♥ Boris Becker ♥
40 years ago today I started my first full time job as a trainee bank clerk at Barclays Bank. I had chosen them because (unlike NatWest) they gave me 50p to cover my bus fare following the interview, which survived one sticky moment when the pleasant lady conducting it raised the issue of my alleged passion for disco dancing. The school had sent the wrong pupil notes, those of my namesake, a boy a couple of years younger than me. Suffice to say this Philip Munday never made Travolta sweat, my exquisite James Brown pelvic thrusts back then a clandestine arrangement between me, my huge stereo headphones, cheap alcohol & a darkened bedroom. Then, & only then, would I discover ants in my pants & a need to dance. My banking misadventure lasted less than a year. The highlight at my first branch was the presence of Brian, the assistant manager. He would spend large portions of his day sat in the tea room smoking his pipe & ogling the scantily clad lovelies in that day’s copy of The Sun, pausing twice a day to spit out the coffee I made him & pronouncing it disgusting. I didn’t take it personally. Instant coffee powder is as instant coffee powder does, & like Brian I didn’t buy into doing the Maxwell House shake. Only a small step up from the bland nightmare of Mellow Birds, which certainly failed to make me smile. Brian was always good for an aged anecdote about his youthful days sharing a flat in London with Leonard Rossiter, a big name in television by 1980, star of Rising Damp, The Fall & Rise Of Reginald Perrin & a phenomenally successful & long running ad campaign for Cinzano Bianco with Joan Collins. Each advert would culminate in the Division 2 diva being drenched in this frankly revolting vermouth. I drank a bottle of it once on top having polished off a tidy amount of red wine & suffice to say spent the rest of the following day wishing Leonard Rossiter had also been around the previous evening to cause me to spill it all over my front rather down my foolhardy gullet. One day, contentedly filling the room with Bruno Flake pipe smoke & wincing at the prospect of drinking the coffee I had just brought him, Brian reminisced that he & Rossiter had once bumped into Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor in Covent Garden & had a chat with them. ‘Nice girl, bit on the chubby side’ was his considered view of the lady who brought Cleopatra to the silver screen & was once considered by many to be the most beautiful woman in the world. Given his preferred tea room reading matter perhaps he was just peeved La Taylor didn’t get her melons out amidst the Covent Garden fruit & veg. Suffice to say that Brian was not himself blessed with matinee idol good looks. The rot really set in after 4 months when I was transferred to another branch & it slowly dawned on everyone, including myself, that I was a truly terrible junior bank clerk. I once spent an hour trying to telephone a customer by repeatedly dialling their bank account number. Never did get through. My resignation was accepted with indecent haste & the admission from my boss that I was on the verge of getting the push anyway. This would have been some feat. Getting sacked took some doing in the banking world back then unless you were caught with your hand in the till. John was a testimony to this. He worked in the branch I had started in, but lived in a flat above the manager’s office in my second billet. During the Cheltenham Festival John invited some fellow racing enthusiasts round one afternoon & their cheering & stomping, clearly facilitated by some plentiful daytime drinking, led to an enraged Roy, the branch manager, banging on the ceiling with his walking stick. Peter O’Sullivan’s iconic commentary booming out at remarkable volume from John’s television & accompanying the raucous revelry was clearly not conducive to Roy discussing prospective mortgages & bank loans with bemused customers. John was a character, always friendly to staff & customers alike but frequently smelling of booze & seemingly half cut. He once tried to sell me a revolting, threadbare, filthy looking nylon brown suit for £4 that he had left hanging in the gent’s toilets next to his half eaten box of Ritz biscuits. The fact I was the best part of 6 inches taller than him did not diminish the enthusiasm of his sales pitch. Unfortunately the suit was not only the wrong size & hideous but hanging up in a room permeated with the stench of the combined shits of half a dozen male colleagues. For similar reasons I was not minded to dip into his Ritz biscuits either. I liked Brian & John but I hated Barclays. One local building business had their takings paid in daily by a nice man liked by all the cashiers. He broke his leg & was laid off work unpaid so asked for a small overdraft to tide him over. It was refused. When franking the post one afternoon I was asked to remove the bank logo from envelopes being sent to South Africa because ‘there are some funny people over there.’ Or oppressed black people rebelling against the disgusting apartheid system still in full flow back then as they might more accurately have been described. A system Barclays thrived on & exploited to the full, as my painfully ignorant teenage self was belatedly in the process of discovering. Selling books & bus travel haven’t made me rich but at least exploiting the misery of others is less prevalent than in banking, a very dirty business masking under a cloak of largely unwarranted respectability.
5 years & 6 days after my inauspicious working career staggered into life future Chelsea fan Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon title at the tender age of 17. Already an imposing unit he combined power with agility & irrepressible energy, throwing himself around the court with an exhilarating, youthful, reckless abandonment that thrilled everyone. Apart from me. I loathed Boris Becker in 1985, largely because he became the first Wimbledon champion to be younger than me (6 years younger at that) & partly because he wasn’t Jimmy Connors, whose combative, streetfighting style I adored, had grown up with & wasn’t ready to see sacrificed at the altar of a generation younger than me just yet. Connors now resembled Gregory Peck in The Gunfighter, grizzled but unbowed, deep down knowing a younger man’s bullet would be getting him shortly but stubbornly refusing to bow to the inevitable. He was still going a decade later, finally retiring at 43 as magnificently cussed & bloody minded as ever. He never won Wimbledon again though.
Being young, carefree, unseeded & cocky Becker was rightly untroubled by the petty concerns of the like of me. Connors had been crushed in the semi finals by South African born Kevin Curren. My dislike of Boris Becker was underpinned hugely by the green eye of jealousy. At 17 I was still at school & my most noteworthy achievement was eating so many sweets I required a staggering nine fillings at the dentists that summer. I achieved little else, & harbouring the notion that the place to a teenage girl’s heart was through plying her with Pear Drops & Rhubarb & Custards got me nowhere, unless you count even more time in the dentist’s chair. It was not the way to a girl’s heart, at best they thought I was, well, sweet. No 17 year old boy wants to be considered sweet. One girl at school professed a liking for Bassetts Liqourice Allsorts so I went for broke & bought her a box. They were returned to me swiftly after the side of the box confirmed the sell by date had expired. Sadly I was slowly learning that lovers, unlike dental cavities, are born not made. Adopting similar tactics to those employed by dodgy strange men in grubby overcoats was never likely to be a winner. I once accepted the offer of some sweets off a man just like that walking home from school when I was about 8. Strangely enough they were also liqourice allsorts. Very nice they were too, so much so that I excitedly told my mum all about it when I got home. That went well. At least they weren’t stale.
In 1985 it was Harry Bassett rather than Bertie Bassett at the local football club in Wimbledon, where Boris Becker now lives, as the then Dons manager was in the process of taking his raucous band of yobbish misfits all the way to the top division. Ultimately they went on to win the FA Cup, beating Liverpool at Wembley in 1988, but Bassett had moved on by then. My dad had played at Plough Lane in his youth, but I never went there, something I rather regret now. I have never been to the tennis either, though my sister went several times on school trips in the mid 1970’s, joining the hysterical, clumpy shoed, flare wearing adolescent hordes terrorising the traditional fans as they pursued the teenage wonder Bjorn Borg around the outside courts at every opportunity. Borg was young, Swedish, blonde, attractive & wore impossibly tight shorts. Women are so shallow compared to men aren’t they?
My desperate need to see someone stem the tide of teenage brilliance found me hoping for Curren to triumph in the 1985 final. By then I was an unemployed History graduate & no longer naive about apartheid. The chances of me supporting a white South African (although Curren now had US citizenship) back then in any situation would normally have been about as likely as me purchasing a copy of that summer’s Black Lace single I Speaka Da Lingo, as gratuitously offensive a record as it is musically abject, but confounding the more cynical of us in 1985 by proving it was physically possible to convert dog shit into seven inch vinyl. In today’s toxic climate I may well have to bend the knee one day just for mentioning I Speaka Da Lingo once, even in an obscure blog piece read by nobody. Make that twice. Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I once saw the two members of Black Lace leaving Dixon’s, laden down with Saisho carrier bags, absurd perms, oversized garishly coloured sunglasses & tight jeans to the fore. Two tits with tat. Club 18-30 had come to Oxford for the day, looking suspiciously older than its target audience. In stature both of these imbeciles resembled their talent. Tiny. Already the much maligned 1970’s were demanding a written apology from all of us. It has taken far too long but here’s mine for what it’s worth. I am deeply sorry 1970’s. I should also apologise to Kevin Curren, no more responsible for an accident of birth than the rest of us, & Boris Becker himself who stormed to victory in 4 sets & quickly won me over in the following years. Nonetheless, his first Wimbledon triumph was still my sporting equivalent of all policeman suddenly looking younger than you, & 23 is a little early to start sensing a progression towards middle age.
Becker won Wimbledon again the following year before a shock early round exit to the late Peter Doohan in 1987, by which point he had become a target for The Sun under its swaggering, bullying cretin of an editor, the loathsome Kelvin Mackenzie, living proof that an entire human body can be taken over by its unwashed arsehole. The Sun is often called a rag but we can all find a use for a rag from time to time. Leave rags out of it. The discovery that a rich, successful testosterone filled 19 year old male quite liked sex was manna from heaven for this cesspit of puerility & Becker became known as Bonking Boris. 30 years later the same organ were strangely more muted by the middle aged antics of a man of the same name knocking out inbred copies of himself all over the place. Quelle surprise. The likes of Elton John & ‘Allo ‘Allo! star Gordon Kaye may not have produced work that filled me with glee in the 1980’s but once The Sun made their desire to systematically destroy the lives of people like this clear in the 1980’s I felt huge empathy for their plight. David Pleat’s alleged kerb crawling antics were a little more of a challenge to my better nature but only because he was manager of Spurs at the time. Becker joining the ranks of those persecuted by Mackenzie & his parasitical lackeys saw him added to the list & by the time he won Wimbledon for a third time, beating Stefan Edberg in 1989, I was firmly in his camp. He also won the US Open that year.
He was never a self effacing character in the way we frequently & unfairly expect British sports people to be, but on a good day he could be as charming & witty off court as he was exciting on it. Compared to the charisma vacuums that were the brooding & surly Ivan Lendl & the stunningly brilliant automaton Pete Sampras there was a welcome streak of humanity to Becker, & unlike Andre Agassi he never had a mullet. Despite the best efforts of malignant moron Mackenzie he quickly identified as an Anglophile & also boiled the piss of the twattier end of the more narrow minded sections within German society by twice marrying black women. Like many who come to fame young there is still an air of unworldly immaturity about some of his actions over the years. Despite the many millions he has earned playing & coaching (he oversaw Novak Djokovic’s career between 2013 & 2016) bankruptcy still beckoned in 2017 & was extended after hidden assets were discovered two years later. He famously fathered a child on a stairway in the appropriately named Nobu restaurant in London, describing it amusingly as the most expensive five seconds of his life, but originally denying paternity. Only yesterday he got embroiled in a social media war of words with the underachieving walking irritant that is Aussie tennis player Nick Kyrgios, actually achieving the unlikely aim of making the latter look like something other than the egotistical streak of six foot spite he usually resembles. Kyrgios referred to Becker as a doughnut & still came out looking more like the adult. The striped blazers & cravats of recent times have also added a further air of contrived flamboyance, & the suspicion that Boris can be somewhat of a dick.
No matter, he was a great tennis player & is now an avid Blue. His belated support for Chelsea began when he was living on the Kings Road after retirement & coincided with the early Abramovich era of Lampard & Drogba, which amusingly Becker thinks predates Chelsea as a truly successful & cool team. One day Boris we must sit down & discuss the 2-4 home defeat to Shrewsbury in 1980. Bless him. He claims ownership of an impressive array of Chelsea scarves, randomly & surely innocently buying one from a matchday street stall that celebrated the existence of the Headhunters, Chelsea’s famous hooligan firm of the 1980’s. With doubtless similar innocence he proceeded to wear it to a Champions League game against PSG in 2015, causing something of a stir in the process! Supporting Chelsea will probably be the only thing Boris Becker & I ever have in common but despite both of us being somewhat past our own sell by dates nowadays the adage that proved a bum steer as far as kickstarting my romantic teenage existence remains curiously apt as a template for a desirable football club fanbase.
It takes all sorts.