Right now, some of the most famous sportsmen and women in the world are taking instructions from someone in a high chair.
I normally think of high chairs as objects tucked in the back of restaurants, waiting for families with toddlers. But if you’re on the court at Wimbledon, it’s where the appropriately named chair umpire sits, waiting to pass judgment on your playing.
The High Chair
The umpire chairs are made by Edwards, a sports equipment company founded in 1884, which has been supplying Wimbledon with umpire chairs, tennis nets, ball-stopping netting and all sorts for more than 100 years.
(I rang the company to find out more: though Edwards actually makes the equipment, it’s Dunlop-Slazenger that supplies it to Wimbledon; there’s a 113-year-old relationship between the two firms that’s just been renewed.)
Nothing could be more traditional than Wimbledon – the tennis whites, the Mr and Miss forms of address, the strawberries and cream. As befitting the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (for that’s where Wimbledon is held), all the equipment from Edwards is made in Britain, in the Dorset town of Bridport.
In fact, all those fixtures we take for granted on the court are steeped in history, down to the tennis net and its posts and the netting around the courts. Bridport has been a manufacturing centre for netting (and rope, twine and sailcloth) since the 13th century, if not earlier.
While we think of Wimbledon as becoming increasingly modern, with machines to track serve speed, shot placement and, of course, the ever exciting Hawk-Eye, it’s pleasing to think that an essential part of the competition reaches back hundreds of years into our past.
But back to our umpire chair. #Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam to use a wooden chair, though it does conform to the International Tennis Federation’s requirement of being between 6ft and 8ft high. It is put into position by extending an imaginary line 3ft from the net post. Like an office chair, it has wheels, in this case so it can be rolled away quickly in case of rain.
Each chair can hold an internal fridge for cold drinks, a telephone to call the referee’s office and an IBM tablet, which the umpire uses to keep score. And maybe play Clash of Clans. Or draw rude things over a picture of Nick Kyrgios. (OK, I made those last two up.)
There are 19 chairs at Wimbledon, with two spares. Nobody’s needed a spare chair for the last five years.
And if you’ve ever wondered what’s kept in the little box on the side of the umpire’s chair, it’s sawdust in case players want to dry their hands. I had hoped it would be sandwiches or soda, exclusively for the umpire’s use. Talking of which, they have to bring their own cushion. That’s a bit mean, isn’t it?
I think every office should have one of Edwards’ wooden umpire chairs. It can sit in the middle of the office, or be wheeled out of a broom cupboard, and office disputes and arguments can be brought to an Office Umpire. She can take her cue from Wimbledon when adjudicating. This would be especially useful in group meetings when nobody understands why they are there or exactly what is being discussed; the umpire has to make sure everything stays on track.
Someone makes a good point in presentation, but they’re not quite clear enough. They get to state their case again, but it has to be precise this time.
A point is made that is so badly thought out, that it doesn’t bear repeating. Look through your notes and try again.
This happens when someone panics in a presentation and simply repeats their original faulty sentence, hoping that saying it twice will somehow make it right.
Even if you can’t persuade the boss to create an Office Umpire, you can still take a bit of Wimbledon to the office. We’ve reimagined common tennis terms and applied them to the world of work.
What you’re not allowed to call people in the office anymore, after HR had words.
Minutes that you have to eat a sandwich and drink a coke at your desk.
Minutes before you can go home, though it seems like an hour.
How old you feel working in this company, even though you’re only 24.
What it feels like the boss is playing when you go in to ask for a raise.
…for life is what you won’t be, given the lack of a raise.
Something you’ll take to the boss’ paperwork unless he takes you seriously.
Anyone for tennis then?
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Previously on The Euroffice Blog…