Great Sporting Moment No.3: ‘The Queue’, Wimbledon, London SW19

28 Jun

I know I talked up the French Open Tennis Championship and I stand by what I said, but I now humbly admit there is a greater game. That game is the unique and highly evolved All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) sport called ‘The Queue’.

We were slack and didn’t apply for the Wimbledon 2012 Ballot when it opened on August 1 last year. Nor did we feel inclined to stump up hundreds of dollars to Australian agents to buy a package. We were in London faced with the prospect of standing in line on the day of play or missing out. We hate to miss out.

Our game plan involved taking a mini-cab from our apartment in Marylebone to the AELTC timed to arrive before tube trains start running in the hope of getting two of the 1500 tickets available for Centre Court and courts 1, 2 and 3. We got to the grounds at 4:40am, entered Car Park 10 and joined a very long queue of hopefuls mostly sitting or lying on the grass.

The hordes of campers alongside our queue were in a different queueing system having received their number the day before. Smartly uniformed, young paid stewards and older, honorary stewards were on the ball, handing out one numbered card and instructions to each new person as they arrived. We were numbers 01165 and 01166 on Day 2, June 26, 2012. As long as we stayed put in the queue we were in! Twenty three pounds well spent on the early cab.

We had Mums with adults kids in front and behind us, two older women on folding chairs who chainsmoked and chatted, and assorted young people. The majority of queuers were British. The majority of campers were young, overseas backpacker types, but there were a few hardy senior citizens and a couple of quite large families. It’s an extraordinarily low cost way to see a major sporting event. Maximum tent size is two people but we could see some young Italians had got away with breaking that particular rule. About ten bodies emerged from their oversized tent. Three tall, boisterous ‘Tiggers’ arrived and I was unsurprised to hear Kiwi accents. They love their dress ups. Later they changed into smart casual clothes. There are many, many rules at Wimbledon and ‘no costumes’ is one of them.

As dawn broke in red streaks overhead we settled in with our sandwiches and thermos of green tea. The day was starting fine but the forecast was afternoon showers. At 6am the stewards started waking sleeping campers to pack up their kit. Food and hot drink carts opened for business. The temporary toilet blocks buzzed with young women washing and brushing teeth in handbasins and applying war paint. Rival newspaper sellers bowled up touting picnic rugs, rain ponchos and jute bag ‘extras’ along with the day’s paper with tennis news. Canny marketing. Now the day tripper hordes started pouring in and there were suddenly three lines of queues.

I quizzed my new best friend, Mr Nazeem, who has been an honorary Wimbledon Steward for 15 years, about the workings of the queue system. He said every year there is pressure to cease ‘The Queue’ because of the associated cost and bother of it, but he is pleased that every year that faction is defeated. His view is Wimbledon is the only tennis championship in the world that holds tickets for sale on the day at affordable prices and whilst the queue can be managed in a well-regulated and fun fashion it should be continued.

Now it was 7am and we were all moved forward and told to close ranks. The queue now covered a football pitch and I was a little nervous about the next step. We caterpillar walked two abreast around the golf course on specially laid white plastic paths past the product marketing pergolas clutching our tickets like it was our number to get into a lifeboat. It was ‘hurry up and wait’ for the next thirty minutes as we stood densely packed. No time to lose resolve. Stewards passed by clipping a hole in each queue card.

At 7:30am a new set of stewards came down the line with handfulls of coloured wristbands denoting which court you would be able to buy a ticket for. Our steward was bemused when I showed our queue cards and refused the Court One wristbands offered and asked for Court Two. Centre Court and Court One play doesn’t start until 1pm whereas the other courts start at 11:30am and furthermore promising young Queenslander Bernard Tomic, Serena Williams, Juan Martin del Potro and Caroline Wozniacki were all down to play matches on Court Two. It would be a great lineup and nothing could stop us getting in now!

More inching forward but now in three single files abreast, each for a different court. At 8am stewards let a few people at a time pass through a very thorough security scan and bag check. At 8:30am we joined our security queue and at 9am we reached the ticket booths for Court Two ticket sales. There’s a little finessing that goes on at this point. You need to be sure to go to the booth selling the seating area you prefer. Stuart wanted to avoid the ‘tennis neck’ that comes with sitting on the sidelines so we checked with a guard and went to the booth selling the southern stand. We flashed our flourescent pink wrist bands and paid thirty six pounds cash each (no credit cards) for our day ticket.

Once past the ticket booths we were all held back by another cordon until the clock struck 9:30am and the crowd rushed in with much whooping and hollering. We were in and our day at Wimbledon was really starting!

Access to the practice courts and show courts starts at 10:30am giving spectatators plenty of time for eating, drinking and shopping in the AELTC branded merchandise store. I recall the AELTC from a brief Wimbledon Championship visit three decades ago. It was almost unrecognisable – a huge complex, well laid out and with plenty of facilities and services. They’ve done their market segmentation research well. If like us, you want to use the break in matches to eat vegetarian Cornish Pasties and drink Champagne people watching amongst the posh set while you listen to music you can. Alternatively you can take all your own food and drink and not spend a penny.

Well fortified for the gruelling day ahead we took our seats fifteen minutes before match time and what seats they were – almost dead centre in the second row! When I saw Serena play at Roland Garros she was a dot on the court. Now I could see every detail. And more than that she could see and hear me. I was thrilled to see her start strongly against Barbora Zahlavova Strychova but a few games in she made an unforced error on our end and started her old temperamental gesturing. I shouted an encouraging ‘Come on Serena!’ She turned, looked at me, smiled and said “OK’. She put the match away in straight sets. Awesome display of power. Goosebumps. I hope she gives Maria Sharapova a run for the title money.

We saw all the matches on Court Two until the Wozniacki match was moved to Centre Court. Our efforts to talk our way into Centre Court paid off (always ask the single fireman guarding the gangway) and we saw the final two games before rain stopped play.

The rest of the matches are now a matter of record but I will comment on the Bernard Tomic Vs David Goffin match. It was clear after the first set that Bernie had low back pain from the way he was stretching to adjust his socks or shoes between every point. Tiny Belgian David Goffin was outrunning and outhitting him, but even if he was in extremis I can’t excuse his two outbursts of temper. The first time Bernie bashed his racket aganst the grass until he broke it I thought, ‘Uh oh, his sponsor Yonex is not going to like that’, but the second time he broke a racket he made large divots in the grass. That is just wrong on so many levels but particularly disrespectful of other players who will be playing on that piece of turf after him.

In summary, a memorable and hugely enjoyable day at the tennis for us and another successful sporting moment for ‘The Queue’. Jolly well played!

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