As the media work themselves into a lather over grunting at Wimbledon, there’s an on-court sound that bothers me infinitely more. The individual voices crying, ‘Come on Andy’, or Roger, or Andy (again) are profoundly irritating. It’s not quite so bad this year, because we are spared the grating awfulness of ‘Come on Tiiiiiiimm’, as he has retired to bore us rigid from the safety of the commentary box, but I’ve already had enough. By last Tuesday, actually.
I confess I can’t quite put my finger on why this is so annoying. The last time I heard support like this was at primary school when we were marched out to support the netball team in the local derby against St Gregory’s. Whipped into an hysterical frenzy because we were excused maths to watch the game, the high pitched screaming seemed to terrify our visitors and the goal shooter’s aim was as sharp as a drunk at a fairground shooting gallery. But we were ten years old and somehow that’s not going to put the fear and trembling onto the mind of a battle hardened veteran of the tennis circuit.
One irksome variant is the guy (and it is almost always a guy) who wants to be the last voice to be heard before the serve. As it surely undermines the mental composure of the preparing server, in most cases it has the exact opposite of the intended effect. Once achieved, one can only assume that our supporter basks in the glory of his achievement, imagining admiring glances from those around him. His fellow spectators nudge one another on the way home, see him, he was the bloke who shouted out ‘come on’, third game, second set. And it was a deuce point!!! I picture a website somewhere where these folk gather to share stories, or maybe a hierarchy of shout-outs. A Wimbledon final match point is surely the top of such lists. The king of the shout-outs.
Support for British players at Wimbledon is also characterised by the frantic waving of 5 inch square Union Jacks. A more ineffectual gesture I cannot possibly imagine. Quite how the waving of a miniscule flag by a Surrey matron will lift the flagging spirits of a downhearted Brit I really do not know. Yesterday during Murray’s game, a woman held up a Scottish flag hand-drawn on an A4 piece of plain paper. Rather than buy or make a flag, presumably she felt moved to smuggle in said paper and felt tip and furtively draw behind the Pimms and strawberry stall, before slipping into her seat to reveal the factor that would tip the balance in favour of the surly scot.
My son reminded me that years ago I had mentioned the way the aussies got behind Pat Rafter in the Men’s final. They generated great chunks of big noise, not chanting but just loud, strident and concentrated. He was too polite to add that this is obviously one of dad’s soapbox comments, trotted out every year in the last week of June and the first of July. Thanks for being gentle, son, I get the message. But it was real support, from the heart, and Rafter knew it.
The contrast between genteel Wimbledon and the raucous masses in football grounds could hardly be greater. In the end, my irrational irritation comes from the joy of supporting a football team and being part of the crowd. Obnoxious and abusive that support may sometimes be, but it is where I feel most comfortable, participating in a genuine expression of lasting commitment, one where victory means something and where fan and team are united as one against a common foe.
Of course the Wimbledon crowds enjoy their day and are absorbed with their heroine or hero, but they do not, cannot, feel it as we football fans do. After the match is over, how much does it matter to them who won? For us, it means so much. It’s true passion. From the heart.