Home' The Wellingtonian : September 15th 2011 Contents 29
THE WELLINGTONIAN, SEPTEMBER 15, 2011
To order your own
copy of photos in this
paper, or other CCN
titles, check out:
The tale of
Why boys need heroes
By ANDREW BECROFT,
Principal Youth Court Judge
Young fans: Rafael Nadal obliges autograph hunters at the end of a match.
This is the story of how a 10-year-
old boy -- and his father -- got
Rafael Nadal s autograph.
Most sports-mad boys go through
an autograph stage. Autographs
connect boys to their heroes.
Men often keep their childhood
autograph collection, but for a dif-
ferent purpose: maybe to rekindle
days of innocence when all was
possible. Test my theory by asking
any mildly obsessive adult sports
fan about his favourite autograph.
The setting for this story was the
baking blue courts of the Aust-
ralian tennis open in Melbourne
last January. It is one of the
world s great sports events.
We were advised to go during the
first week -- so you can see all the
players -- and to stay until the
For the record, there are 254
singles and 189 doubles games to
choose from over two weeks.
On the back courts you can get
really close to the players.
The stars strut like Grand Prix
motor racing drivers. You could
watch Spanish heart-throb Fer-
nando Verdasco train, or enjoy the
antics of Jo Wilfred Tsonga
languidly playing to the crowd, or
Andy Roddick, loud and engaging,
training like the boy next door.
But the real business is done in
Rod Laver Arena.
An auditorium with a retractable
roof, seating 15,000 and, like Wel-
lington s stadium, apparently with-
out a bad seat in the house.
We were there on the first
Saturday night to see my son s
hero, Rafa , clinically demolish
home-grown teenage star Bernard
Towards the end of the last set,
Isaac set off, autograph book in
hand, to the aisle that leads down
to the players tunnel.
As we had earlier observed,
eager fans can lean over the railing
as the players leave and, with luck,
get their autographs. That was the
plan at any rate. It all went wrong
As Isaac approached, a vigilant
security guard directed him away
from the top of the aisle. Isaac
arrived back quickly -- in tears,
devastated by his rejection.
The Aussie locals around us con-
soled him. They urged us on as I
left with Isaac to try to restate our
At the top of the aisle, the guard,
ominously officious, was still bar-
ring entry to all would-be auto-
Isaac had been getting
autographs all week. We hadn t
seen this happen before.
I asked the guard what the prob-
lem was. He replied that you
needed a ticket for a seat accessed
by that aisle to be allowed down it
to the railing.
By this time the game was over.
The after-match interview with
Nadal was already under way.
Spectators were leaving. Time
was running out.
Mustering all my charm I asked
why a ticket would be needed for a
game that was over. The guard,
obviously flustered, said that was
the rules .
By this stage quite a cluster had
formed. Egged on by those around
me, I might then have said that
some officials forget that tennis is
for children as well as adults and
asked why a security guard would
want to stop a 10-year-old boy try-
ing to get the autograph of his hero.
I also might have said, a little
counter-productively, that some
officials think they are bigger than
If asked my exact words, I would
probably claim the Fifth
We were at a standoff. I couldn t
think what to do. I even contem-
plated encouraging Isaac to vault
the seats and make a dash for it.
Then an unlikely angel material-
ised. An elderly woman tapped me
on the shoulder.
I am a Melburnian, she said,
and I have heard everything and
am embarrassed. I have been sit-
ting in this aisle and I m leaving
now. I want your son to have my
Gratefully I accepted.
I then -- sensitively -- held the
ticket close to the guard s face and,
with the crowd murmuring, Let
the boy down , he reluctantly con-
Isaac shot off down the stairs
and disappeared into the throng. I
didn t fancy his chances. But at
least he was having a go.
Rafa s interview had wound up
and he was already signing
autographs. Players don t have
time for more than a few
Disappointed children and adults
soon trudged back up the aisle. I
was bracing myself for tears.
And then Isaac appeared -- with
a smile a mile wide, book raised in
triumph. I got it Dad! I got Rafa s
Some of the adults who had
stayed to see what happened
Isaac never let go of the auto-
graph book for the rest of the week.
In my day job I often wish the
young offenders I deal with -- and
83 per cent of them are boys -- had
heroes to look up to.
At a recent seminar for Youth
Court judges, a psychologist told us
that among all our legal
obligations, we must not forget to
Young people, he said, need
adults who are merchants of
hope . An interesting concept for a
judge, I thought.
I suppose autographs fuel hopes
and are passports to dreams. That s
Isaac now has Rafa s autograph
on his wall. Along with Novak Djo-
kovic, Andy Murray, Fernando
Verdasco, Vera Zvonareva, Dinara
Safina, Jelena Jankovic and
And Isaac s father s favourite
autograph? When, in 1969, as an
11-year-old himself, he got the
signatures of the whole West
Indian cricket team.
It was after the close of play on
the second-last day of the test at
the Basin Reserve. I had had no
success for four days. Desperate, I
somehow managed to sneak into
the visitors dressing room.
There they were: Garfield
Sobers, Clive Lloyd, Lance Gibbs,
Wes Hall, Charlie Griffith. All of
them in their towels or emerging
from the showers. The legends of
Somewhat amused, they all
signed my book. I was the envy of
my mates for days.
Last week as we looked at his
signatures, I said to Isaac, if we are
lucky enough to go to the Aust-
ralian Open again, you should get
Roger s autograph. Isaac paused,
and said, Nah, he s your hero, not
mine. He was right.
Links Archive September 8th 2011 September 22nd 2011 Navigation Previous Page Next Page