The Stylish Mr McEnroe

The Man From The Hornet writes… Every man’s life is a journey. And in the great scheme of things no one man’s journey is more valid than any other man’s. When all’s said and done, we’re all – poet, thief or bum – heading for the same destination.

Most of those journeys are taken in private, away from the glare of the wider world, played out before a select audience of family and friends.

The ordinary man’s glories are celebrated in relative obscurity. No bad thing. It’s good for the soul. It reminds me of the North American Indians who, when they had taken a scalp, would run off into the desert to glory in private, returning to the tribe only when their pride had sufficiently subsided to make them bearable to their peers again.

Similarly, the ordinary man’s set backs are halved in sharing them privately with a cherished coterie of loved ones.


Imagine life the other way around: one’s every move, every slip, every triumph played out before the watching world.


Take John McEnroe. We’ve just enjoyed a fortnight of his wit and wisdom on the BBC at Wimbledon.


Those of us who have journeyed along with Mr McEnroe are old enough to remember “The Brat”. The spoilt youth with a pile of curly hair like a burst sofa above a face that was permanently set halfway between Edvard Munch and Violet Elizabeth Bott out of Just William. We’ll never forget the whining, the roars, the tantrums, the smashing of the rackets… and the utterly thrilling tennis.

In his focus, in his drive in his sheer lack of charm, McEnroe was the harbinger of the standard-issue 21st Century sportsman.


My! Look how he’s grown.


His presence in the commentary box at Wimbledon is worth the BBC license fee all on its own. His interview on Sunday with Rod Laver, the legendary Australian tennis player and McEnroe’s personal hero, was a lesson in interview technique: revealing, but always respectful, reverent and polite.

The vast majority of men cringe a little when looking at certain old photos featuring ill-advised ties and haircuts. And we all have something somewhere to regret, a word or an action that we can’t take back. Our best friends tend not to bring those things up.

McEnroe’s past is brought up all the time on TV – and plays out forever on YouTube. He expressed a certain squirming embarrassment in a BBC interview recently regarding his performances as a young man. And I felt for him. Let’s be frank. We’ve all done things we regret: but most of us don’t have to watch reruns of them on TV every year.


These days McEnroe is graying and pleasingly grizzled. He is ageing well – keep fit, Horneteers, take exercise. His passion for the game he now describes so eloquently is undimmed. His experience of life at the sharp end on the game qualifies him more than most to be in the commentary box. He has the narrative gifts of the best of his countrymen, the Irish.


And, on a style note, he dresses like a man. With a tie. Some of his colleagues on the BBC Wimbledon coverage, who had already spent many years in his shadow on the tennis court as young men, seem to be content to spend their middle age as his sartorial inferiors, too.

I’m sure The Guv’nor will agree with me – the plain coloured, open neck shirt with a suit has its place. And that place is five minutes before bedtime when one has taken the tie off for the first time that day. It just looks underprepared. Not ready for the challenge. (Prime Minister Cameron, please take note of this last and advise your ministers accordingly.)


(If the BBC will insist upon using John Lloyd next year, send him to Hornets and we’ll fix him up with a decent tie or two. The license fee can surely stretch to it and if it helps we’ll do him a good deal. It’s never too late to at least look like a champion.)


But back to that conversation with Rod Laver: McEnroe asked, without side nor ego nor agenda, “Apart from you, Rod, who is the greatest tennis played of them all?”

Mr Laver has too much class to indulge in mutual back slapping, but gave an answer with the clear inference that McEnroe must be mentioned among them.


We at The Hornet never thought we’d post such a piece: the dignified, stylish middle age of John McEnroe. The journey has been one of the most memorable of all played out on our TV screens. It hasn’t been lurid or sensational or scandalous. Not all great stories need be. But we have been privileged to watch that most dramatic transition: a boy growing into a man.


Thanks Mr McEnroe. We look forward to seeing you next year at Wimbledon.

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