‘We wanted to honour Andy’s feats here – but not retire him too early’
Philip Brook recalls his highlights as chairman of the All England Club with Simon Briggs
At a farewell briefing in the All England Club’s boardroom yesterday, outgoing chairman Philip Brook could be found discussing a new statue on the grounds of Wimbledon – although not in honour of himself.
The man who will receive the special treatment – hitherto only offered to Fred Perry – is the two-time champion Andy Murray. Which might seem appropriate, given that Brook offered Murray’s historic 2013 singles victory – the first by a British male for 77 years, lest we forget – as the undoubted highlight of his nine-year term.
“Just to be part of the occasion and the presentation party on that day was very special,” said Brook, a 63-year-old former actuary from Wakefield in Yorkshire. He will pass the baton to 72-year-old former Freshfields lawyer Ian Hewitt in December.
“Our thought all along is that we want to recognise Andy’s significant achievements here at Wimbledon. We don’t want to retire him too early, so we wouldn’t unveil it until after he’s finished. But it’s something we are doing for him, as we did with Fred Perry and the other busts around the site.”
Not wanting to pre-empt a career that could have many years left in it, Brook said that Murray had not yet been consulted or asked to pose for an artist. He also batted away suggestions that Murray’s name could be attached to one of the show courts.
“I think it’s unlikely that we would want to start naming stadiums after players. We quite like Centre Court and No1 Court. We like our traditions and that’s probably one we will stick with.”
Brook has certainly maintained the traditional feel of the AELTC. He has an obsession with all-white clothing – even to the point of banning caps that use grey shading under the peak to reduce glare. But he has also been prepared to challenge the status quo within this often chaotic sport.
Perhaps his finest achievement, in view of the difficulty of bringing all seven tennis stakeholders together, is the addition of an extra week to the grass-court season – a move which he brought about through the canny use of Roger Federer’s persuasive powers. He also cites the construction of the new No1 Court and the purchase of neighbouring Wimbledon Park Golf Club (or, technically, the early release of that land) as highlights of his tenure.
“We’ve appointed a form of master-planners to help us think through all of the issues,” Brook said, in relation to the 80-acre acquisition which will treble Wimbledon’s available space.
“We think it will take a year, maybe a bit longer. That’s why this is a good time to leave, because right now that thinking is at an embryonic stage and it needs the same person [to guide it]. There are some great questions. For instance, Church Road right now is on the edge of the site but, in the new world, it will be right in the middle.
“So do we close Church Road during The Championships? That happened during the Olympic Games, so it’s been done before, but for a somewhat smaller event. That’s one possibility. Or do we undertake an engineering project to sink the road or bridge across it?
“Do we think our third stadium court [No2 Court, which holds 4,000 spectators] is big enough? If you look at Melbourne Park or the US Open, they’ve got a third stadium twice the size of ours.
“The District Line is at the far side of the golf course, so should we think about a bigger Wimbledon Park station potentially being the arrival point? We could tell a nice Wimbledon story for people arriving and leaving the grounds. Those are just some examples.”
Wimbledon has come under fire from members of the ATP player council, who suggest that the players deserve a bigger share of its profits. But first-round prize money has climbed from £11,000 to £45,000 during Brook’s tenure. And as the above list of ideas suggests, Wimbledon continues to evolve in the most bold, ambitious and expensive manner.
“Players don’t understand where we’ve come from and they always want more,” Brook said. “Spend more time with Rod Laver or even Tim Henman and they’d learn things were very different not that long ago. We are making a decision to spend money for a roof on No1 Court rather than put it into the pockets of today’s player and I think that’s the right thing to do.”
Watching brief: Philip Brook applauds the action with the Duchess of Cornwall