What use a British summer without Wimbledon? More than any other event in the calendar, this tennis favourite sums up everything good and bad about middle England, cramming it into a two-week-long sporting garden fête. The strawberries. The flag waving. The freshly cut triangular sandwiches. The intense anticipation of glory shafted by the crushing disappointment of cruel defeat.
Yes, everything about Wimbledon is England through and through. Except for the winners, they’re normally American. Or Swiss.
But it matters not – we don’t need to win to enjoy ourselves. We’re happy, nay giddy, just to take part and be reminded how awesome victory can be in a sport we invented thanks to a thrashing at the hands of some wildcard entry from the Eastern Bloc.
Nah, that doesn’t bother us, not with our cardboard-stiff upper lips. Oh, no. We’ll watch Wimbledon anyway…and not because tennis is a great and at times exciting sport, which it is. It’s because Wimbledon is an institution. We watch it because no-one does pomp, pessimism or self-conscious patriotism like the British.
It’s like a great big cub-scout jamboree. What other events give our grandmothers cause to don a flannelette frock, dig out the collapsible Union Jack deckchair and repair to Henman Hill with pots of homemade jam to partake in the world’s only Mexican wave performed by a thousand flabby dinner ladies’ underarms flapping in the breeze? Brilliant.
What other nation would, in the event of rain stopping play, broadcast an hour-long live impromptu concert by Cliff flippin’ Richard? It could only have been more British a moment had Hugh Grant stumbled into Centre Court, accidentally mumbled the word “bugger” and pulled out a flask of tea with some custard creams.
Wimbledon, for the briefest of times, fills our famously downbeat population with hope. The hope that either the posh one with the fist pump or the young one with the face of a boy licking bitter lemon off of a thistle can prove that we’re totally not crap at tennis.
Wimbledon reminds us why our country is a little bit special. It’s eccentric, self-effacing and largely plain bloody ridiculous. It must be…what other land on earth would consider the sight of Sue Barker and John McEnroe talking improvised, time-filling gubbins in front an enormous rain-spattered window one of the quintessential images of the summer? No-one, that’s who. Wimbledon is unique because Wimbledon is ours.