If you flip back one century in the records of the Wimbledon tennis championships you will come across a most peculiar pairing. In the Wimbledon final of 1879, a straight-laced vicar defeated a rambunctious Irish nobleman who was later convicted of murder.
And you thought Jimmy Connors was naughty?
The first Wimbledon was played in 1877 and wand won by Spencer Gore, a squash rackets player, who triumphed over a field of 22 by coming frequently to the net and volleying the ball -- that is, putting it away on the fly.
This was considered unsporting by many of his opponents, who were accustomed to playing from the baseline. Gore despised lobs and pitty-patting. He was a good athlete and thought the game should be played rigorously. In face, promptly after winning his title he pooh-poohed the future of this newfangled game of lawn tennis because he thought it too tepid and monotonous.
Gore was succeeded in 1878 by P. Frank Hodow, a gentleman planter with large holdings in Ceylonese tea. Shortly after winning his Wimbledon title, he boarded a slow boat for China and never even saw -- let alone played -- another tennis tournament until he was invited back to Wimbledon for the jubilee celebrations of 1926.
With Hadow in Ceylon and not defending, the 1979 championship was a wide-open affair with 45 participants, 36 of them newcomers.
One of these was John Thorneycroft Hartley, the vicar. He did not expect to do well, and when he found himself in the semifinals he had to ask for a postponement of his Saturday match so that he could go home to Yorkshire and prepare his Sunday sermon.
He got up early Monday morning, took a train back to London, and barely made it to Wimbledon in time for his match. Tired, hungry and unsettled, he lost the first set. But a rain delay gave him time to have tea, and he came back to win, 2-6, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1.
In the final he played Thomas St. Leger Goold, the son of an Irish baromet who had entered -- perhaps because of some subtlety of royal etiquette -- under the pseudonym "St. Leger." Hartley, a proper man, described him as "a cherry, wild Irishman."
The clean-living vicar was 33 years old, eight years St. Leger's senior, but he won the title, 6-4, 6-2, 6-4, and went back to preaching. some years later, according to British writer Lance Tingay's authoritative "100 years of Winbledon", Goold and his wife arrived at the railway station in Nice, on the French Rivera, with two trunks they wanted shipped back to England. Suspicious customs inspectors opened them and discovered a dismembered body.
Both the former finalist and his wife were convicted of murder, and lived the rest of their lives in separate prisons. One presumes that when they died, they did not go to the same eternal resting place as the Rev. Hartley.