Wimbledon, England, UK • July 2016 • Length of Read: 12 Minutes
My friend and I camped over the middle-weekend of the 2016 Wimbledon Championships, in the hope of getting Centre Court tickets on Monday 4th July, when both men’s and women’s fourth round matches were taking place. For each day’s play, 500 tickets are available for Centre Court; Court 1; and Court 2, on a first-come, first-serve, basis. Due to outrageous demand however, in order to get these places in the queue, you have to camp for two nights prior to the day on which you actually wish to attend The Championships. Don’t think of it as camping though. Rather, think of it as a two-day-long pre-party.
Doug and I were coming from Scotland and, staying at a friend’s house on the Friday night in the upper-class postcode of SW20, arrived at Wimbledon Park, where the queue begins, at 9am on the Saturday morning. Our host had fed us with a delightful breakfast of poached eggs and asparagus on toast in anticipation of a hungry 48 hours ahead, and as we chowed down she busied herself by packing a cooler bag to take to the Henley Regatta, which was also occurring that sunny weekend.
“What exactly is the Henley Regatta?” I asked Doug during our taxi journey from the leafy suburb towards the grounds; eyeing up a leggy, tanned, Eastern European girl strolling swiftly along the pavement; tennis bag bouncing off her back as the stylish dress she wore fluttered gently in the breeze.
“I think it’s just an excuse for rich people to get super drunk during the day,” he mused, “with a little bit of rowing in the background.”
We had similar sized bags to this competitor ourselves, adhering strictly to ‘The Official Guide to Queueing’ published on the Wimbledon website, which stated: ‘There is a bag size restriction of 60cm x 45cm x 25cm (aircraft cabin size). We will not be able to accept bags larger than this recommended size. Also, due to space constraints, overnight queuers should use tents which accommodate a maximum of two persons.’ Joining the queue behind a father and son; two middle-aged Dutch men wearing blue jeans and pristine white blazers; and an English lad who looked like a cross between Gareth Bale and Tim Henman, it turned out that this rule is complete and utter bollocks. The first tent I saw was more comparable in size to the Sydney Opera House than that of what people slept in at festivals.
[QUEUE TIP #1 – Don’t worry about space. Bring as much shit as you want]
Because we had arrived on a Saturday, we were initially given queue cards for the Saturday play, and looking up from my bit of paper with #9745 on it, I couldn’t help but notice that there were more inflatables than in the swimming pool of a childrens’ holiday camp. People had brought blow-up mattresses; blow-up sofas; blow-up tables - I wouldn’t have been surprised if there were even a few blow-up dolls kicking about. As my 6’7” companion unfolded our barely-two-man tent, I looked over at the Dutch guys, each popping up their own individual home.
“I bet you the price of a ticket to Centre Court that you can’t keep that blazer white for the next 48 hours,” I challenged Pinot, the taller man of the pair.
“Why do you think we have two tents?” he chuckled. “One of them is acting as a closet to store our luggage and hang up our jackets in.”
Unfolding my camp chair, I took a seat beside them and cracked a beer. It may have only been 9:30am, but the sun was beginning to peek out from behind the clouds and, as Martin, Pinot’s partner in crime, so poignantly put it: “We’re on our holiday – where there’s no etiquette for drinking.”
[QUEUE TIP #2 – The Official Guide to Queueing states that you are only allowed to bring in two beers, or one bottle of wine, per person. This is a lie. If one reversed an 18-wheeler haulage truck into the grounds and started rolling kegs off the back, nobody would bat an eyelid. Stock up for the weekend]
We spent the morning talking complete nonsense, until a guy setting up his tent opposite got out a mallet and started hammering the ground like he were Thor from The Avengers. Unable to hear one another over the racket, the Dutch guys decided to head into Wimbledon Village for lunch whilst Will, the real name for the man who looked like Henman’s double, Doug, and myself, crowded around the radio to hear the remarkable news that Djokovic had been knocked out by Sam Querrey. Cheers erupted from all four corners of the park.
[QUEUE TIP #3 – If you’re a Novak fan, keep it to yourself]
Mid-afternoon, the Honorary Stewards wound their way down the lines of tents, which had grown to about 5 rows of 100, to replace the Saturday cards we held with queue cards for the Monday. We were given #290 and #291, comfortably falling within the first 500 needed to get the option for Centre Court. The line opposite had been getting nervous however, it being unclear as to where the final ticket would actually be falling. An Italian couple about five tents down from us on this opposing row dropped to their knees in delight when they were handed their equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket.
“#490,” the man screamed at the top of his lungs. “YES!” I ran across and gave him a hug as Martin started chanting.
“Are you excited for the Italy game tonight?” I asked him, his national team scheduled to play against Germany in the quarter finals of Euro 2016 that evening.
“What game?” he replied, looking slightly confused.
“The football game,” I laughed.
“Alas, Federer is the only one for me,” he responded, emotionally.
I turned to look at his girlfriend, a sense of disappointment spreading across her face, and wondered how much longer it would be until she would be requesting: ‘new balls please’.
[QUEUE TIP #4 – To be in the first 500 persons, and get tickets for Centre Court, arrive by 12pm at the latest, two days before]
Once the Dutch guys had returned from a three hour lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon playing card games and drinking further beers. Getting peckish, we decided to get some dinner. Phoning the local takeaway, we placed an order, told them our location, and simply waited. You read that right. At Wimbledon, you can get fast food delivered to the campsite. Unbelievable.
[QUEUE TIP #5 – You can get takeaway food delivered to your tent]
Just in time for dessert, as we polished off our pizzas a kid came round selling cupcakes; the expression on her face one of: ‘my parents have forced me to do this in order to complete the requirements for a Girl Guide Badge’.
“Would anyone like to buy a gluten free treat?” the fourteen year-old asked, meekly.
“Do they come with weed in them?” I joked.
“Oh sorry, are you celiac?” she responded, concerned. “Because they do have wheat in them unfortunately.”
As Pinot burst into hysterics, tears rushing down his face, she looked at us with a blank waxwork-like demeanour.
Eventually composing ourselves, we only managed to squeeze in one further game of cards before yet another kid came round; this time a little boy selling chocolate bars to help raise funds for a school trip.
“Are you off to build mud huts in Kenya, or something like that?” I queried, handing over some coins and gesturing for him to keep the change.
“No, we’re going skiing in Courchevel.”
Great, I’d just given a rich kid further funding towards having a jolly in the Alps. We polished off the beers, and as people started tucking in for the night on their luxurious inflatable beds, I curled up in my sleeping bag next to Doug, tossing and turning on the cold, hard, ground; my sunburn flaming up.
[QUEUE TIP #6 – Regardless of the weather forecast, bring sun cream and an umbrella. This is the UK we’re talking about after all]
I awoke extremely early the next morning with a dead shoulder blade, bruised hip, and wet jumper. As I unzipped the awning to reveal another baking July sun, I noticed Martin was already up, and shuffling around outside.
“How was the pub?” I asked. Shortly after we’d been conned into buying chocolate off the kid, Martin and Pinot had headed to the Auld Fields for dinner and to watch the game. This pub is only a five minute walk from the campsite and its food is absolutely ace.
“Great,” he beamed. “We met a gorgeous Swiss girl who is staying in tent 102 with her father.” By this point, everyone outside our little group had started being referred to as their ticket number.
“What was you opening line?”
“Can I use the charge socket by your chair?”
“And did it work?”
“Well I’ve now got full battery on my phone if that’s what you mean,” he giggled, before picking up a towel and wandering off to the nearby Boat Club, where there were showers available for £5 between the hours of 5am-8am.
[QUEUE TIP #9 – It is heavily warned that, if you leave your tent for more than 45 minutes at a time, the Honorary Stewards will remove it and your ticket will be confiscated. In reality however, they are also there to have a good time, and unless you take the piss by going to stay in a hotel for the night, they won’t really care. Loads of people went out for the whole afternoon, and some even went night-clubbing on the Saturday. None got kicked out]
I followed Martin twenty minutes later into the dilapidated building at the perimeter of the park, hanging up my clothes in a locker room which seemed to have maintained the same décor and amenities since The Championships began in 1877. He was still there in the communal showers when I arrived, and only after I’d washed, got changed, returned to my tent, and had breakfast, did he then eventually appear back.
“Where the hell have you been?” I asked, genuinely puzzled as to what took him so long.
“Getting my money’s worth,” he winked. “Plus, there are some areas of your body that are just simply inappropriate to wash when others are present.”
[QUEUE TIP #10 – Pay the £5 for the communal shower. You don’t want to be that person on Centre Court sweating out three-day-old body odour, especially when most others around you are dressed like they’ve just stepped off a private yacht]
The rest of our Sunday followed similar suit to its predecessor; by which I mean we sat around in the sun, drank more beer, and talked more gibberish. In the words of Ron Livingston from the classic comedy Office Space: “I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.” Will was camping on his own, having made friends in the queue in previous years, and we were already planning our visit to The 2017 Championships. I was initially skeptical about spending 48 hours stuck in a queue in a field, however at that moment I would happily have spent 72 hours, and we hadn’t even reached the reason for us all being there yet.
[QUEUE TIP #9 – Make sure you go to the bathroom before entering the main queue on the day of play. There are minimal opportunities to go again until you're actually in the grounds. Don’t bother bringing toilet roll, as the latrines are kept well-stocked, however I’d advise you pack some hand sanitiser]
On the day you wish to enter the grounds, you are woken up at 5am by the Honorary Stewards. Campers are given an hour to get their shit together, deflate there inflatables, put their tents into luggage storage, and line-up back in numerical ticket order. Then begins the long, meandering, journey out the park and along the edge of Wimbledon Golf Course; passing entertainment-lit stands; welcome signs; and overly-buoyant employees, until your ticket is exchanged for a wristband at the security gate: The golden lettering of ‘Centre Court’ glistened off the solid blue background as I fastened it on tightly. It was 7am at this point, and we had to wait until 8:45am until the metal detectors were turned on. After what felt like only minutes however, we were sneaking in our cans of Pimm’s which had been purchased from the local supermarket; not willing to pay the £8.30 per glass they were charging inside.
At the turnstiles, we lined up at those offering tickets for Centre Court whilst hordes of fans looked on in jealousy. Handing over £104 each, we then entered the hallowed grounds and immediately looked up at the giant yellow board which showed the order of play for Monday 4th July 2016. First up on Centre Court was Roger Federer; followed by Serena Williams; followed by our compatriot, Andy Murray. What a time to be alive.