Waiting for Wimbledon: ‘We queue properly here. Leaving is cheating’
It’s one of the few big sporting events where you can still get premium tickets on the day of play – if you queue the Wimbledon way
Fans queue for entry into the grounds at Wimbledon. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
The pamphlet, thrust at me by a tall lady in high heels and a large floppy hat, reads A Guide to Queuing: The Championships Wimbledon. The woman is wearing an luminous jacket identifying her as an “Honorary Steward” and striding about twirling an umbrella as if it is a weapon. We are in the middle of what looks like a cross between a campsite and a carnival, but is in fact the queue for tickets for Wimbledon.
Along the left-hand side of the field, tents are erected in suspiciously straight lines, an even distance between each one. People sit outside them, talking and laughing, playing ball games, eating ice-creams. We are standing amid a chain of picnic rugs, snaking from the tents in front all the way around the field and patrolled by aggressive-looking 15-year-olds wearing luminous jackets and whistles.
“Are we on a campsite?” my friend Sarah whispers in my ear. “What is this? Should we sit?” my other friend Niamh asks. We look around at where people have plonked down on the ground. Women sip wine. Men doze on the grass. Children of all ages play games with sticky tennis rackets. “Is this actually the queue?”
According to our beautifully designed “Queue Cards”, yes it is. “Day 6, 11,610” my card reads, meaning I am the 11,610th person to queue today. My head spins slightly. “How long will it take us to get in from here?” I ask a steward, an elderly man in a bowler hat, with an earpiece. “About 6pm, possibly,” he says, hurrying on. It is noon.
“Somebody told me it would be like this,” says Niamh’s friend, as she pulls suncream, food, water and magazines out of her backpack while we look on in delighted disbelief. “Anyone like a croissant?”
If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
The Guide to Queuing says, “Excessive consumption of alcohol and/or drunken behaviour will not be tolerated”, but “one bottle of wine per person” is permitted. We take full advantage of this.
Sitting down, we relax, we chat, we get sunburnt. Our spats of idyllic lounging are spoiled every 40 minutes or so when those 15-year-olds come barrelling down the line with too much energy and enthusiasm. “Come on everyone!” they yell. “We’re going to go for a lovely WALK!”
‘It all depends’
We begin to move, like a long colourful caterpillar: a train of people dressed up for the occasion of Wimbledon, but holding armfuls of picnic rugs, umbrellas, bottles of wine and assorted jackets. We shuffle along, getting more and more hopeful, until the teenagers tell us to stop.
“Is it worth our while waiting?” I eventually ask a steward, after queuing for about two-and-a-half hours. “Or would we be better coming back early Monday morning?”
“Well,” she dithers, balancing a pair of sunglasses on the middle of her nose. “You see you could. But then, it might be very busy on Monday morning, and you mightn’t get in. You might not get in today either. But people will come out at around five o’clock, probably. And it’s a beautiful day, so people might want to go home. So you could try again on Monday. Or you could stay here and try this evening. You might have a better chance this evening. Or Monday morning. It all depends.”
Wimbledon is one of the only sporting events left in the UK where you can still get premium tickets on the day of play. Of course, to get tickets to Centre Court and Court No 1, you have to be there at about 4am, which is why people bring tents.
Since everyone is given queue cards, is it necessary to wait in person? “Can we leave the queue and then come back?” asks Sarah, brandishing her queue card at the tall lady we’d encountered earlier.
“Good heavens no!” she exclaims, clutching at her glasses. “Of course, go into town for an hour if you need food and the like,” she says, quickly correcting herself. “But don’t go home. Don’t go off for hours. That is not how we do things here at Wimbledon.” She pushes her glasses up on her nose and looks over them sternly at us, but then gives a playful wink. “We queue properly here. Leaving is cheating. And that is just not how we play the game!”