IT has been the greatest sporting year ever with heroes and heroines coming out of every nook and cranny near enough every week.
Among them the one-time unknown tennis player from Sheffield, Jonny Marray, who has probably pinched himself so much that he’s worn out finger and thumb.
The man forever to be prefaced as “Wimbledon champion” is, I’m delighted to say, winding up his best year in some style at the year-ending ATP World Finals at the O2 Arena.
Marray and his partner Freddie Nielsen, just as they did at Wimbledon, have been defying the odds.
Ranked eighth out of eight, they surprised everyone by winning their first group match. Then they went and beat the current holders of this title. So, they’re already in the semis with a game to spare!
As his year’s earnings go beyond £200,000 - about more than he’d won in the previous ten years - Marray will be comparing this week’s high life with more challenging times. Top drawer accommodation provided in London and delivery to the O2 Arena by water taxi down the Thames. Crikey, £20,000 simply for being there!
Not quite the same standard of hotel in some of Europe’s less glamorous spots on the lower-ranked Challengers Tour events he was used to.
Well, not always a hotel. He recalled a trip to Uzbekistan a few years ago when he stayed in flats with some local residents. There was an uprising and the British Consul had to come in, rescue them and drive them away in an armed convoy!
After this week, Marray’s next task is to find himself a partner. Nielsen is opting out to concentrate on singles.
This was brought up in a Press conference. “It’s not bearing fruit as of yet, but if I do well here, I’ll be... what’s the word?” Marray asked.
“Attractive,” chipped in Nielsen.
“Yeh, I’ll be more attractive to someone else. Er, thanks Freddie,” chuckled Marray.
THE story of Arthur Wharton, the first black professional footballer, looks set for some national exposure now that television has its hands on it.
Locally, the story of the man who played for Sheffield United (and was the First Division’s first black player when he made his debut for the Blades in 1895) and Rotherham Town among others, has been brought to prominence in recent years by Sheffield-based FURD (Football Unites Racism Divides).
In fact, the Arthur Wharton Heritage Project (helped by grants from the Lottery and the PFA) was set up a couple of years ago and his story has become an educational tool in schools across South Yorkshire and within youth groups.
Two weeks ago, in Sheffield, FURD premiered The Arthur Wharton Story, a film of Arthur’s life.
Among footballing people present were Brian Deane and former Charlton Athletic striker Kim Grant who, recent research has revealed, is related to Arthur who originally came from Ghana.
During the evening, the organisers had hoped to link up with Sheila Leeson, Arthur’s descendant who lives at Edlington the village where he died in 1930 and is buried.
She was out in Ghana with a BBC crew who are doing a programme on Arthur Wharton so this important story which has been largely local (albeit not exclusively so) will get a wider audience some time next year.