When Newman suggested before the trip that we queue to watch Wimbledon, i very nearly blanched and didn't really find his suggestion appetizing. What i had heard was that one had to queue overnight on open grounds (i.e. pitch a tent, cook one's food, etc.) just to be able to score a ticket for the next day's tennis matches. Tough luck if it's raining cats and dogs.
Newman forwarded to me an article from The Telegraph, which explained the All-England Lawn Tennis & Croquet (AELTC) Club's set-up: Every day, they make available a limited number of tickets for the "show courts" (i.e. Centre Court, Court No. 1 and Court No. 2) - rumoured, but not confirmed, to be five hundred in total; and several thousand "grounds passes", which entitles one to watch the action (unreserved seats) on the smaller, outside courts No. 3 - 19.
So, if you are a tennis fanatic and/or want to see the top stars play, then you will have to camp overnight for the 'show court' tickets. But if you are content to see lesser lights in action on the outside courts, then just drop by 7AM on the day and join the queue; and more likely than not, you will be able to obtain a grounds pass.
So, on a balmy Tuesday morning, Newman and i alighted from the Southfields underground station (Important tip: Get off at Southfields, not at Wimbledon station) and hurried off to find the queue.
Check out the subway station seats decked out in the traditional Wimbledon colours, dark green and purple, with "In Pursuit of Greatness" printed. Puts one right in the mood to watch some tennis!
We followed the direction where everyone else was walking to, and pretty soon saw this sign:
We came upon an open grassy parking lot. Lo and behold! Thousands and thousands of people already lined up! [gasp]
The important thing is to get one's Queue Card, being handed out to everyone by the stewards. DO NOT LOSE THIS. It is numbered and date-stamped (see below). No, you cannot get queue cards for "five of my friends, who are coming in a bit"; strictly one per person. Newman and i were the 3,498th and 3,499th people on the queue for this day, so i silently hoped they'd let at least 3,500 in!
As it was just 7:30AM, and the AELTC gates open at 10:30AM, there was nothing to do but wait. (and wait and keep on waiting, whether patiently or not) So here are some guidelines to make the wait more bearable:
Bring a book or a tablet for entertainment. Make sure your attire (especially your shoes) is suitable for inclement weather (the British lady behind us stated that, even if it was stormy and pouring hard, people simply unfurl their umbrellas and raincoats, and continued to be in line). Bring some snacks and drinks, although fortunately, there were some food stalls and portable toilets.
It had rained the night before, so the grass was slightly damp with some muddy patches. One enterprising newspaper, The Telegraph, offered an appetizing promotion: Just buy a copy of the newspaper, and one gets a 'special' gift.
It composed of a textile cloth (in checkered colours very similar to dark green and purple, to boot!) with wet-proof backing, perfectly suitable for laying on the ground; as well as a transparent rain poncho. So one could lie on the ground in comfort:
The Japanese guy in front of us had bought the paper, and very kindly offered us to sit with him, much to my eternal gratitude. He was taking a week-long holiday, and visiting London and Prague.
Another reminder: Please do not try to jump the queue. The stewards do their rounds and check from time to time. It is simply unsporting behaviour to do so.
Slowly, but surely, the queue lurched forward in increments; and we could feel a bit of nervous excitement as the prospect of finally entering the gates (and having our queue cards converted to actual grounds passes) neared.
As for those people camped out in tents (they were on the queue for tomorrow's show court tickets), here was one way they passed the time:
As we keep on walking towards the gates, we passed by this sign. No selfie sticks, please.
Once inside the gate, we passed the very strict security checks, akin to airport standards. There are restrictions on what items one can bring, as well as the size of one's bag/backpack, so it is imperative to check the official Wimbledon site beforehand.
When you see this sign below, you feel like "yes, we've made it!!" :D
Finally, Newman and i reached the ticket turnstiles. Which brings me to another tip: Bring cash. The grounds pass costs GBP25.00, strictly on cash basis only. Don't tell me you lined up for hours, and your wallet lacked cold cash? Not very smart.
And once you entered the hallowed grounds, all the hassle and inconvenience experienced from the queue just evaporates the very moment you see the famed grass courts:
(Stay tuned for the next Wimbledon post!)