Tennis: Sheffield mum led Roger Taylor’s rise to Wimbledon elite

Close relationship: Roger Taylo plays an exhibitiobn match at Bramall Lane after being encouraged to pick up a racket by his mother.
Close relationship: Roger Taylo plays an exhibitiobn match at Bramall Lane after being encouraged to pick up a racket by his mother.
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ANDY Murray’s mum has obviously been a huge part of her son’s tennis career. And come June 20 and the start of Wimbledon, we can expect Judy’s face to be flashing onto our televisions pretty regularly from the guests’ box on Centre Court.

But a special mum and son tennis relationship here in Sheffield was blossoming long before Andy, and even Judy, were thought of. Without doubt, Roger Taylor - who was to become, and still remains by reputation, one of the very best tennis players there has been in this country - owes everything to his, mum, Lilian that he took up tennis at an early age.

She then inspired him simply through her enthusiasm and willingness to get on court with him at every possible opportunity whatever the time of year.

“It didn’t matter if it was dark half an hour after school finished, we’d be out there while it was light enough. I’ve known us sweep snow off the court so as to play - and we were both happy as Larry,” said Roger.

Three times a Wimbledon semi-finalist - once after beating the legendary Rod Laver - he recalls the Wimbledon support from mum and his steelworker dad, Mark, a furnaceman in Sheffield’s East End.

“Dad always took a week off so they could go down to Wimbledon but after the first week that was it. They never stayed for the second week, which meant they never saw me ‘live’ in those big quarter or semi-finals,” he chuckles.

With the build-up now under way ahead of Wimbledon starting, it is a poignant time for Roger after mum Lilian died just a few days after her 95th birthday.

“As a little kid I can remember her playing all the time and I spent my childhood watching her in Weston Park near to where we lived in Upperthorpe and following her around playing matches in other parks in the city,” he recalled.

“I began by hitting a ball against a wall in Mushroom Lane, imagining I was playing against somebody, the ball coming off this uneven wall at funny angles.

“Then she decided I needed someone to play with so it was on court with her. She’d no tennis background and didn’t start playing until she was 33 but she loved the game and we played all the time and always outside because there were no indoor courts around here in the 1950s.

“She didn’t coach me in terms of technique, I learned simply by playing matches and mum would talk about tactics.”

By his early teens, Roger was already looking a promising prospect.

“The two weeks’ holiday dad got from the steelworks were spent at Scarborough at the Yorkshire and North of England championships,” he remembered.

At 16, he and 17-year-old Sheffield tennis pal Dickie Dillon (now in the USA but they still meet up in London) once starred for Yorkshire at the prestigious County week at Eastbourne after initially chosen as reserves.

Moving to London at 17, and a job with Fred Perry’s sportswear firm, was his ‘big’ break but he notes that the coaching wasn’t as it is now - “we simply had to learn as we went along.”

He recalls the famous Wimbledon win over the great Rod Laver in 1970 ... “he was unbeaten in 31 matches and people said to me ‘don’t bother turning up’. That year saw his second semi-final defeat, with another in 1973.

“It was all down to my mum, she gave me the chance to hit some balls and it started me off. It was humble beginnings really, on the street, public courts, no ‘proper’ coaching. It couldn’t happen now with the way it’s all structured,” he said.

As Roger - now 69 and living in Wimbledon close by the hallowed courts - followed his career around the world, Lilian remained involved in the city and coached youngsters. “She was known all over,” he says.

No doubt much to the delight of his Blades-mad mum, Roger once played at Bramall Lane but not at football... “It was a tennis exhibition match in front of where the old cricket pavilion was,” he recalls.

“It’s remarkable to think back to those early days and what it was like.

“It was virtually a Billy Elliot story.”