Just don’t be the journalist who asks Andy Murray a historical tennis question while forgetting the existence of women. Here’s how it went:
Q: Andy, Sam is the first American player to reach the semi-final of a Slam since 2009 …
AM: Male player.
“That’s my boy,” Judy Murray tweeted.
There was proof, as if any longer required, that this mother’s upbringing of her sons has been pretty near flawless.
Open her book – Knowing The Score – and discover exactly why. For years – decades – she was told in all kinds of ways to push off and don’t bother the natural order of things where men played the serious tennis and women, well, they didn’t care what women did as long as it wasn’t within the tramlines.
Hailing from a little town with four courts and Scottish weather, there was no such thing as formal coaches, individual lessons or fitness programmes when she as aspiring to be a player. Neither was there manual nor money (and still that infernal Scottish weather) when she was trying to further the aspirations of her two young boys. Instead, there was a great deal of snide or oblivious dismissal for girls wanting to do anything on the tennis court at all.
You have to wonder where the Inverclyde National Sports Centre tennis coach is today – and how he views women players in the 21st century, given the time he spent with Judy’s training group when she was a budding player in the 1970s. Invariably he just packed them off to something called the “Air Hall” to play among themselves while he concentrated on the boys.
“At one point we actually set up a competition to see who could guess the exact number of words he would bother to say to the girls’ group over an entire training weekend. I don’t think he ever reached more than about fifty, and the all-time low was three. ‘Girls. Air hall’.”
This is not a book that reveals the heartfelt feelings of the entire Murray clan. It doesn’t discuss the private lives of sons Andy and Jamie because she feels that would be an intrusion. It doesn’t particularly discuss her own private life. But it is nothing less than riveting in what it sets out to do: tell the story – a story that makes your eyes pop and blood boil – of the absolute hand-to-hand day-to-day never-say-die combat it took for unconventional people, like women and Scots, to be taken seriously as tennis players and coaches.
At one point Judy, with trepidation, goes on a course – the LTA’s Performance Coach Award. It comprised ten workshops dotted round England, not Scotland. On her first day she was told by one of the tutors that one of the male coaches who had been refused a place on the course had issued a formal complaint about her getting a place instead of him.
“A women! Indeed a mum, did not deserve a chance like this, particularly if she were taking the chance away from a man. It was the first time in my working life that a comment about my gender was made to me so openly. And I was shocked.”
All sorts of nonsense went on. Biomechanics talk of ‘upper body rotation’, which Judy worked out meant ‘turning your shoulders’. She quietly decided that when coaching children she would carry on with her version which they would actually understand. And, finally, she had to conduct a 45-minute session with a few players while judged by assessors.
Guess what? “I had to compete the lesson with a 17-year-old male player, and then take a group session with four pupils, all boys. There were no girls on the assessments. There were no girls even mentioned.” There are quite a few italics in this book and every one of them roars her outrage and incredulity.
There is ruthless honesty here, too. Not every woman would be brave enough to rehearse an occasion that left her so fantastically humiliated that she tried to avoid public events for years. She was picking up an award for Andy at a predominantly male gig wearing a green M&S jacket (£29.99) and a longish denim skirt, unable to go glam while the family finances were so squeakingly tight.
On stage she tried a bit of banter with the hosting comedian and football pundit, Tam Cowan, who decided to put her down. “Could he [Andy] not have bought you anything decent to wear tonight then?” he said, smiling at the audience.
She heard the roar of blood in her ears and felt her face go crimson as people laughed.
“It would be impossible to overestimate the impact that one moment had on me. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much it affected me. I just wanted to get off the stage and stay off stages forever. After years of being a confident, adventurous spirit, I began to dread, and then to avoid, walking into rooms where I didn’t know anyone.”
Now, a women of tungsten and stray bits of Strictly glitter, she is unapologetic and unafraid. She makes the rest of Britain look like slackers, having failed – all of us – to produce a single Wimbledon champion or world No1 in their sport, let alone two. And this book isn’t about revenge on those people, including other women, who had no vision nor care nor ambition for unexpected items in the tennis area. It’s about saying: ‘Sod it. If they won’t do it, I will.”
And she did. Still does.
*Knowing The Score: My Family and Our Tennis Story by Judy Murray, published by Chatto & Windus, £18.99
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sue Mott is an award-winning sport journalist who has worked on radio, TV and the written press. Sue’s latest articles