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IT is a familiar story in some of Scotland’s biggest towns and cities – tennis courts lying in a state of disrepair or, in some cases, not even existing at all.
While tennis is growing in Scotland on the back of the Andy Murray boom, Cumbernauld (population of around 50,000), Coatbridge (42,000) and Irvine (33,000) are just some of the places where, if any of the locals wanted to give the sport a try, there isn’t a single tennis court in their town.
“If you don’t have public courts in areas that are densely populated, you are missing out on an enormous target market,” said Judy Murray. It is a valid point.
Paisley, with a population of around 74,000, had five derelict public courts at Brodie Park, and both Paisley and Ferguslie Tennis Clubs had lost their courts.
The resurfacing of the Brodie Park courts, funded to the tune of £160,000 by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), and officially opened earlier this month, however, has at last provided somewhere for people in Paisley to play again.
The facility delights Murray, the former Scottish national tennis coach, who was heavily involved in getting the project off the ground – but it has also shed light on a worrying trend.
“I was amazed nobody had picked up on the situation in Paisley,” she said. “That mini-tennis was being delivered as part of the primary curriculum in some local schools, although there was nowhere to play tennis in the town, is quite staggering.
“I contacted the LTA, made them aware of that, asked if they could help resurrect these five derelict courts – and they got on to it very quickly. But I was then getting inundated with messages and e-mails from other parts of the country, for example, saying ‘we live in Cumbernauld and don’t have any tennis courts either’. There were just so many, it made me think if we don’t have any places for kids to play in our bigger towns, how do we capture this interest in tennis at the moment?
“It is quite incredible that a sport like tennis, one of the biggest sports in the world, and we have one of the biggest stars in the world from our own country, is not doing more to encourage people to play. There has never been a better time and we do need the LTA to help us to really create more facilities in order to encourage more people to play.”
Brodie Park’s courts are free of charge to play on, and Murray would like to see more of that in Scotland. To the LTA’s credit, it solely provided the funding for the Paisley courts but, with an annual budget of around £65m, it is surely not unreasonable to expect them to do the same in other parts of the country.
Tennis Scotland, whose remit is to develop the sport, also have a major role to play, especially in identifying potential sites.
While they acknowledge there are gap areas, they insist their facilities strategy aims to resolve this by targeting councils to increase the number of public courts as part of a shared funding effort.
“There are many local authorities that are not well provided with tennis facilities,” said chief executive David Marshall. “Some don’t have any and part of that is historical. A lot of local authorities gave courts away years ago as they didn’t want to maintain them. Our challenge to the local authorities is to work with us, open up the park sites, get them in better condition and there would definitely be funding for that type of initiative.”