Participation in Wimbledon takes persistence, preparation and more than just a bit of luck. And not just for the players, or the groundspeople or ball boys/girls, but for the fans too. Without the support of nutritionists, masseurs and encouraging coaches I’ve struggled today after an exhilarating day watching the Centre Court action. It’s amazing how exhausting sitting on your bum for six hours can be. But what a day! We got to watch Roger Federer, Serena Williams and Andy Murray all smash their way to the quarter finals. It was a childhood ambition come true, a bucket list item well and truly ticked.
But, as I’m neither mega-rich debenture-ticket holder nor British/Hollywood celebrity/minor royal worthy of a free hospitality pass, I had to go the route of normal proles and enter the ballot for a view shared with the pigeons in the roof. Here’s my guide to Wimbledon for other tennis-loving normal people:
1) Plan Early
Unless you want to queue (possibly overnight) in The Queue without the guarantee of scoring a ticket (surely the most British thing ever!)/you can’t afford a few thousand pounds to rent one of those debenture seats for the day, you’ll want to enter the ballot. For the price of a couple of stamps you get to wait anxiously from February to hear whether you’ve scored tickets. Nothing beats the sight of a Wimbledon offer landing on your doorstep!
2) Prepare for Ticket Envy
Last year I was amazed that I’d got tickets for Men’s Finals day…only they were tickets for Court 1. Still, Wimbledon is Wimbledon and I was buzzing. And then I called a friend. She’d been invited by another friend to the Men’s Semi-Finals on Centre Court. That took the wind out of my sails a bit.
This year I was luckier – Centre Court with three top-notch matches! When order of play was announced I was whooping round the house and spewing my excitement all over social media. On the shared cab ride from the tube though we shared with two women also with Centre Court seats…only theirs were just four rows from the front (ours were row Z – ie pigeon-stuck-in-the-roof height) and a woman with hospitality tickets. Grrrr.
As it happens, it doesn’t matter where you sit though. Even from the back you get a spectacular view. Well, unless you happen to sit behind a giant like I did! Luckily I’m ok at endurance neck-straining, so the view was fine.
And even if you haven’t got the big matches on the big days, make the most of whatever you have got. Play on the outside courts can throw up some early round surprises (who didn’t fall in love with Marcus Willis this year?). Make the most of the Hill if you can’t bear to miss a big match. The atmosphere is great.
3) Dress Appropriately
I don’t necessarily mean dress-code-ish (although it feels good to put on a nice dress). But dress for the conditions. This means keeping an avid eye on weather forecasts – last year’s week 1 was scorching; this year saw a rare middle Sunday due to a week of rain. Take layers. If you’re going to be utilising the Hill wear trousers – there’s no dignity to be had trying to convince officials you have both buttcheeks firmly on the grass when you’re also risking exposing your knickers to BBC Two viewers as their cameras pan the crowd.
If you’re going for practical over fancy-schmansy, let Kim Murray be your muse.
Regardless of your clothes, take what my friend and I refer to as a condom coat, ie a hideous plastic hoodie. Ours are our lucky talismans as they’re now on their second British Summer without being worn. Ok, Anna Wintour might scowl at you from the royal box, but if you’re exposed to the variable British weather it saves the hair should the cameras pick you out. (Although Sod’s law would be making it onto Wimbledon coverage during a rain break whilst wearing the sodding condom coat!!!)
Also, talking of variable weather, sunglasses are a MUST. Even if it’s overcast. Just because.
And shoes – unless you’re planning on spending the whole day at the bar (in which case, GET OUT AND STOP WASTING A TICKET!) ditch the heels. If you want to take it all in there’s a fair amount of walking involved, not to mention steps and the walk back to the tube. No one’s looking at your feet anyway.
4) Southfields is Closer Than Wimbledon
A tip for the Tube: Southfields station is a 15-minute walk from the grounds; Wimbledon is 20-minutes. When youre as excited as a newly homed puppy those 5 minutes mean a lot. When you’re amongst the throng and desperate to get home those 5 minutes mean even more!
Also, Gate 13 has a shorter queue than the main gates. There’s Pimms behind those gates – don’t wait unnecessarily!
5) Pack Supplies
Admittedly, carting a picnic across London isn’t the best fun ever. But neither is missing the on-court action because you’re queuing for pizza and strawberries. Plus, you have to do all those steps again. Instead, make yourself comfortable, settle in for the long haul and snack yourself silly. My M&S strawberries were every bit as delicious as the Wimbledon ones* and we got three times as many. My friend forked out £8.30 each for Pimms; I’d pre-packed two further pre-mixed cans at £2.00 each. And best of all (thanks to having a bladder of steel) I didn’t have to move for 6 hours of play!
(*You can get free strawberries if you bank with HSBC. They’ve given up the goodie bags, but free fruit and cream is not to be sniffed at.)
6) Be Friendly
Talk to people. Offer to take others’ photos. Last year an incredibly tall American asked us to get a picture of him in front of the strawberries concession. We got chatting. It turned out his son, Reilly Opelka, was playing in the Boys’ Finals. We cheered extra loudly for him as we watched from our Court 1 seats and having talked to his dad it made it all the more special. Reilly went on to win. We couldn’t have felt more proud of him.
7) Keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready.
Players can pop up at any moment. Almost as soon as we arrived last year Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker strode out from the smaller courts into Centre Court. I wasn’t ready and only got a shoddy, unflattering pic of Becker. Focused for the match ahead you won’t get much attention from the big names…and they have an annoying habit of casually using entourage as human shields against getting a decent snap.
Also, know whose who. Everyone wants a piece of the big players, but it’s scarily easy to walk past a Women’s Fourth Round competitor without a second glance. Maybe if we knew who they were they’d be more welcoming of the attention.
8) Be Early
Henman Hill/Murray Mount is a lot smaller than it looks on TV. Although initially it’ll look pretty empty with just a few early birds or picnickers, by the time of a big match it’ll be rammed. Officials won’t let you stay unless they’re convinced no part of your body is encroaching on the path. Standing, even at the back, is forbidden. So pitch up early to get enough space to ensure deep-vein thrombosis won’t be an issue of it goes to five sets!
9) Know What You’re Talking About
Nothing worse than sitting next to someone who literally has no clue how the scoring works or thinks that there’s no point in watching any of the women’s matches. Don’t be insulting: apply because you love tennis, not because you just want to go to Wimbledon. And then make the most of it.
After yesterday, I literally can’t wait for the ballot to open again for next year. I may not be lucky again, but at least I’ve been. But it’s worth the cost of a few stamps to try.
I should also like to point out that all views expressed in this post are purely my own. The AELTC had no input into my views and I have received nothing from them for me telling my niche set of readers about my experiences. However, if they’d like my views on court-side seats next year, then I’d happily accept any offers.