An umpire from Bolton will be serving up his 28th consecutive appearance at Wimbledon this year. DWP retiree Paul Stalker has played the role of chair and line umpire at the Championships every year since he qualified in 1990 and returns to the All England Club this week for another fortnight of officiating.
Paul, who plays regularly at David Lloyd Manchester North, has officiated as a line judge on 6 Wimbledon Singles finals over the years, the highlight being Steffi Graf’s triumph over Jana Novotna in 1993. Graf snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a tense and thrilling match. ‘A lifelong love of tennis and catching up with friends is what keeps me going back to Wimbledon year after year’. The strict code of conduct for line umpires means officials must not indicate any bias towards a particular player but a match Paul remembers particularly fondly is the 2014 men’s doubles final which saw Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil defeat the unsurpassable Bryan brothers. Paul remembers a ball flying towards him and bouncing behind him before he caught it with his left hand much to the delight of the Centre Court crowd who applauded him.
As a certified ‘white badge’ umpire Paul officiates both as a line umpire and in the umpires chair at tournaments across the UK. ‘At Wimbledon a lot of the chair umpires in the big matches are travelling professional umpires. In the first week of the Championships I will probably be calling lines in the main draw matches, and in the second week as well as calling lines, I’d expect to be chairing junior and wheelchair matches’ explained Paul. 2 teams of up to 9 line umpires will be required per court at Wimbledon to officiate each match with the teams rotating every hour. ‘The hourly break provides the opportunity to watch some tennis but it can be risky as you need to make sure you’re ready to go back on at the end of the hour – if you go and watch there is a risk you might get stuck on one of the courts if the games are lengthy!’ said Paul.
Paul became an umpire after attending Wimbledon himself aged 17 and coming across an advert in the official programme requesting applications. It wasn’t until his second attempt that his application was successful and he was part of the team. Line umpires must officiate at least 25 days a year including 2 on grass in order to be selected for Wimbledon. In previous years, Paul has completed the full grass court run umpiring at Manchester, Nottingham and Queens before heading to Wimbledon but this year he did 6 days at the Manchester Trophy to prepare for the Championships.
As well as umpiring Paul is also a keen tennis player, hitting most days at his local David Lloyd (formerly Virgin Active Lancashire). Paul originally grew up in Workington, Cumbria and remembers spending hours on end playing in his local park. ‘There were 9 tennis courts at the grammar school in Workington but these were only for the girls so the boys would play in the park. We would play for 5 hours straight without even taking a drink!’ Paul reminisces.
The greatest development in the game in recent years has been the widespread addition of Hawkeye according to Paul. ‘I really like the addition of Hawkeye. I found it a little bit intimidating when it first came in but now I think it’s a really vital part of the game’.
The 2017 Championships kicks off on Monday 3rd July with Great Britain’s Andy Murray as top seed. Paul will be heading down to London for the full 2 weeks of the event. For more information on the 2017 competition visit www.wimbledon.com