Another of England’s sporting events of the ‘season’, whatever that is: Wimbledon. It’s been going for 127 years and is the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world with over £22 million of prizes for the contestants. My eldest daughter’s birthday was on Wednesday and she wanted to join the ‘Queue’ as it euphemistically known to see some tennis. She invited us (Fran and I ) along and since none of us had never been there, I thought oh well another tick on the bucket list.
So it was early doors start. We had been warned by No 2 daughter to get there ‘bloody early’, but didn’t realise how early that meant. We had elected to drive up and park at Morden Hall, which was a park and ride and seemed reasonable at £15 for the whole day including the bus both ways. We set off just after 6.30am ( are there two of those in the day?) and sped off down the A3, finding the parking quite easily. Catching the bus, it took over 25 minutes to get to the drop -off point which was right by the entrance area. Unfortunately being part of the great unwashed we couldn’t just stroll in and buy a ticket, no there was a strict pecking order, ordained by the ‘Queue’. We walked about 15 minutes to get to the entrance of Wimbledon Park where the queue was and saw half of humanity on this field. We were given tickets as we went in, mine was numbered 08218, which presumably meant there were 8000 people in front of us. Since the ground capacity is 15000 I thought there would be short delay and we would be in. Now I know and you know this is not the case, since the grounds were already somewhat full with those who had won ‘The Ballot’ or were part of the great and the good, like Cliff Richard.
So we joined the queue and to be fair to the ‘Honorary Stewards’ who patrol Wimbledon park and organise the queue, they were to a man (and woman) even tempered and actually quite charming, always willing to stop and chat and answer your questions. It reminded me of my Olympic experience in which we were taught to be the same ( see July/August 2012 of this blog). So we settled down with a picnic blanket, and broke out the bubbly: pink rose, croissants, jam, ham and cheese, looking like this:
Pretty yummy eh? Neighbouring queuers thought it was very cool, and this was 8 am! So we had a nice leisurely breakfast and the morning passed quite quickly. I found a shop just out side the park gates which was selling tea and coffee at half the price of the mobile kiosk in the grounds, and there was no queue, and the loos were close to hand and were well looked after. The stewards moved us round to the next row every time the last row moved closer to the entrance, but it was still a long way away. The papers, Daily Mail, Telegraph etc were there flogging their extra stuff to go with the free paper, like blankets and tote bags, but everyone had enough to carry so most didn’t feel inclined. The rules, which were handed out in a pamphlet stated that only one bag was allowed into the ground along with the usual alcohol limit (so they can sell their own overpriced stuff), knifes and drugs etc. The queue wound round the Wimbledon athletics track where some excited youngsters were presumable having their sports day, then we went through an archway, which looked like the entrance to Mecca, giving you false hope that you were nearly there. Far from it. There were, we were told about 2000 people in front of us, so we still had a long wait. But again there were well kept loos ( I think they are very important, don’t you?) and then a row of franchised stalls with various distractions on offer. The HSBC stand had a tennis speed competition which I didn’t enter so have no idea how it worked, but I was able to get into their coffee bar to have a freebee coffee and snack pack, consisting of a muffin, biscuit, apple and a bottle of water. Just flash your HSBC/first direct card and all they have to offer will be yours. Next was the Robinson’s juice drink stand which didn’t seem to have anyone running it, then a Hertz stand which was running bizarrely a tennis speed challenge. Didn’t they consult with HSBC? Then there was a Lavazza coffee stand dishing free coffee and providing some seating as a respite from the queue. Speaking of which, the rules stated that you couldn’t leave the queue and leave equipment in your place, and the strict order of the queue must be maintained. In practice you got to know your adjacent queuers so this never got challenged. Our neighbours in front of us, five girls having a day out were very protective of our stuff in we fancied breaking away from the queue to sit on the grass outside the fenced-in portion of the queue path. The afternoon drew on, slowly, it got to five o’ clock and there was a sudden surge. I had gone for a wander to the front and asked on of the stewards there what number was going through and she replied it was about 1500 in front of us, but there were lots of drop outs so it wouldn’t be 1500 in front of us and could be considerably less. Then all of a sudden we were at the front, a steward checked our queue tickets and we were then subjected to the security check carried out by G4S, or Good For Sodall as I termed them. Then the sh1t hit the fan. My daughter had bought a brand new picnic rucksack the day before because she wanted one anyway and it was good reason to buy one. Low and behold to the glee of the G4S operative she found in the bag, oh horror of horrors, four extremely blunt metal knifes. My own older picnic rucksack had gone through OK, but because the knifes in it were plastic, they weren’t picked up by the X-Ray machine so was deemed passable. The operative offered that the offending items could be disposed of there and then or they would have to be checked in to left luggage office before the final entrance, about 200 yards away. Charlotte was understandably extremely miffed and showed it (don’t know where she gets that from!) and was escorted to the left luggage. The knifes in question would have had difficulty slicing through butter but it was the principle of the thing.
So after the debacle of getting in, we were now entering after 5pm so the cost reduced from £20 each to £14. It’s one of the premier sporting events in the world and ordinary people can still get in on the day: marvellous. The place is deceptively larger than it appears on TV, and extremely crowded. I’m led to believe the grounds can hold 14000 people, I don’t doubt it. We looked around some of the lesser courts and there are seats available, you just walk in and watch. The ‘show’ courts, i.e. Centre, No’s 1, 2, 3, 4 need previously bought tickets, or you can queue up at the returns office and buy a show court ticket for £5. This is a good system, where people hand in their £50 tickets when they don’t want to see any more tennis, and ground entry viewers can buy one and get into a show court. Its a good way of spreading it about. As it happens my girls got given two No 1 court tickets, by two nice ladies they got chatting to on Henman Hill. This is the only place you can see the tennis if you are not in a show court. It’s nearly always crowded as well.
Some pictures of the day
Not being much of a tennis buff, I was content to sit and watch on HH while the girls went off to court 1. All very friendly. The days matches finished, we went to the Wimbledon shop and looked at the overpriced goods on display. It was amazing to see the stuff people were buying. Then a dash for the park and ride bus, after getting the illicit bag from left luggage. The journey home was uneventful, and got there at 11.00pm. A long day of 17 hours but worth it in the end. Would I do it again? The juries still out, but it’s a possibility.