No, not directed towards me (right) but towards three times Wimbledon Champion Fred Perry (left). I was at Wimbledon this week with my sister supporting Norfolk’s Fabulous Alfie Hewett, when I came across this statute and this story. After winning in straight sets the Wimbledon gentlemen’s singles in 1934, Perry was in the changing room bathing. Custom was, for a committee member to present the tie and champagne to the champion. Perry found his tie left over the back of a chair and the champagne was given to the runner up, and Perry overheard them saying to his opponent “Congratulations, this was one day when the best man didn’t win!” This working class lad from the North, who learnt to play on public courts next to a housing estate, never felt accepted by the upper class elite. He was furious. Later it is claimed, he was turned away from the club for not wearing his tie!
- The greatest player in the history of British tennis.
- Three consecutive men’s Wimbledon singles championships 1934-36, while he was world number one.
- Ten majors (8 grand slams and 2 pro slams) and six doubles, (including Wimbledon mixed) and the first man ever to win all four Grand Slams, aged 26.
- Helping Britain dominate the Davis Cup – 4 consecutive victories 1934-36. Perry won 34 of his 38 rubbers (11 out of 14 doubles).
- His 1936 Wimbledon final win of 6-1, 6-1, 6-0, lasted less than 45 mins – the fastest final of the 20th century.
- Record holder of 55 consecutive set wins in the US open and 62 at Wimbledon.
- World table tennis champion aged 19.
- Kick started the professional tennis era – exemplifying fitness, determination and ruthlessness to win, combined with celebrity good looks and a slick dress sense.
- And went on to make money from a retail brand selling “Fred Perry” (laurel logo) clothing – ironic for a story that started with a tie.
For this lad from Stockport whose father was a cotton spinner, trade unionist and in the (cooperative) labour party; his relationship with authority, especially with Wimbledon (or more correctly the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet club), was a tense one. A relationship only fully reconciled when this statue was established in 1984. Within the snobbery, prejudiced class prism and values of the 1930s:
- He was seen to be rude and discourteous to opponents and umpires, including not congratulating fellows for a good shot or apologising for luck, and using sarcastic language such as “very clevah” if he was beaten by a shot.
- This “upstart” took winning far too seriously, was far too outspoken, and did not exhibit the gentlemanly qualities expected.
- He embraced too easily professionalism and “money making”, and was banned as a professional from playing on LTA courts, his membership rescinded and the tie was “taken back”!
- He would glare at umpires … and even worse, he would use his trademark leap over the net when he had won – a most unseemly act.
We can now see, looking back, that his story captures the clash of the “Amateur Gentlemen” vs the “Performance Professional”. The former, were the mainly public school boy custodians of the spirit of the game, of tradition, ethos, values, sportsmanship and behaviors. The latter, provide a laser focus and obsession on performance, continuous improvement, learning and winning. Which way do you lean? As a leader are you more the gentleman amateur or the performance professional? My work with the best leaders of today shows that they are a blend of the two. How appropriate that England’s best ever tennis player captures the essence of our nation’s journey through sport; and how appropriate that the bronze statue of the sport’s highest performer is placed in the rose garden outside the member’s enclosure of one of our oldest clubs. On that day in 1984 Perry said that the placing of the statue meant more to him than “all the prize money in the world”. It is an everlasting reminder for all leaders, that our duty is to deliver the performance of the professional yet retain the spirit of the amateur.