Why our support for Andy Murray is tinged with a note of regret
Later this afternoon, like much of the country, Co-operative Party activists will be glued to the television, screaming ‘Come on Andy’ at the tennis. But, whilst we too will be hoping for the first British men’s singles winner at Wimbledon since 1936, it comes with a note of regret.
The last British men’s singles winner was, of course, Fred Perry, with three successive triumphs at the All England Club in 1934, 1935 and 1936. The feat was all the more remarkable because Fred was a young man of working class origins, born in Stockport, not the traditional background for the sport.
Fred Perry’s father, Samuel, is the hero behind all this. Samuel was born in 1877 and, at the age of ten, was forced to give up school when his father died to become a cotton spinner like his dad had been. The story could have ended there had it not been for the co-operative movement. Co-ops, then as now, have always been dedicated to education and self-help and the Stockport Co-operative Society provided Sam with opportunities he would never had had otherwise. Leaving the cotton mills behind, Samuel threw himself into the co-operative movement, working for co-op societies in Bolton, then the Wirral.
In 1917, the co-operative movement made the leap into politics and founded the Co-operative Party. It picked 40-year-old Samuel Perry as its first General Secretary and he moved to London with his family, including nine-year-old Fred. They moved to the Brentham Garden Estate, itself based on a co-operative model very much with co-op ideals, with public tennis facilities young Fred was able to use.
In 1920, Samuel tried a return to Stockport, by standing as the Co-operative candidate for the town, but he lost the election and the family stayed in London, failing again in 1922. Sam would become an MP, for Kettering 1923-24 and 1929-31. He remained as General Secretary of the Co-operative Party until 1942.
And young Fred? Well of course we know the rest. He progressed from the public tennis courts on a co-operative housing estate to becoming the world’s most famous sports personality of his era, engaged to actresses and his name on clothing to this day.
The Co-operative Movement and the Co-operative Party can be proud that they played a role in giving young Fred the platform to display his talent and tenacity. We will be on Andy Murray’s side, of course, but not without a little regret that we might no longer be able to claim ‘Britain’s last Wimbledon men’s winner’.