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David Spearing – man in the hat, friend of the stars

Honorary steward David Spearing
by Matt Trollope
Wednesday 3 July 2013

On Centre Court at Wimbledon, matches are scheduled, contested, completed, and replaced with others. Player entourages come and go, but one constant in the players’ box is David Spearing – instantly recognisable in his black Stetson hat.

In fact, so constant a presence is he that the 2013 Championships marks his 16th year in the role as Honorary Steward, a position that sees him take his seat in the box for all Centre Court matches after ushering players’ families, partners, coaching teams and other supporters into their designated seats.

The players’ box on Centre Court is one of the charming quirks at Wimbledon. Unlike the other slams, where entourages are separated, the All England Club nestles them into the same close confines. For years, one entourage sat in a row directly behind the other.

Spearing recalls the pre-2005 era when the players’ box operated on a first-come, first-served basis.

“I remember Mrs [Lucy] Henman used to be standing at the bottom of the stairs before the previous match finished so she could then go up and get the front row [for Tim’s matches]. We didn’t have any order,” he said.

That changed when the front row was designated for the higher-ranked player. There are six seats in each row, and a seventh in the second for Spearing. For the semi-finals and finals players were given eight seats, with an extra pair reserved for each across the aisle in the staff box.

With opposing player entourages so close together, you would imagine an environment ripe with tension, and for those tensions to spill over when proceedings get tight in a big match.

But Spearing says the atmosphere is mostly quite genteel. “There were little bits [of tension], once or twice,” he said with a smile. “We just talk and sort it out a little bit. My job is not to make a scene.”

The configuration changed again in 2010. The aforementioned staff box – two rows of 13 seats reserved for All England Club staffers – was given to the players, affording them each 19 guest spaces, with entourages seated at opposite ends of the box. The higher-ranked player gets the seats at the original end of the players’ box (unless they request otherwise) and one entourage is given purple seating tickets and the other green – Wimbledon’s.

Spearing’s recurring role has seen him form friendships with several of the players’ coaches and families, including Richard Williams, the Henmans and the Federers. “I’ve got a lovely photograph sitting with Richard Williams on the parapet of the box while Serena and Sharapova played the [2004] final,” he said.

“The Federers are lovely people. Mirka I know very well, the twins I’m getting to know, and Robbie and Lynette Federer [Roger’s parents] are very good, all good friends.”

Spearing recalls a wonderful story prior to the 2007 men’s final, when Federer beat Rafael Nadal to equal Bjorn Borg’s record of five straight titles at the All England Club.

“Robbie walked down [to the box], saw me, put his hand on my shoulder, he said, ‘David! You’re very famous today!’ I said ‘Why?’ He said ‘There’s an article about you today in the [Swiss] national newspaper. You haven’t seen it? OK, I’ll send it to you’.”

Not thinking much of it, Spearing handed Federer his business card with the relevant contact details. “A month or two later, out of the blue, I was at the post office box and there was this envelope, and I then realised what it was because it was hand-written with all my qualifications [from my business card]. As well as the article, I’ve kept the envelope because the two stamps at the top showed his son receiving the champion’s trophy here at Wimbledon for the fifth time.”

No matter who contests this year’s final, Spearing will remain, ushering the latest troupe of players’ supporters into the box to watch as the 2013 champion is crowned.

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