Nobody knew where he came from. Nobody knew where he had learnt his tennis. But there he was, the man they called The Man In White. Like a lone knight, he came out of the player’s entrance with rackets under his arm, for all the world as if they were spears, and memories stirred in people’s ancestral depths of jousting champions and mortal combat.
There were three extraordinary things about him. One was that he played very well, and beat almost everyone who came up against him. The second was that he had no sponsorship whatsoever – even his rackets seemed to have no discernible brand name. And the third was that nobody knew anything about him, not even his name.
Well, they knew the name he went under, Como Camisa, but it sounded so fake that everyone knew it couldn’t be his real name, in the same way that El Deadichado, or Sir Lancelot, or the Knight Dolorous didn’t sound like names dreamt up by their mothers. He was tall, he was handsome in a grave sort of way, and he never swore. In fact, he never said anything at all.
“It’s absolutely extraordinary! Good gracious me, this is quite extraordinary. This is really quite hard to believe,” said the elderly British commentator whose delightfully dry remarks were the pride of English tennis, in the absence of anyone who could play the game. “Young Camisa, if that’s really his name, is just sailing through this set. Quite extraordinary. And nobody knows who he is. Extraordinary. What do you think, Kenneth?”
“I agree. Absolutely extraordinary,” said Kenneth, who as the heir apparent of British commentating had never been heard to disagree.
At the major tournaments it is mandatory for the tennis players to give a press conference afterwards, and to begin with the cameras of the world and their attendant microphones crowded into the interview room when he appeared, but nobody could understand a word he said or even identify what language he was speaking in (the tournament organisers had never thought to specify the English language) and pretty soon nobody bothered to turn up to listen to him.
And the sales of plain white shirts shot up.
“One searches in one’s memory for anything quite so extraordinary,” said the doyen of commentary as Como Casima, glistening in his white shirt, beat the hell out of Erik van Rimsdorf in his logo-laden playing kit. “But one doesn’t find it. People have left tennis without warning at the peak of their game – remember that young Australian Bradley Pim a few years back? One wonders what happened to him. But it is quite unparalleled for a player to enter the game at the peak of his career. Oh, great shot!”
Also, sales of designer shirts, shirts with labels, shirts with little logos, started going down. The people who made these things – let us call them the logo louts – did not like this happening. So they hired a detective to find out more about Como Camisa. Or rather they took Ray Bould (that was his name) off his normal quest of finding fake Yves St Laurent factories in Taiwan, and put him on the quest of discovering the identity of the knight in shining shirts, the man with spotless service, the beau-chevalier-sans-reproche-et-avec-un-joli-backhand. Ray Bould took off, clutching his credit cards, as the first posters appeared saying:” All the Good Guys Wear White Shirts”.
A month later Ray Bould turned up at the press conference Como Camisa gave after getting to the French semi-final. Apart from him there was nobody from the media, as usual.
“I have a question,” said Ray Bould. “Would I be right in thinking that your real name is Bradley Pim?’
A broad smile spread over the tennis player’s face, as if in relief.
“I have a further question. Were you hired two years ago to train in private by a firm of shirt manufacturers called Como Camisa who reckoned the world was due for a swing against against designer motifs and logos? And if the public had a white shirted champ to identify with, then they could clean up? And that you learnt Finnish specially for press conferences?”
“Too flaming right,” said Como Camisa. “Jeez, it’s a relief to talk English, By the way, how much would you need to keep quiet?”
“No, no. How much would you need to give up white shirts?”
They came to a compromise. In the French Finals, Como Casima wore a white shirt with one small, plain logo on it. It said: “Ray Bould for all the answers”.
“Quite extraordinary,” said the British commentator. “One wonders what it all means. Quite extraordinary.”
The commentator wore a plain white shirt himself. But then, nobody had ever thought it worthwhile paying him to wear a logo.
The Independent 1988