Of course, I may well be eating my words once I’ve experienced the US and Australian Opens (eeeee!!…more about those in a separate post).
Wimbledon. I love it. Simple as that. I remember one overcast summer’s day back in 2001 when, much to my mother’s chagrin, I went channel surfing in the hope of finding something half decent to watch on TV. That’s when I happened upon Wimbledon for the first time. More specifically, the excruciating semi-final between Ivanisevic and Henman. Tiger Tim ultimately went on to lose, but what unfolded before my eyes was five sets of determination, excitement and sheer tension! I always thought tennis was a dull, ‘posh boy’ sport…how wrong I was!
From that moment on I was hooked and, in 2004 armed with a tent, sleeping bag and much anticipation, I went on my maiden voyage with some like-minded friends to “The Queue”. For myself and my good friend, Rachel, it was the start of something special. Very little has stood in the way of our annual pilgrimage to the land of strawberries, Pimms and CENTRE COURT ever since.
Wimbledon is the only tournament where you can get premium, show court tickets on the day of play. Such is the popularity, of course, that you have to queue and this involves pulling an all-nighter if you want to be on a show-court. However that is a small sacrifice when the end result is court-side seats in one of the most famous tennis arenas on Earth, watching world-class players thrashing it out.
I could wax lyrical for hours about the All England Lawn Tennis Club and the amazing matches I’ve seen there, but I really want to talk about The Queue. I capitalise it because it has become an event in its own right. The Queue is as efficiently and strictly run as the tournament itself, thanks to a vast number of honorary stewards, stewards and security staff overseeing the operation. And they are definitely needed. Thousands of people join the queue over the fortnight in the hope of landing a golden ticket. The Queue is now so popular that Wimbledon organisers introduced a dedicated policy, and god help anyone who doesn’t adhere to it.
The premise is simple…you arrive and join the back of the queue. On arrival a steward meets you and gives you a queue card with a number on which shows your place in the queue, and the date of play for which you’re queuing. If you’re number 1-500 you get EXCITED because you know you will be on Centre Court the following day. Numbers 501-1000 and you will be guaranteed court no.1. Numbers 1001-1500 will see you in court no.2. Anything outside of this and you will receive a ground court ticket. When the district line train is rumbling overground in to Wimbledon Park station (The Queue is now located in Wimbledon Park) Rachel and I eagerly peer out of the window, trying to guess how many people are already there.
You MUST keep hold of your queue card. If you leave the queue for any reason, or any length of time, anybody can ask to see it before you reclaim your spot (though I’ve never known this to happen…queuers are generally a friendly bunch). It also helps you to identify where you have pitched your tiny tent in the sea of tennis fans! If you’re found queuing without a card, the stewards reserve the right to throw you out (and I have seen this take place).
I won’t lie, there is a lot of waiting around so it’s a good idea to a) take playing cards/fully charged ipod/a book; b) make friends with your neighbours; c) scope out Wimbledon Village and town or d) all of the above. It is also a good idea to go with somebody who you know you can tolerate (and who can tolerate you) for lengthy periods of time. Rachel and I have known each other since nursery, so we’re aware of each other’s good/bad habits and how to deal with them.
Local takeaway and food outlets have identified The Queue as a lucrative source of business. Daily, around 3pm, people will start coming round chucking leaflets in your tent and telling you about the special offers they have. Take your pick from pretty much any cuisine you can think of, and chances are you will receive a leaflet for it. Then, when you’re ready, you just call and place your order and wait for your delivery to arrive at the gates. I don’t think i’ll ever grow tired of that novelty. In recent years, however, Rachel and I have started opting more for picnic food from local supermarkets or proper restaurant meals. This can work out slightly cheaper, and there is more chance of getting some of your five a day!
I always feel that The Queue has a festival atmosphere to it. People from all walks of life brought together, camping in close proximity for one common goal. The majority are extremely friendly and good conversation often occurs. Impromptu games of Frisbee/football/tennis break out as a result of new found friendships, and there is a general air of camaraderie. However, like most festivals, there is also little sleep to be had. Despite stewards’ best efforts to enforce silence after 10pm, the sound of frivolity and excitement still breaks through. As you have to be up, with all your gear packed away and ready to move by 6am, chances are you’ll have caught little more than 40 winks.
Our mornings usually begin at 4am, so we can beat the early morning rush to the bathroom and get a good place in the left luggage line. Once we’ve dumped our stuff (and paid the £5 per camping item…£4 of which goes to charity) we get back in line and prepare to wait…and wait…and wait some more. Wimbledon Park is located around half a mile from the tennis club itself and the walk there (beginning at around 7am) is a slow and painstaking one. Eventually you reach stewards who ask you which court you would like to get tickets for, and you are given a wristband (once you have shown your queue card). That is followed by more waiting. Gates to the tennis club open at 11am, and there is little to do in the meantime. Newspaper sellers often come round the queue before it starts moving, which is handy for a) the day’s order of play and b) something to read during the wait.
Once you eventually reach the turnstiles (following a full security check…I once had a metal padlock confiscated), you need to have cash ready as cards are not accepted. If you want to sit in a particular place check out the seating plan beforehand and try to head for the appropriate turnstile. Last year Rachel and I wanted to sit opposite the umpire’s chair and landed ourselves the best seats we could have wished for! So it’s possible.
After all of that, you’re finally in! In the home to one of the most hallowed, loved, talked about tennis tournaments ever. In my foggy, sleepy haze there has never been a time when I haven’t let out a little joyful “squee” at the thought of what the day ahead may include.
The Queue is not for everyone, but it is an unforgettable experience. Even if only remotely interested in tennis, head down there and get yourself a piece of the action.