Barclays Unsung Tennis Hero crowned
Originally published on: 02/11/12 00:00
After a nationwide search to find Britain’s most-deserving unsung tennis hero, Barclays have announced that Jamaican Milton Gayle will carry the trophy onto court at the conclusion of play at this year’s Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
Milton, who was nominated by Tom Ulicsak and Isebail MacKinnon from Southwark City Tennis Club, has worked in local community tennis in some of South East London’s most deprived areas since the 1970s.
“Milton says, ‘if they are holding a tennis racket they can’t be holding a gun’,” says Ulicsak. “Milton has worked tirelessly with the aim of providing children with the opportunity that he didn’t have as a child in Jamaica where he had no access to tennis courts or coaching. He has coached thousands of children some of whom have become tennis coaches themselves and helped others stay away from gang culture.”
Milton’s passion for tennis first began in Runaway Bay, on the north coast of Jamaica, where he was a ball boy at Fred Perry’s country club. He had moved there from his home in Kingston after his parents relocated to the UK, but it wasn’t too long before Milton was following his family across the ocean. After settling in London, he immediately became involved with tennis in the local area.
“When I came from Jamaica these courts were derelict,” said Milton. “There were no facilities like toilets or water. And we had 31 kids on one court. If they wanted to use the toilet we had to send them in the bushes!”
After working with children at Burgess Park for the best part of 40 years, Milton’s tireless efforts finally paid off in 2004 when the lottery and local council put up the funds for a new facility, resulting in Southwark City Tennis Club becoming one of the largest community clubs in the country.
“It makes a world of difference,” Milton explained. “The area we live in is a troubled area – lots of problems. It’s not a tennis-oriented background. We’re competing against football, basketball, all different kinds of sports. Tennis is not one that is easily accessible to these kids but we’ve got nearly 300 kids on our membership now.”
Milton’s work in tennis has reached beyond the UK. He hosted a memorial event for Arthur Ashe, bringing together young people from the US, Jamaica and the UK to play tournaments on the public courts of London.
“Hopefully people can see what we’re doing down here and can come in and help us,” said Milton. “We need help around here. Hopefully people will come into our community and invest in the youngsters. The reason we don’t [produce tennis players in Great Britain] is because we don't come down to places like this and invest the money. There’s loads of talent down here – all the kids need is access to facilities.”
Now in his sixties, Milton is still as passionate about tennis as he was when he first arrived in the UK and he continues to coach and play every day. “I try to teach the game like Roger Federer plays it. He’s my hero as a tennis player.”
On November 12, when Milton carries the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals trophy onto court in front of a 17,000 strong crowd at The O2 in London, he will finally enjoy his time in the limelight. And it’s the least he deserves for his services to the game of tennis in this country.
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