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Seven Years Later

The seventh anniversary of the 7/7 bombings seems to have passed London by, buried under the avalanche of sporting and weather-related headlines which dominated last weekend’s papers. Not that Andy Murray and the flash floods didn’t deserve their moments in the limelight but… Well, they didn’t.

Tennis and torrential rain may have been monopolising the collective thoughts of the UK recently – and far be it from me to halt the patriotic bandwagon by belittling the chances of Britain’s latest ‘almost-but-not-quite boy’ and suggesting conversation might focus on something other than summer downpours – but shouldn’t we be striving to remind people of events other than those outside their windows or being promoted by the BBC every 5 minutes?

Two of the best things about being British at this time of year are, without a doubt, having the God-given right to complain about the ‘uncharacteristic weather’ (so incredibly unusual is rain in July that it’s almost IN character), and Wimbledon fortnight: now Andy’s taken the reigns from Tim Henman, the UK population has added Union Jacks to their shopping baskets alongside the customary Pimm’s, and optimistically flown them for all to see – reaffirming their rose-tinted pride in home-grown talent. Thank goodness we always have a player waiting in the changing rooms, ready to instil Britain’s tennis junkies with another fix of false hope.

Without press coverage of events such as the septennial of the 2005 terrorist attacks on London, anniversaries like this can easily be overlooked. Whether or not you’re someone who has a head for dates, it’s likely that you forgot to pause for a minute to remember those who had their lives cut short, seven years ago last Saturday. Despite those bombings being far closer to home, as well as a stark reminder of how difficult it would be to stop another tragedy of that nature, 7/7 doesn’t appear to command the same significance as 9/11 – and that is to our detriment as a nation.

Not counting the bombers themselves, 52 lives were lost in the attacks that day, and more than 700 others were injured. Ordinary people using the public transport system to travel around London – the same way that 3 million of us do every day – who were in the wrong place as the wrong time, due to four England-based men who’d been influenced by Al Qaeda’s ideologies and were able to fashion deadly bombs under the radar of the Security Services.

The programme shown on BBC2 last Thursday, ‘7/7: One Day in London’ was one of the most powerful pieces of television I have ever seen. Narrated by the first-hand accounts of those who witnessed the attacks or their aftermath – many of whom had lost close relatives or were hurt directly in the bombings – Ben Anthony’s film enabled the viewer to hear from those who were most devastated by that day in July 2005. While providing an insight into the sequence of events, the programme also brought to light the initial confusion and chaos which engulfed TfL workers and the emergency services and, ultimately, the overwhelming acts of humanity and selflessness which led to many more victims living to tell their stories.

Whilst I don’t believe that we should only remember people on the date of their deaths, the anniversary of 7/7 is a fitting opportunity in which to pay homage to those killed that day, as well as the people who were injured and those who acted beyond courageously in the face of terror, pandemonium and anguish. It’s a time when, once a year, we can collectively pass on well wishes, offer a blessing or shed a tear for those who suffered a loss that day seven years ago.

A Very British Affair

Conscious that the above might have implied that I believe that sport should stay on the back pages, I thought I should confess my love of tennis. Whilst I’m not a particularly avid follower of many sports, there’s something about Djokovic and co. that enthrals me. Much as I wish I could say that it’s because I’ve got a fantastic forehand of my own, I’m a crap returner at best (blame the lack of hand/eye coordination) and haven’t set foot on a court in about 5 years.

Wimbledon is the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world, commanding reverence among players due to it being both the longest-running Major and the only one still played on the original grass court surface. An abundance of quotes reveal how coveted an SW19 title is, with both Nadal and Djokovic referring to it as their favourite event, and Federer saying that winning the Championships is one of his ultimate annual dreams, along with ending the year as the World No. 1.

The many traditions associated with Wimbledon add to its esteemed reputation; from the predictable mid-match snack of strawberries and cream, to the Royal Family’s tendency to grace Centre Court, the tournament celebrates its innate Britishness – and with numerous rain delays causing interruptions to the games, it’s probably just as well that the London location is so renowned.

Upsettingly, certain aspects tarnish its reputability every year. Vulgar shouts from the stands and the lack of enforced dress code for observers completely degrade the tone of the Championships and showcase the British customs that we’d rather not beam around the world. This year’s coverage displayed crowd members falling asleep in the stands and shouting out untimely declarations of love for the players – actions which detract from the class with which lawn tennis is associated.

My question is, if we impose a code of conduct on the competitors and staff at Wimbledon, why can’t we extend this to audience members too? Prohibiting casualwear and banning those who distract players during matches – along with those who rhythmically (and infuriatingly) clap along with Hawk-Eye challenges in the hope of adding to the suspense – would ensure that we retain the prestige that Wimbledon commands, allowing us to present our best side to others in attendance, and those following the footage from around the globe. Similarly, disallowing those who choose to sleep or text as opposed to watching the match before them would also preserve the high esteem with which the tournament is regarded, as well as reinforcing the notion that watching lawn tennis live is a privilege and an occasion worth prizing, deserving of smart dress and adhering to proper etiquette.

Returning to the players, I should admit to being very traitorous in supporting Federer over Murray; I’ve been a fan of Roger for as long as I can remember and no one – not even Britain’s current racquet-wielding golden boy – can dampen my elation at his return to the top.  Widely regarded as the best man ever to play professional tennis, I am always astounded at Federer’s unfaltering nerve and extraordinary modesty, despite his record-breaking 17 career titles. His post-match interviews always reveal him to be exceptionally gracious and complementary towards his opponents, while his elegance on court is an absolute pleasure to watch.

Before anyone else accuses me of treason for being anti-Andy, I’ll explain my reasons. Murray lacks the charm and amiability which many players possess: from Tsonga’s charisma to Youzhny’s cheerful disposition, the British No. 1 is somewhat lacking in personality by comparison. Much as I’m overjoyed at listening to his monotonous conference room analyses (all the time reassuring us that he’s “getting better” and “playing well”), there’s something distinctly unlikeable about Murray. I’m not sure whether it’s his presumed inability to smile or else his displays of unsportsmanlike behaviour (such as his refusal to shake hands with Adel Aref, the umpire of his 2006 doubles match, after calling him a f***ing c**t), but forgive me if I wasn’t crying along with his tearful thank you speech on Sunday. Sure, it was nice to know that he’s equipped with emotional capacity – not that you’d ever guess from the tedious tone of his voice – but Andy’s disappointment didn’t tug on my heartstrings along with the rest of the nation’s.

The front pages of Monday’s national papers had just two images of Federer adorning them, while the vast majority went with photos of Murray weeping, alongside headlines akin to The Independent’s ‘Andy, we know how you feel’ and other sentiments which scarcely disguised the fact that he’d dashed British hopes for a fifth consecutive year. Only The i and The Guardian chose to show a jubilant Federer as well as Murray’s embittered expression, and a tweet by the BBC’s Hugh Sykes requesting that Wimbledon fans “rejoice in genius, not in 2nd place” [sic.] was republished by just two people – and one of them was me.

As newsworthy as his failure to win was, Murray did not deserve to be on those front pages – Roger Federer did. By triumphing at this year’s Championships, Federer equalised Pete Sampras’ record of seven Wimbledon singles titles and will become the player with the longest time as ATP World No. 1, surpassing Sampras on Monday when he begins his 287th week in the tennis top spot.

The American judge and politician Earl Warren once said “I always turn to the sports page first. The sports page records people’s accomplishments; the front page nothing but man’s failures” and, looking at Monday’s papers, it seems that he was very much correct. Sports have long resided on the back cover and I have no problem in keeping to this tradition. However, Wimbledon is a British tournament which we are (deservingly) privileged to host, and it is only right that we extend that pride to the champions produced by the tournament too. Federer may have crushed our home-grown competitor, but his gratitude and celebratory trophy-kissing should have been the image plastered across our papers, not those displaying Murray’s disappointment.