtenances, should have become so popular in the manly and democratic semi-republic of Scotland. The whole ambience of tennis reeks - does ambience reek? it does now! - of Sussex and scones, and strawberries and lashings of Enid Blyton cream. It is a world of honey still for tea, and clocks on the pavilion, and poncing around on the lawn, and Scots trying to pretend they're English.

It is true that the English rarely win, and that Americans and other people with foreign-sounding names seem to win most of the time. But the English are absurdly proud of hosting this egofest, boasting of their sitcom ground as the headquarters of tennis, a word that so tellingly lacks etymological resonance.

Invented by aristocrats, its insidious spread into the parlours of the proletariat has sapped the fibre of that now doomed class, planting within it the ruinous seeds of aspiration and destroying the healthy desire to level everything down. The sheep-like way that folk flock to their television sets to watch this tournament - a sort of Gladiators for pansies - appals the disinterested observer.

Apart from anything else, I distrust any sport that women like. They're usually only in it for the thighs, and quickly develop unseemly crushes on the participants. Sport is thereby diminished to the depraved depths of pop music. Hence, the girlie screaming at Wimbledon, which increasingly resembles a concert by The Wham, or whoever is topping the charts these days.

It is not only tennis that offends, however. All games, other than football, are in fact rubbish. And it is the disproportionate attention given to these minority sports in the media that has resulted in Scotland's decline as a footballing nation.

Not too long ago, when people spoke of sport, they meant football. They didn't mean archery or snooker or skiing or water polo. They meant football. Now, you switch on a so-called sports programme sometimes and it barely gets a mention. As a result, the nation's children are growing up with the warped idea that football is just a sport rather than the sport. I exaggerate perhaps. Perhaps I have even got my facts wrong. But I am not going to let such considerations spoil my argument, which is based on reasoned prejudice.

At secondary school, we were not allowed to play football - and it was a state school, before you ask, though one with pretensions (until it went comprehensive) - but were dragooned into rugby, a game completely lacking in grace, and cricket, a form of inactivity calculated to dampen the most adventurous spirit.

As for golf, I would sooner have my tongue tattooed with "Rangers 1690" - and I speak as a Hibs supporter - than indulge in anything riddled with Freudian undertones too terrible to contemplate (I don't know exactly what I mean by that, but just threw it in to discomfit the practitioners). What else? Basketball? Don't be absurd. Cycling? You call travel a sport? Boxing? D'you want a punch in the mouth? Swimming? Has mankind evolved no further than this? Soon, with the new season approaching, football will resume its rightful place as the focus of attention. Football is art. It is war. Chess. Journey. Return. Football is love. Be it ever so Scottish, be it ever so rubbish, it is the sport of gods. All the others are mere games of the devil, and tennis is by far his infernal favourite.

from The Scotsman 15/7/2000

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