View from the Street: A View from Centre Court

@mrobertson

View from the Street: A View from Centre Court

Last week, I was lucky enough to be among the crowd on Centre Court at Wimbledon for the first match of the grand old competition.
 
I’d never been before and it was special to be there to see a boy from Dunblane, where I grew up, walking on to the famous grass court as the defending champion.
 
I wondered: will that ever happen again? Do we even care if it happens again?
 
The success of Andy and Jamie Murray has been written about often, as has the tenacity and drive of their mum Judy. It’s a thing of wonder, really, that two brothers from a small town in central Scotland can rule the world at tennis. Even more so when you consider that the infrastructure in Scotland, to grow that sport and provide opportunities for young people to participate and perhaps one day excel, doesn’t really exist.
 
Andy and Jamie are exceptions, as well as being exceptional. They have succeeded despite the lack of support and the inadequate infrastructure. They succeeded because their parents sacrificed much, to give their boys the chance to reach heights of which they might otherwise only have dreamed.
 
But now that they are at the top of the game, and Andy remains the best player in the world right now, what are we doing to celebrate that success and to encourage more young people to take the early steps into tennis, or some other sport, and the healthy lifestyle that follows?
 
Creating successful athletes is not just about feeling good and building national confidence and pride. It’s about creating a healthy society, a strong and able workforce that drives an economy and a country. Frankly, we save money if people are healthier and some of that money should be reinvested in sport.
 
Whatever happens with Scotland’s future, it is incumbent on all of us, but particularly the Scottish Government, to join in the job of putting down the foundations on which future generations will thrive or otherwise. Some of that work could even be done now.
 
I’m afraid to say that progress feels slow. In fact, in some areas it could hardly be described as progress at all.
 
Since Andy Murray became one of the world’s best 10 tennis players (a decade ago), not a single public indoor tennis court has been built in Scotland. Think about that for a moment. Not one publicly available court protected from the vagaries of our weather, despite all of the adulation for Andy and his achievements. The affection and congratulations from politicians on social media count for nothing if, at the end of this remarkable career, we have done nothing by way of legacy.
 
A proposal designed by Judy Murray to build a community pay-and-play facility just outside Dunblane is stuck in the planning process. Nobody seems capable of a decision one way or the other and meanwhile the energy drains from those trying to do some good.
 
I’ve recently become involved with a great, long-standing community institution in Edinburgh. Hutchison Vale FC – known to most as Hutchie – was formed in the early years of the Second World War. It exists now in a ramshackle old building in Saughton, from where a small and committed group of volunteers oversee the running of a community sports club that has some 400 boys and girls playing regularly.
 
The club is led by Tam Smith, a former police officer from Muirhouse (there were not many who made that career journey), who commands enormous respect from children and parents alike. Some of the Hutchie people are among the most committed and selfless people I know. I love being around them. But their patience is being tested too.
 
This famous sports club, which has an alumni better than most, has to beg for and borrow football pitches and training facilities. We’re about to launch a significant fundraising initiative, but we (and clubs like us) will need political will behind us. I will make a right old nuisance of myself to get that to happen.
 
We worked out recently that 76 football pitches have ‘disappeared’ in Edinburgh since 2000. Those precious places are lost, either to other sports, such as rugby, or to building developments.
 
Put that statistic alongside the utterly depressing proliferation of ‘no ball games’ signs that litter many of our residential areas, and it’s little wonder that us followers of the Scottish national team spend so much time on our knees, head in hands, lamenting another last minute opposition goal or missed tournament.
 
It doesn’t have to be this way. We have the volunteers doing the hard work - remarkable people like Judy Murray and Tam Smith. Every community has people like them. So that leaves the politicians and the sports administrators. For them, it’s not ‘more balls please’; for that, you need balls in the first place.
 
We need more courageous political decision making around youth sport, focused on the long term. That means sustained public policy support for, and investment in, grassroots community sport. It means building and developing facilities for the use of everyone, not just those privileged few who benefit from private sector backing or public investment in facilities that quickly become prohibitively expensive for many of our community clubs. Perhaps SportScotland can use its considerable influence to collaborate with the wealthier sports clubs and private facilities to help give something back to those less fortunate.
 
And a final thought: let’s tax ‘no ball games’ signs and put the money raised into more ball games. It matters to us all.

Malcolm Robertson is a Founding Partner of Charlotte Street Partners.