It’s game, set, match and party… as tennis club founder Wendy retires

She is the chief coach at Highbury Tennis Club

Friday, 20th May — By Anna Lamche


Wendy Proudfoot

“IT’S never too late” to pick up a new sport, the “irreplaceable” founder of a tennis club has said as she retires after almost 15 years on the courts.

Wendy Proudfoot, founder and chief coach of Highbury Tennis Club, said she has spent the past decade or so coaching women in “that middle stage of life” to “regain control of their bodies and do something fun for their health and future”.

Ms Proudfoot loved tennis as a young woman growing up in Scotland.

However, the sudden death of her mother during her teenage years brought an abrupt end to her tennis career.

Then at 40, Ms Proudfoot said she “got to the age my mother had passed and I thought: I should regain my fitness.”

She returned to playing tennis, later getting her coaching certificates.

“It’s never too late,” she said. “If you want to have a reasonable menopause and a future well into your sixties, an element of fitness is vital.”

She decided to focus on adult coaching.

“I have a big driver about getting women back into some level of fitness.
“You have to have some driver within you – everyone will say ‘you’re so fit’, but I saw my mother die, a big smoker and drinker, and I didn’t want to go like her. I have that huge hidden momentum,” she said.

The 66-year-old founded Highbury Tennis Club, for both men and women, in 2010.

“I thought, we had this terrific facility in Highbury – 11 courts – but it was very under-used,” she said.

The club quickly became hugely popular, with its books swelling from just a few players to about 150 members today.

“I think because it’s a lovely outdoor club, and the Number 19 bus goes past every five minutes, people began to see tennis being played. We were very visible,” she said, adding she has “loved” her time at the club.

Most rewarding is “to go along on early summer evenings and watch the team”, she said, and “now we have five ladies teams – we started with two – and I love to watch them play, express their tennis beautifully and win.”

Ms Proudfoot’s “funniest moment,” she said, was when a visiting team opened Highbury’s portable toilet “to find two men having sex inside… they refused to come back the next year!”

And running the club has also come with its challenges, which have included dealing with “tall beefy men” and “louts” who try to intimidate women on the courts.

“It really can be quite intimidating,” Ms Proudfoot said.

Despite this, the club has always operated along “egalitarian” lines.

“There’s no white dress code – everybody has been welcomed. Some clubs insist on whites but I don’t think it’s necessary,” she added.

Ms Proudfoot decided to retire after her husband’s death.

“What really initiated thinking about my retirement is my husband died two years ago – death has rather stalked me – and I realised I have to use my time quite carefully,” she said.

“I want to make relationships with my grandchildren.”

On Sunday, the club is holding a retirement party in Ms Proudfoot’s honour.
“It’s my retirement party, but we thought: ‘it’ll be no good without tennis attached’,” Ms Proudfoot said.

The club is hosting a tennis tournament in the morning and will finish off with a
picnic on Highbury Fields.

Caroline Griffiths, the club chair, described Ms Proudfoot as “an exceptional coach and all-round inspiring person,” adding the club had served as “a lifeline” for many people in the borough.

“I think she is irreplaceable,” Ms Griffiths said.

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