Wimbledon 2013 is now in full swing (pun absolutely intended), and with all of the tennis on TV I am getting a huge dose of British nostalgia. This time last year, I was sitting in a tent on those hallowed grounds in SW19 queuing for the chance to score some incredible tickets to Wimbledon. It was one of the best sporting experiences I have ever had, and one that I would recommend to anyone with even a remote interest in tennis or British culture. Wimbledon is one of the only remaining sporting events in the world where the average person can show up on the day-of and gain entrance to a world-class arena (without having to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to do so). All you have to do is queue!
Here is my experience of the queue for Wimbledon tickets during the 2012 tournament:
Willem and I left our flat near Tower Bridge around 7:30am on the day before we wanted tickets (we wanted tickets for the second day of Wimbledon, a Tuesday, so we left for the queue on Monday morning). We brought with us a cheap two-person pop-up tent we had bought for around £25, some water and snacks, a sleeping bag and blankets, and a change of clothes. We couldn’t bring much more than was absolutely necessary because we had to carry everything by hand. We took the District Line all the way across London to Southfields tube station. From there, we walked about a 1/2 mile to the Wimbledon Park grounds, where stewards directed us to a place in line.
We were in line by around 9:30am, and we unpacked our stuff. We were happy to see that there were less than 100 people in front of us, which meant that we were guaranteed to get Centre Court tickets for the next day! The queue steadily grew behind us, and by late afternoon, there were over 1,000 people in the queue. If you want to guarantee yourself tickets to one of the show courts, definitely arrive prior to 5pm.
The entire process is very organized and orderly, as is everything truly British. There are nice stewards posted everywhere to answer any questions and to direct those in the queue to the right areas. You have to stay where you are in the queue until at least 5pm, which is when the stewards come around and hand out “queue cards”. These cards are your official “place in line”, and are there to prevent queue jumpers. Guard them with your life! As long as you have your card, no one can steal your spot.
After we were handed out queue cards (we were #74 and #75!), Willem and I left our tent to be watched over by our tent neighbor and went on the hunt for food. Luckily there are a few supermarkets nearby, so we bought picnic materials and made our way back to our tent for the evening.
At around 10:30pm, the stewards went around once more to ask everyone to begin to quiet down for the evening. Most people respected this, but it is worth taking along some ear plugs so that any rowdy crowds you are unlucky enough to have near your tent do not disturb your sleep. Willem and I had a different problem. We misjudged how cold it gets in England, even on a summer night. Neither of us slept a wink the entire night because we were too busy shivering in a curled up ball, trying stay warm. Oh well, who comes to Wimbledon to sleep anyway?!
Don’t plan on sleeping in, either! By 5am, the stewards begin asking everyone to wake up and pack up their tents in order to consolidate the line for those arriving to queue for general tickets in the morning. We took turns washing up in the bathroom trailers and packing up our stuff. The facilities in general were very good, considering the fact that the Wimbledon queue is just a bunch of tents stuck in a field. I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were clean bathroom trailers for both men and women (with mirrors and sinks!) instead of just port-a-pottys.
Packing our tent was a breeze, because I apparently have the magic touch when it comes to pop-up tents. I even helped a couple of guys who were at their wits end get their tent back in its bag. And they weren’t the only ones. The tent carnage on that field was appalling. I saw dozens of tents that had just been abandoned when their owners couldn’t get them back in their bags. Does anyone actually learn how to put their tent away before camping?
For those tent masters like me, Wimbledon provides a left luggage storage area where you can leave your large bags and tents. Anything bigger than a small (soft-sided) backpack is not allowed into the area (did they really think I would want to carry my tent around all day anyway?). It cost £5 per item of camping equipment, and £1 per additional item to store for the day.
Queue cards in hand and tents safely stored, we got back in line to wait. At 7:30am, the stewards began to lead us down a very long path leading to the security area at the entrance to the park. We were halted there to wait until the gates opened at 9:15am. At 8am, were were issued our wristbands. This is where your queue card is important. There are only 500 wristbands each for the show courts: Centre Court, Court 1, and Court 2. A band for Centre Court allows you entrance into any show court, but Court 1, for instance, only allows entrance into that court and the ones below it. A general admission ticket (given out to approximately 6,000-9,000 people in the queue every day who do not receive show court tickets) will allow access to the dozens of lower courts and Henman Hill, but not the show courts.
The bands are given out first come-first served according to your position in the queue. As we were in the first 500 people, we received bands for Centre Court, which meant we were going to see Rafael Nadal play that day! The band then guarantees your ability to buy your ticket at the turnstiles.
An hour later, and the queue finally started to move. We slowly snaked our way through the airport-style security and to the entrance where we bought our tickets at the turnstiles. Luckily we brought cash, because we found out that no credit or debit cards are accepted for tickets bought on the day. This keeps the line moving quickly. We finally entered the gates of the All England Club at 10:15am.
We made it!
The earliest matches did not begin until 11am (and the first show court matches did not start until 1pm), so we wandered around the grounds and found seats at Court 17, where Mardy Fish (USA) was about to start his match.
We watched the first set, and then decided to find something to eat before heading into the show courts. If you are familiar with Wimbledon, you will know that “Strawberries and Cream” (washed down with champagne, of course) is the quintessential Wimbledon dish.
We were tempted, but for £7 for a bowl of strawberries and cream, we decided to pass on that little bite of British culture. Instead, we took our food and made our way to Henman Hill to watch some matches on the big screen while we ate.
After a rain delay (it is England, after all), we finally took our seats at Centre Court. We were in the fifth row!
First up was Rafael Nadal against Thomaz Bellucci. The match was much more exciting than we had anticipated. Bellucci caught Nadal by surprise when he came out on fire, and won the first 4 games! We thought we were in for the upset of the century, but Nadal kept his composure and battled back to win the set. After that, Nadal cruised through the rest of the match, winning comfortably. It was easy to see why Nadal is considered one of the greats of tennis. Click on the pictures below to enlarge.
The final match we saw on Centre Court was between Britain’s sweetheart, Andy Murray, and Nikolay Davydenko. Andy Murray’s fans were out in force, which created a wonderful atmosphere on the court. Murray did his fans proud, and won 3 sets to 0. (Once again, you can click on the individual pictures to enlarge them.)
By this point we were exhausted. It was after 9pm, and we had been going non-stop in the sun and rain the entire day. We left the All England Club and returned to the left luggage to collect our bags. It was after 10:30pm when we got back home, but the whole experience was oh-so-worth-it! For a few pounds and some patience in a queue, you can take part in one of the greatest British traditions, plus glimpse a few of the most famous names in tennis.
If you are ever in London for those two weeks at the end of June/beginning of July, do not miss the chance to queue for Wimbledon!
For more information, Britishtennis.com has published a page on tips and rules for the queue, as well as a useful map of the grounds and nearest tube stations.