MEMORIES: The former Wimbledon ball boy goes back to the iconic venue
WINSTON NORTON says coming back to Wimbledon over half a century after he scurried around court number one as one of the first ever black ball boys was an “overwhelming” experience.
Norton, 72, told the Voice of Sport that as far as his memory would allow him to recall “everything had changed” at SW19, but the “sense of occasion” remained the same.
Sitting in the media centre overlooking court number 14, Norton, who was taken into the care of Barnardo’s in 1947 during a 20-year period when all the Wimbledon ball boys came from one of Barnardo’s residential schools in Hertfordshire, spoke candidly about being a teenager exposed to naked female tennis players and experiencing racism from one of the world’s best players.
“I don’t think I was the first (black ball boy). The school I was at there was a lot of black and mixed race kids there because after the war a lot of the soldiers that had relationships with some of the women here left to go back to America,” Norton said.
He added: “Out of about 80 ball boys around 12 were of black and mixed heritage. I was glad I was a part of it for three years. I felt very special doing it and I feel very special today.”
Norton’s return to Wimbledon included meeting the royal party where he shook hands with the likes of Camilla Parker Bowles, an experience he described as “totally alien” to anything he’d had before.
Remembering some of the funnier moments when he was a ball boy between 1958 – 1960, Norton said he witnessed a line official having a ball thrown in the back of his head by a particularly cheeky lad who had take offence to being told to move out of the way.
Recalling other moments that will stay with him forever he enthused: “We all threw a dodgy ball or two to players now and again, we’d put a bit of spin on it when we threw it to them, for a laugh.
“Other significant moments were included being sent to the ladies locker room to get a towel and seeing all the naked women! I was only 14.
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“There was also the time when a particular player from South Africa, who’s surname was Hewitt, didn’t want the balls thrown from the black ball boys, he would go and get them only from the white ball boys. That’s the way we perceived it at the time anyway.”
A retired school teacher, Norton has seen first hand the change in attitude towards black players at Wimbledon over the years.
With the likes of Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson some of the names he lists as his favourites over the years, he salutes the job being done by modern day players such as Venus and Serena Williams.
“I think they have done so much and the support they have had from their parents has been great. “The dad’s a bit of a rascal, but he’s needed to be, he kicked their butts and anyone else’s.
“Things have changed a lot over time and I think it’s down to the pressure.
“Black people are seen as people who can offer more than maybe what was thought as sports people. The cream always rises.”