CHRIS Sherrington is a Royal Marine Commando to the core. He loves his work: the camaraderie, the discipline, everything about it. Donning his green beret to celebrate every time he wins a judo tournament – and it is a rather regular occurrence – is his way of reminding everyone where his loyalty lies.
And yet the 30-year-old, who on Saturday night won Scotland’s 11th gold medal of the Games, is as far removed from the stereotype of a fighting man as it is possible to get. Yes, of course he is physically tough, but he is also gentle, affectionate, caring – and among the most engaging people a journalist could ever hope to interview.
By the time you have said hello, shaken his massive hand and checked none of your fingers is broken he is treating you like an old friend. An open book, he calls himself, and it is often a light-hearted, boisterous sort of read.
Yesterday, however, he was in a more contemplative frame of mind. Having arrived with the rest of the judo squad at Scotland House, the home team’s headquarters in the centre of Glasgow, Sherrington was in the mood to look back on his life. Not only on his career in judo, but also on his earliest years, when the man who inspired him to become a soldier also caused so much sadness.
The super-heavyweight champion had tears in his eyes as he remembered his grandfather, but also reverted at times to his more usual broad smile as he reminisced about the man who, albeit indirectly, had inspired him to carry on in judo after London 2012.
“I always wanted to be a soldier,” said Sherrington, who grew up in Lancashire but now lives not far from Judo Scotland headquarters in Ratho. “My grandad fought in World War II, he was in the Paras, he went behind enemy lines – he even got bayoneted.
“Unfortunately, he had an alcohol problem. His name was Wally Sherington. It’s just sad, because my grandad had bouts of good times.
“My grandad had these great bouts and I always looked up to him, because I knew he’d been in the war. He had a lot of medals. But we could never quite get out of him what he actually did – because he was always quite comatose!
“He drank himself to death… That was quite a few years ago, before I joined up.
“I just wish I could have talked to him about the experiences, because you can’t really talk to many people about the experiences you go through in the services. He would have a good six months where he would do really good things for people. He made us this chain swing as a kid, we had a good couple of months.
“My father, Walter, was a dog-handler in the police. Sometimes we could go down to my nan and grandad’s place and it would be really good, you know? Other times, we’d go round and we just couldn’t go in. Because my Dad’s police dog, Ben, would always start barking – and we would know that my grandad had been drinking.
“After the London Olympics, my wife dragged me along to a fortune teller. And I don’t believe in any of that stuff, but some of the stuff that I was being told there – it was like my granddad was in the room.
“So that kind of spurred me on to do the Commonwealth Games. To be honest, they mentioned some of my childhood stuff, going round to visit my grandad. And they said he apologised. They couldn’t know that. He apologised for being drunk.”
As Sherrington looked back on his life, you could sense he felt one phase of it had come to an end. To an extent, sportsmen always feel that way when a major tournament for which they have prepared for years is over, but this time there may be something more to it. In the Royal Marines you are given a draft, or assignment, lasting two years. Sherrington has had several two-year sports drafts, and after the Olympics he was very keen to get another one, to enable him to fight on to the Commonwealth Games.
Yesterday, though, with that tournament behind him, his emphasis was different: although he would not commit himself when asked if he would remain in judo until the next Olympics, instead of hoping for another sporting secondment, he talked about how much he missed the more usual duties of a marine.
“I have to speak with my bosses after this,” he said when asked about his chances of being in Rio in 2016. “You have to remember I’m a Royal Marine and I haven’t been doing what I wanted to do.
“I’ve done a great job as a PR ambassador for the Marines and part of me wants to go back and be with the boys. I really miss being with the boys. I miss holding my rifle. I miss getting my uniform on.
“It’s been a long time out for me. Now I weigh 130 kilos. I can’t be a Royal Marine at 130 kilos – I’m far too heavy. I need to be able to run 30 miles. I could, but not in the time needed with the kit.
“Being a Royal Marine Commander is everything to me. I started life as a strangely-shaped chubby kid, all these big long limbs. I didn’t do as well at school as I should have done.
“So passing my Royal Marines course was everything to me. It changed me forever and turned me into the man I am today and allowed me to go into judo and progress the way I have.
“My judo career has been ridiculous: I’ve only done it for nine years. Starting as a green belt with no clue, to being an Olympian and also a Commonwealth champion. I would never have done this without being a Royal Marine.”
While he has spent time in the relatively safe environment of judo halls, Sherrington has also seen service in Iraq, Norway and Canada, among many other places. Although he did not serve in Afghanistan, one of his closest and oldest friends, Liam Elms, died on active duty there at the end of 2008. Such losses have strengthened the big man’s emotional bonds with the Royal Marines, and perhaps, in the not-too-distant future, those bonds will prove stronger than his attachment to judo.
“I never planned on doing judo,” he added. “This whole thing was a crazy idea that I just rolled with.
“I’ve done many deployments all over the world with the Marines before I started the judo. You don’t join the Royal Marines to go and do something else, but for me this was a chance to show the world what the Royal Marines are capable of.
“Adapt and overcome. A lot of it was hard for me, because you’re doing something that is not what you want to do.
“I could push on forever, but in my heart I want to be a Royal Marine.”