There’s a 96 year old woman living in Aberdeen who has played tennis with Fred Perry

A lot has been spoken about Fred Perry recently when expectation of a British winner of the men’s singles at Wimbledon, the first since 1936,  fell on the shoulders of Andy Murray. To hear the tributes to Perry you might have thought he’d always been held in high regard. In that you’d be wrong. But let’s start with an interesting little anecdote.

We’re back in the 1930s at the point when Fred Perry was becoming famous as the winner of tennis majors.

It was a summer afternoon in the early 1930s when teenager Marnie Munro, her younger sister and a girlfriend strapped their wooden tennis racquets to their bicycles and cycled the steep hill to Strathpeffer . As they made their way into the Pavilion tennis courts a tall, good natured young man approached and asked if they’d like a fourth person to make up a game of doubles. That man was Fred Perry visiting the famous Highland spa and that’s how a group of teenage girls got to play with a Wimbledon champion one fine day 80 years ago.

There are similarities between Fred Perry and Andy Murray. Perry was a working class Englishman, the son of a cotton spinner, who was snubbed by the snooty, class-ridden tennis set at the All England Club for he was not regarded as being one of them despite his making British tennis hugely successful. He had consecutive wins at Wimbledon during the 1930s and won all four grand slams in the US, France, Australia as well as Britain. He also led the British Davis Cup to wins during the same decade. But Perry’s achievements were not valued.

He later recalled in his autobiography, ‘It shows how we have all mellowed over the years from the days when some elements in the All England Club and the Lawn Tennis Association looked down on me as a hot-headed, outspoken tearaway rebel, not quite the class of the chap they really wanted to see winning Wimbledon, even if he was English.

I’ve mellowed too. I think I’m very much a leopard who has changed his spots. Looking back, I have to concede that I was sometimes a little brash and aggressive about what I regarded as the class-ridden set-up there. But at the time, a young man with my background was bound to feel that snobbery very keenly, and I still get angry about the shabby way I was treated when I won Wimbledon in 1934, the first Englishman to do it for 20 years.’

After winning his first Wimbledon championship, Perry overheard a member of the All England Club congratulating his losing opponent, the Australian Jack Crawford with the words, ‘This was one day when the best man didn’t win.’ And they presented Crawford with a bottle of champagne.

There was no champagne for Perry. It handed him a club tie and a voucher for Mappin & Webb but failed to add their congratulations.

‘Instead of Fred J Perry, the champ,’ he wrote, ‘I felt like Fred J Muggs the chimp. I’ve never been so angry in my whole life. It really hurt. All my paranoia about the old-school brigade surfaced with a vengeance.’

Perry preferred the unstuffy life he found in the US and became an American citizen. He became an international tennis ambassador and reported widely on the game but still the British tennis set largely ignored him until relatively recently when 50 years after his first Wimbledon championship the Club commissioned a statue of him.

The memory of that afternoon’s tennis game with the best player in the world is still fresh in the memory of Marnie 80 years later.

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