Every two years, it’s the same problem : on even-numbered years, the prestigious London tennis tournament hase to deal with the organisation of a big football competition, held at the same time, whether it is a World Cup or the Euros. If the All England Tennis Club has been forbidding football for a long time, it can be found in all the dressing room conversations…
There was a time where the Wimbledon tournament didn’t have to deal with a big football competition every two years. In 1966 for instance, when England held the World Cup, the tournament was then advanced to be played earlier than usual. The World Cup 66 was played from the 11th to the 30th of July while the competitions at the Wimbledon All England Tennis Club ended on July 2nd, with Billie Jean King and Manolo Santana’s victories. A ruthless Santana against the best British tennis player at the time, Bobby Wilson, who was knocked out as early as the fourth round…the Queen’s subjects went on to quickly console themselves from this disappointment with the English national football team’s victory over Germany, a month later in the final…Twenty years later however, the great moments of these two sports crossed paths, to the point of mixing. On June 22nd, 1986, a mythical match was played at the Azteca stadium of Mexico : Argentina defeated England 2-1 with a breathtaking Maradona, who scored with his famous hand of God before scoring what is arguably one of the goals of the century. Yet, the next day, on June 23rd, the Wimbledon tournament started…a 100th edition which an audience stunned by their home team’s defeat thousands of miles from there will come to watch. The main focus is then Maradona, even during the tennis players press conferences. In it’s edition of June 29th, 1986, The Sun reports that the title-holder Boris Becker was questioned on the issue of an improbable confrontation between him and the Argentine on a grass court. « He couldn’t stand a chance against me », answered the German, also categorical when it came to predict the result of the final between West Germany and Argentina, which was held on the same day in Mexico. « We’re going to win the World cup, said Becker. It’s logical. We finally started playing good football in the semi-final against France. We’re playing as a team again. » Wrong prediction : the Germans finally lost 3-2 against Maradona’s crew, which hasn’t discouraged « Boom-Boom », who, that year, won Wimbledon for the second time in a row. It hasn’t disgusted him with football neither, as he is still known to be a huge Bayern Munich fan, as well as an…AFC Wimbledon supporter, the London neighborhood’s club !
The Jensen brothers’ England football shirts cause a scandal
In 1996, England hosted another great football competition : the Euros, held from June 8th to the 30th, while Wimbledon was being played from June 24th to July 8th. At the time, some football matches were still being aired on the All England Tennis Club’s big screens. Football benefited from a certain tolerance from the kingdom of the small yellow ball and white polos…But not for long : during men’s doubles’ first round, the American brothers Luke and Murphy thought right to pay hommage to the local football team by showing up on the court wearing matching England football shirts. Shocking ! The organizers demanded that the shirts, which weren’t in compliance with the severe dress code, were replaced (they didn’t bring the Jensen brothers good luck, as they lost against the Swedish pair formed by Bjorkman and Kulti) and claimed that from now on, Wimbledon had to become a football free zone. A place where the number 1 sport is totally banned. You won’t see a football player giving the trophy to the tournament’s winner at Wimbledon, as it was the case at Roland-Garros in 1998, where the king Pelé himself was invited to the post-match ceremony.
Since 1996, the organizers of Wimbledon have all complied with this rule : no football here, even if a World Cup or the European championships are held at the same time. On the contrary, it’s always a good place to notice the differences between the two sports. In 2010 for instance, in the middle of the controversy surrounding the vuvuzelas in South Africa, Wimbledon published a message indicating that these huge whistles, from now on, featured on the list of prohibited objects at the entrance of the site. That same year, the brand Slazenger, which provides the tournament with tennis balls, added fuel to the fire in the controversy surrounding the « Jabulani » football, made by the brand with the three stripes, as it’s trajectories were being compared to a beach ball’s… « Contrary to Fifa with the Jabulani, said the Slazenger CEO, we didn’t change our balls this year. The players have become accustomed to it and they don’t complain. Why change a product which works so well ? »
Luckily, Murray is there to console the British
If football remains banned at Wimbledon, some players disregard the rule and follow their favorite team’s news. In 2010 still, it’s England’s knock-out by Germany, with an unjustly cancelled Frank Lampard goal (the ball had hit the crossbar and went over the line before coming out), which was the most commentated on in Wimbledon’s backstage. « How did the linesman and the ref miss that ?, tweeted an angry Andy Murray, this mistake should never have happened. » A Murray who, four years later, became the providential man in the eyes of the British fans, as their team, once again, was knocked out prematurely of the World Cup…In the Scotsman’s press conferences at the start of that edition, there is only one subject. « I like when the World Cup is played at the same time as Wimbledon, it gives me something to do in the evening and enables me to clear my mind. When you walk around the dressing room, all the players are only talking about that », said the Scot, who almost got in the Glasgow Rangers academy when he was a teenager. In that same year 2014, one of the tournament’s spokesmen reminded everyone that Wimbledon remained « football free ». « We show no images from the World Cup, neither on the big screen nor on televisions. This is a tennis event. » If the rule remains the same this summer, the organizers have nevertheless authorized a keepy-uppy contest between the players. Federer, Nishikori, Muguruza and Murray of course have all tried their luck. As for the football talk in the dressing room of the All England Tennis Club, it’s, as usual, the England team’s premature knock-out which must have been the most discussed subject. Every two years, history repeats itself : English football players make a point of honor in quickly being knocked out not to overshadow their Grand Slam tournament !