Court report

4 July 2015

9:00 AM

4 July 2015

9:00 AM

In Competition No. 2904 you were invited to take as your first line ‘There’s a breathless hush on the centre court’ and continue for up to 15 lines in the style of Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem ‘Vitaï Lampada’.

There is just space to congratulate the winners and to commiserate with unlucky losers John Whitworth, who submitted a charming tribute to Christine Truman, Robert Cross, Sid Field and R.M. Goddard. Those printed below are rewarded with £25 each. Bill Greenwell hoists the championship trophy and nabs the bonus fiver in the process.


There’s a breathless hush on the Centre Court:
Seventeenth deuce after championship point —
The crowd is tense, as the first serve is short.
Is this the time? Is there one to anoint?
And it’s not for the glory, or national pride,
Or the thrill from a tip that’s been turned to a bet:
The second serve touches the great divide.
Play on! Play on! And play a let!
The Kalashnikov’s jiggered, Apaches are down,
The mission is teetering — failure, success —
An emergency surgeon puts on a blue gown,
And the chaplain confesses he’s under duress;
The journalist waits with his fingers half-bleeding,
Time slows to zero. Can this shot still be met?
But the voice of an umpire smooths the proceedings:
‘Play on! Play on! And play a let!’
Bill Greenwell
There’s a breathless hush on the centre court —
Two sets all and no service breaks;
With another match point now to be fought
The utmost effort is all it takes.
For it’s not for the sake of a silver cup,
Financial gain or renewed acclaim,
It’s his country’s honour buoys each man up
As they strive to win at this royal game.
The flags and the painted faces are still
And the silent excitement is just as keen
Where the young fans cluster on Henman Hill
As the end draws near on the giant screen.
Will the reigning champ win the crowd’s hurrah
As victor here? It will bring no shame
If he passes on to the rising star
A torch, which means more than this final game.
Alanna Blake
There’s a breathless hush on the centre court,
Ten games all in the final set,
On the cut-throat razor’s edge of sport
Where the gambler’s moved to place his bet.
And it’s not for the sake of a tenner or two
Or a punter’s tale in the pub one night,
But the chance to show that his judgment’s right,
That he too can win when the odds are tight.
Like the players, he knows that the flight of a ball
Can never be sure till the moment it lands,
So prowess alone won’t win you the call
When a shake of the dice is in Dame Fortune’s hands.
But, luck set aside, he will back his own skill
At reading the signs of who’ll best hold their nerve:
And staking that much he can share in the thrill
Of claiming the winnings chance-takers deserve.
W.J. Webster
There’s a breathless hush on the centre court
Though I care not which of the big stars wins.
I toil away at this bourgeois sport
For this is how a career begins.
And it’s not for the hope of a gilded cup
Or a silver dish, or a moment’s fame
But that ATP put my ranking up,
    I play, and play, and play the game.
The back of my shirt is sodden wet —
Wet with the sweat of four hours’ play;
Seven games all in the final set;
The grass is green and the skies are grey.
On Court Eighteen, I will get few cheers
(There are few, indeed, who know my name)
But urged by the hope of better years
    I play, and play, and play the game.
Frank Upton
There’s a breathless hush on the centre court,
The lights are out and the crowd has gone;
Only the moonlight lends support
But no one sees how the play goes on.
No silver trophy do they seek,
No glory, grandeur or acclaim;
They hear a ghostly umpire speak:
Rise up, rise up and play the game.
Racquets are raised and balls sweep by,
Lobs and volleys, smashes, spins;
No sound is heard in the evening sky
As the players compete and no one wins.
Away from summer’s fleeting praise,
Out of the tombs of time they rise
To re-enact their golden days
Beyond the scope of human eyes.
Frank McDonald
There’s a breathless hush on the centre court,
The sucked-in breath of an awestruck crowd
Whose attention’s bound to the single thought
Of a name too potent to speak aloud.
They watch and they wait till he shuffles out,
The limbs like walnut, the features set
In a cautious, wondering, half-shy pout
As he existentially studies the net.
And they wait, for a mystique can’t be rushed,
And the sacred sequence must be complete,
And he jumps and he stares, and still all’s hushed
And no line’s ever touched by his agile feet,
And the picking begins— at the shirt on his back
And his ears and his nose, it’s a quirkathon —
Then he plucks his shorts from out of his crack
And Rafael Nadal is at last Game On.
Basil Ransome-Davies


No. 2907: tube lines

Transport for London’s efforts to use verse to discourage antisocial behaviour on the Tube — eating smelly food, obstructing doors, talking loudly on your mobile phones etc — have been met with derision on account of the poems’ poor scansion and clunky rhymes. You are invited to imagine that poets, living or dead, had been recruited to improve on abominations such as ‘We really don’t mean to chide/ But try to move along inside/ So fellow travellers won’t have to face/ An invasion of their personal space.’ Please email entries (a maximum of two each) of up to 8 lines to by midday on 15 July.

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