Ball Girl Glory

I sat in the Press Room at Wimbledon and watched the wall of screens in front of me, each one giving the feed from a different court. I saw one switch to court 14 and there, kneeling alongside the referee was one of my daughters, Beverly.

I grabbed the phone and called home. “On now,” I told my wife. She switched on the television and video recorder to ensure that we had the footage of Beverly in action.

It was an exciting couple of weeks which had started months earlier when Beverly, a pupil at one of the Merton schools which was to provide the ball girls for the finals, was chosen to be among the hundreds of youngsters who took part in the fitness regime which was part of the selection process. The manager of the ball boys and girls in those days was Wally Wonfor and the training started in March.

As the weeks wore on she worked her way through more of the tests which many failed and was nominated for the final day of training and selection.

It was a difficult day for the children – and parents. Gradually the numbers were whittled down to only those required during those famous weeks when the eyes of the sporting world would be centred on a small part of the borough of Merton – Wimbledon.

Beverly was selected. We were overjoyed and she was delighted.

In the few weeks before the finals she was fitted with the uniform – a tracksuit top, skirt, T-shirt, socks, one pair of knickers, and a set of trainers – all in the green and mauve of the championship colours.

The colours were important: it was 1986, the 100th anniversary of the tournament and the first time that yellow balls were to be used.

At Wimbledon itself, hairdressers made sure that she, and the others, looked trim and neat, and they had more training on the courts and a changing area that was to be their home for two weeks.

During the fortnight a bus picked her up at 10am and delivered her back when the ball boys and girls were allowed home. It was a hectic week – and a tiring one for her because the teenagers could not finish until the final match was over each day.

There was no pay – just the glory – although players did contribute to a voluntary fund which was then shared between those who had managed to last the fortnight.

One young entrepreneur was sent home early after selling his track suit top to an American tourist. That youngster is probably a millionaire now with a world-wide company.

For the others it was two weeks of sitting in their lounge waiting to be directed to one of the courts. Once there their training was demonstrated to all those watching live and on television as they slipped smartly around the court to collect loose balls, giving them to the servers, and generally proving to be as unobtrusive as possible.

For me it was brilliant. Some of the time I was covering the championships and could even find time to grab a photo of Beverly in action as well as identify when she may be on television.

Beverly was also called on to the Centre Court to help provide the guard of honour when the trophy to the winner of the men’s singles, Boris Becker, who beat Ivan Lendl 6-4, 6-3, 7-5. Martina Navratlova beat Hana Mandlikova 7-6, 6-3 to take the women’s title. It was just fortunate that we were living in Merton at the time.

In earlier years the ball boys were selected from Shaftesbury Homes until 1946 when they came from Dr Barnardo’s Homes followed by boys from Fortescue House School, which was part of the Barnardo’s charitable setup.

Boys from local schools were first used in 1969 – with many of those schools not in existence now. Since then various schools from the Surrey and the London boroughs of Merton, Sutton, Kingston and Wandsworth have provided the youngsters.

It was not until 1977 that girls were used and three years later mixed teams of boys and girls were featured on the courts with girls not allowed to be included in the Centre Court squad until 1986. Unfortunately, Beverly was not selected for that prestigious court.

The average age of those selected is 15, although Beverly was 16 when she took part.

Ball Girl Glory
Beverly

The thrill of being part of that magical fortnight never goes away. Beverly’s skirt and top were framed as a permanent memento and hangs in their home near Todmorden.

I still love nothing better than sitting watching the television coverage of Wimbledon with its reminders of those two weeks years ago when we had more than the usual interest in the games.

I look at the ball boys and girls and wondered what their parents are thinking of the honour of having their child selected.

Beverly is now the head of St Leonard’s Church of England School in Padiham, a school which has a history of enjoying sporting achievement. Wimbledon, and the heavy training regime, must have given her the urge to keep fit because she now enjoys fell running in all weathers including a 100-mile and several all-night runs, quite apart from regular ten kilometre jaunts which hardly seem to test her energy level.

If she is not running at the weekend she is probably to be found wind-surfing on Clowbridge Reservoir near Burnley.

And if she doesn’t handle a tennis racquet, it will still figure in her mind and mine on June 27 when theWimbledon fortnight starts and the memories come flooding back.

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