Alan Mills obituary

Alan Mills obituary

Alan Mills, who passed away at the age of 88, was known for his esteemed role as the Wimbledon referee for 23 years, from 1983 to 2005.

If this implies a job that involves calm waters, it would be incorrect. Being the ultimate decision-maker during two weeks of intense sports competition in front of the entire world would, understandably, indicate a role with more chaos. Add in individuals with the skill and fiery personalities of John McEnroe, Ilie Năstase, Boris Becker, and other equally ambitious players, and it becomes evident that one must possess unique qualities to prevent the Championships from falling apart.

“But this he did with a calming influence all of his own,” said Jim Courier, a four-time Grand Slam champion and Wimbledon finalist who, as he freely admits, was not always the easiest player to deal with. “Referees at major championships work in this unhinged atmosphere of players and agents reacting explosively to winning or losing … Among referees I have known, Alan was the best.”

John McEnroe arguing with Alan Mills on court at Wimbledon in 1983.

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Mills was given the nickname “Rain Man” because he was often seen on Wimbledon’s Centre Court with a walkie-talkie and sometimes even an umbrella, carefully observing the weather before making a decision on whether it was appropriate to begin play. He would often joke with a slight smile, saying “I’m the one who ruins the fun in the grey suit.”

The weather-related duty, nervously handling rackets in the storage area, was filled with pressure. However, Mills rarely displayed it, even when faced with the challenging situation of calming down an enraged McEnroe after his outburst at Wimbledon umpire Ted James, which popularized the phrase “You cannot be serious.” Mills also had the unfortunate responsibility of disqualifying a young Tim Henman in 1995, after the British player accidentally hit a ball girl in the face while attempting to hit a ball.

In addition to managing the schedule and supervising the court officials or umpires, a referee is responsible for a variety of tasks, such as ensuring the well-being of the players.

Bill Norris, the ATP Tour physio for more than 30 years, spoke fondly of how much he learned from Mills. “We had long discussions about how to handle the medical time-out, the optimum rest requirement so that players could give of their best and the little details that the public never hear about. He was always available, always charming and understanding.”

Mills was born in the Lancashire town of Stretford. His father was a railway controller, and his mother a railway clerk. After the family moved to Formby, Merseyside, Alan went to Waterloo grammar school, near Liverpool, leaving aged 16 to become an apprentice electrical engineer.

Alan Mills dealing with a streaker during the Wimbledon men’s final in 2002.

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He started playing tennis at a young age and had already become the county champion before serving in the RAF for his national service. He then went on to win the RAF Tennis Championships.

When he entered the amateur circuit, he faced difficult competition due to the skilled British players, including Mike Davies, Billy Knight, and Bobby Wilson. This limited his chances to participate in the Davis Cup, but he was selected for the teams that helped lead Britain to the semi-finals in 1959, 1961, and 1964.

In 1959, during the first year, Mills accomplished a rare feat in Davis Cup history in Mondorf-les-Bains, a spa town in southern Luxembourg. He defeated his opponent, Joseph Offenheim, in a singles rubber match with a score of 6-0, 6-0, 6-0 in just 34 minutes.

Despite not having the necessary skills to win significant championships, Mills achieved success by reaching the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1959 and making it to the semi-finals in doubles with Mark Cox in 1966. In total, Mills retired with a remarkable record of 31 titles and a win/loss ratio of 324 to 178.

In 1977, he was hired as an assistant referee at Wimbledon after gaining experience as a professional tennis player at a hotel in the Bahamas and a tennis club in Ohio. He also spent a year coaching at Millfield school in Somerset and for Wales.

In 1983, Mills assumed the top position, but he did not limit his officiating abilities to just Wimbledon. He accepted the invitation from Butch Buchholz, an American, to oversee a significant tournament known as the Lipton at the time, which is now known as the Miami Open. Buchholz established this event in 1985 with the goal of making it one of the top five tournaments in the world, featuring large draws for both male and female players.

Buchholz expressed that he could think of no one better as a referee. Despite facing challenges such as tents being blown down and schedules being disrupted, Alan handled them all calmly. Mills remained involved with the event until 1993.

In 2005, one year after he retired, the Lancastrian received a CBE in addition to his previously awarded MBE. He also published his memoir, titled “Lifting the Covers,” in the same year.

In 1960, Mills tied the knot with Jill Rook, who was the champion of table tennis in England. They are survived by their children, Barry and Penny.