Meet the mystery cowboy always on Centre Court
When Nadal plays Djokovic today, look out for the man in the Stetson in the players' box
Sunday 03 July 2011
Behind every Wimbledon Centre Court contender is an entourage of family and friends. And behind them, occupying seat number seven in the players' box, is an incongruous figure with a distinctive goatee and a black Stetson cowboy hat.
Titles have come and gone, but the mystery over this man remains. Who is he? Why the hat? And why for the past 15 years has his presence been caught by television cameras fixated on the brow-furrowed anxiety of spouses and parents, and girl and boyfriends? Observers have likened him to General Custer, Colonel "KFC" Sanders and even Goran Ivanisevic's father.
But we can reveal that he is one David Spearing, and, at 75, he is the Championships' longest-serving steward. He's held the Centre Court seat for 15 years – and shows no sign of giving it up. "When I leave this box," he has said, "it will be in another box."
Mr Spearing spends most of the year in Abu Dhabi, where he has lived for more than 40 years and where he runs a structural engineering consultancy which bears his name. It is also in Abu Dhabi where he acquired the Stetson hat which he has sported for good luck at every final since the 1990s. He is an active member of the British Business Group and a well-known and respected figure in the Emirati community.
But it is the June fortnight every summer where his location downsizes to "a friend's spare room" and the job is to get up close and personal with the public as well as the players. "I'm there primarily to help the public. I'm up at six each morning and get to the Championships an hour later. I make the announcement for the queues at 7am.
"I have time for a short cup of coffee and then have to be on the concourse at 10.30, then I come to the players' area, have a quick lunch and by one I'm on Centre Court for the first game of the day."
It is this protocol that Mr Spearing has followed religiously since 1974, when a friend invited him to try out as a steward. His die-hard dedication and loyalty have propelled him up the ladder, and now he acts as host to the families and coaches in the players' box on Centre Court.
Mr Spearing, who says he was good friends with the Henman family back in the day, has now struck up acquaintances with the Federers and, of late, the Nadals. Of Andy Murray's family, he says they were "a little bit depressed" after the player's semi-final defeat on Friday. "When I saw them leave they seemed very down," he said. "But they know this feeling well – they have suffered the grand-slam finals defeats before. Eventually, though, they'll be right as rain. No one better than Andy realises that he's got to pick himself up."
Not that Mr Spearing is too concerned. His predictions for a British victory lie firmly with next summer, by way of an odd calculation. "Our last British [men's singles] winner was Fred Perry in 1936. Thirty-eight years later I joined the Wimbledon stewards. That was 1974. If you add 38 years to that, it's 2012. So Murray must win next year, I'll get good odds."
Mr Spearing, who was born in Wallington and moved to Blackburn before the war, cites the 2001 final between Patrick Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic as one of his favourites. "Because of the rain it was delayed until the Monday, and there were no pre-sold tickets. It was just £10 to buy a ticket at a turnstile and you could sit anywhere. Wimbledon almost closed with the queues forming, and the atmosphere was one like never before."
Today his money in on Nadal for a five-setter. "Djokovic is playing amazing tennis, but Nadal has the edge."
Once the tournament finishes, Mr Spearing has a few matters to attend to before returning to Abu Dhabi and making his plans for a return – in 50 weeks' time.
Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo: Compare the Barcelona and Real Madrid players in El Clasico
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo
Tim Sherwood: The mavericks have always needed special handling – but Balotelli is not delivering his side of the bargain for Liverpool
Manchester United vs Chelsea: Modesty of Louis van Gaal makes nice contrast with his old pupil Jose Mourinho
Rio Ferdinand retirement: QPR defender announces he will end career next summer
- 1 Revolutionary lost Caravaggio painting 'Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy' identified
- 2 McKamey Manor: This 'extreme' haunted house is the stuff of nightmares
- 3 Russell Brand says he will 'probably' give up acting to focus on his revolution
- 4 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 5 David Beckham's Haig Club whisky is exactly what’s wrong with the Highlands
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show how skewed people’s priorities are
Poppy Appeal 2014: This is why I won't be wearing a red poppy this year