£90 Million Umbrella: Don't Leave Home Without It
Merry Old England has become a rather over-saturated version of her usually soggy self this year, a very busy time for sports and grand displays of British pomp and circumstance.
Mother Nature had the audacity to rain on Queen Elizabeth’s Thames Diamond Jubilee pageant, Sunday, June 3, when the Queen and her family sailed down the River Thames before wildly cheering but rain-soaked adoring Brits who lined the riverbanks and many bridges.
The Queen and her husband, Prince Philip, kept dry under an archway at Windsor Castle last Monday with umbrellas at the ready as they gave their official blessing to the Olympic torch when one of the wet relay runners carried it to her majesty’s doorstep.
Maybe they said a short, silent prayer for a letup in the rain when the XXX Olympiad is held in London, July 27-Aug. 12.
The Open Championship, better known over here as the British Open Golf Championship, begins this coming Thursday at the Royal Lytham & St. Anne’s course, just south of Blackpool on the northwest coast of England overlooking the Irish Sea. It has rained quite a bit in that part of Lancashire, England, in recent weeks.
In fact, all of Europe, from the British Isles of the United Kingdom and Ireland to the west and on across the entire mainland of Europe to the south of Russia, has suffered from record rains and killer floods. It is as wet on that side of the pond as it is desert dry in fire-ravaged parts of our country.
Maybe we can blame it on La Niña, or maybe on global warming, or both.
But it became obvious during the recent two weeks of the All England tennis championships at Wimbledon that everyone in the U.K. should not leave home without it. The “it” in this case is the English national sidearm of choice — an umbrella.
Numerous rain interruptions and stubbornness by the official referee in charge of the Wimbledon tennis competitions caused a lot of players to slip and slide about the famous grass Centre Court that could have been dry but was not.
Here we have one of the dampest nations in the Northern Hemisphere, a wonderful country with wonderful people, but an overabundance of rain during the best of times and now an overdose of the stuff.
Worth Every £
That is why James Smith & Sons Ltd., the oldest umbrella shop in England and probably in the world, has been a thriving business in London’s West End since 1830. If you are visiting England for the Olympics in a couple of weeks, you can purchase one of James Smith’s Classic City Umbrellas for about £150. That amounts to approximately $225 for this traditionally black umbrella that opens to 41 inches in diameter.
The shop on New Oxford Street has thousands of other umbrellas for men and women. Some can cost hundreds of pounds.
The folks who run the third Grand Slam tennis tournament each year at Wimbledon came up with the biggest umbrella in England four years ago because they got tired of more than a century of stopping and starting the premier matches of their tournament time and time again because of rain.
Wimbledon officials did not go to James Smith & Sons for their umbrella, however. They needed a roof over their Centre Court Stadium, a job slightly too big for even the 182-year-old Smith shop to handle.
So the All England Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club of Wimbledon spent close to £90 million to have a retractable roof put over its primary grass court. That would keep the court dry when the big matches were on the line. No more delays and interruptions to the semifinal and final matches for both men and women championships. Let it rain at Wimbledon. It wouldn’t stop them anymore.
With an umbrella like that, who cares if it rains?
Reluctant About the Roof
Well, it also depends on whether or not the man in charge has the sense to come in out of the rain. That person is Andrew Jarrett, the referee for the All England tennis matches at Wimbledon. Maybe, when he was a small boy, he liked splashing in puddles of rain instead of seeking shelter from England’s dripping skies. Or maybe he was just not fast enough and got used to walking in out of the rain instead of running like all the other kids.
Whatever was his problem, Referee Jarrett grew up to become very reluctant to order the retractable roof closed when rain began falling on the tournament-deciding matches, Saturday and Sunday, June 7 and 8.
The forecast each of those two days called for more rain, just like the rain that had been falling on the tournament constantly from the start. Black clouds did not bode well for two dry days of tennis over the weekend.
Claiming tennis is an “outdoor sport,” Jarrett did not close the roof when rain was imminent. He did not close the roof when it began raining. Instead, he used the long-time protection of covering Centre Court with a tarpaulin. But that was well after the courts got wet.
He finally gave in when darkness approached and ordered the roof closed so the players could proceed well into the evening.
If the roof had been used for the reason it was built, the men’s and women’s singles finals would not have been interrupted by rain. The women’s doubles would have been concluded by dinnertime instead of finishing only minutes before an 11 p.m. curfew, Saturday, when the Williams sisters won the doubles for the fifth time many hours after Serena Williams won the soggy women’s singles championship for the fifth time.
Then on Sunday, anyone looking skyward would have realized rain was on its way that afternoon. The roof should have been closed.
But no. Referee Jarrett refused once again.
Then, in what was shaping up as a close battle between the local favorite, Andy Murray of Scotland, and the mighty resurgent Roger Federer, rain came again. Once again Jarrett used the tarp instead of closing the roof. Eventually he caved and did close the roof.
But it was too late to prevent the court from becoming very wet.
After each man won a set, the crucial third set was marred when Murray slipped and fell on the soaked court at important junctures of the match, losing a point each time. Federer took advantage of this and went on to win his seventh Wimbledon championship in four sets.
More Water in Store
When you go out and pay millions and millions of pounds for an umbrella and then it rains, why in the name of all that falls from above don’t you deploy your umbrella, particularly if you are an Englishman?
The long-range forecast calls for more rain during both the British Open Golf Championship later this week and the London Olympics that start in 12 days.
Tennis is an Olympic sport. The Williams sisters, Federer, Murray and other stars of the game will participate in their pursuit of Olympic gold. Those Olympic tennis matches will take place on the numerous Wimbledon courts. It is hoped that if rain is threatening or actually falling on Centre Court during the Olympics, whoever is in charge this time will have the sense to use the £90 million umbrella.
Gordon White served 43 years as a sports reporter for The New York Times. His email is email@example.com.
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