The most fun Queue I’ve ever been in
After a lifetime of enviously following Wimbledon coverage in newspapers, magazines, on television and the internet, I finally got the chance to plan a UK trip around it a few years ago, in the hope of catching the action live. With no luck in the ballot for tickets and without the deep pockets to buy a debenture ticket or hospitality package, my only option was to go for the Queue.
The Queue (yes, it’s capitalized!) is what makes The Championships truly accessible to the ordinary sports fan and Wimbledon different from almost all major sports events. The Queue provides on-day sales of tickets, with some restrictions, throughout the tournament. So if you get in line early enough and maintain the Queue code of conduct, then you’re assured of a ticket for that day’s matches. The ticket allotment is also fairly generous, with about 500 tickets available daily for each of the show courts (Centre Court, No.1 Court and No.2 Court), except for the last four days of the event. There are also several thousand Grounds Admission passes released every day that allow access to unreserved seating on courts 3-18; the grassy areas at Murray Mound or Henman Hill, where you can watch the action on a giant screen; and the practice courts where, if you’re lucky, you may see a big-name player at work.
Eight years ago, I remember reaching Wimbledon Park, the location of the campsite, at about 3pm on the Middle Sunday to queue up. I hoped that would be early enough to get me a Centre Court ticket for the fourth-round matches on Monday. However, as I entered the ground, I could see columns of campers already in place. When the steward handed me a Queue number card showing I was 1,080th in the queue, I knew Centre Court would have to wait for another day (pro-tip: Mondays are the most crowded days since more locals can queue up on Saturday and Sunday).
This initial disappointment soon faded as I settled into my spot and began to soak in the atmosphere. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon and the lush grassy fields of the campsite seemed like the perfect place to enjoy it. Moreover, while the Queue is quite well-organized and disciplined, there’s none of the staidness or boredom that you might expect of a typical waiting line. I could see people relaxing outside their tents with wine and beer, families picnicking on blankets and at least a couple of games of football and cricket going on in the background. The overall festive air of the Queue made it seem like the tennis fan version of the tailgate parties that one associates with American sports.
The lively mood also made it easier to chat with other tennis enthusiasts. On my left were two Scottish girls who hoped to catch Andy Murray practising from up close; the Chinese exchange student on my right decided to leave later in the evening because there was no chance of getting a ticket for the Centre Court; and further down was a Spanish duo who had come to Wimbledon despite the disappointment of their hero Rafael Nadal skipping The Championships that year.
Forming a casual acquaintance with other people in the Queue is particularly important if you’re there alone. The Queue code of conduct (yes, it’s a formal set of rules) forbids you from leaving your place in the Queue till the end; so if you want to walk around or go get something to eat or drink, you have to request someone to not only keep an eye on your stuff but also to reassure any stewards out for a random check. Luckily, getting food is not an issue, with multiple options both within the grounds and a short walk outside.
As evening melded into night, the action in the Queue also came to a halt. I crawled into my sleeping bag, excited by the prospect of a full day of tennis the next day. This was probably why I was up at 5am, an hour before the stewards come around to wake the overnight campers. The Queue had swelled to several thousand members.
By 8am, it was time to pack my bags, drop them off at the luggage facility in the camping grounds and get into the final queue. I finally ended up getting tickets for the No.1 Court and managed to catch some of the top players of the world in action—Venus Williams versus Ana Ivanović, Andy Roddick vs Tomáš Berdych, and Fernando Verdasco vs Ivo Karlović. I got to watch Andy Murray and Amélie Mauresmo at practice sessions, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna with their respective partners on the side courts, and the Wawrinka-Murray five-set epic from Murray Mound.
Looking back, I feel the Queue was as integral to my Wimbledon experience as eating strawberries and cream and cheering with the crowds on Murray Mound/Henman Hill as Sir Andy battled through for another win.
Tips for acing the Queue
Check the weather: “Like everything else in London, the process of queuing up starts with checking the weather,” says Sam Prabhu Rubhandas, a 39-year-old from Chennai who now works in London. Last year, the first week was severely hit by rain, with no play on one day.
Reach early: People are beginning to queue up earlier each year, showing up as much as 24 hours in advance to get Centre Court tickets. To get Centre Court tickets for the second Monday, be prepared to camp Saturday afternoon onward. Wimbledon.com and the official social media carry the latest status of the Queue. If you’re taking the tube, get off at Southfields on the District Line, the closest station to the AELTC and, more importantly, to the Camping Ground and the beginning of the Queue.
Dress appropriately: Dress in layers. While British summers are fairly warm, late-evening showers frequently make it very cool. Aditya Gadre, a 28-year-old from Mumbai, had only taken a blanket and that didn’t suffice: “The weather changes a lot and it can get really cold at night!” Take an umbrella/waterproof jacket for when it rains and sunscreen for when it doesn’t.
Carry cash: Ticket counters and several retailers at the venue only accept cash. Rubhandas and his group weren’t aware of this and had a minor crisis figuring out how to buy the tickets when they finally got the chance after starting 1,752 in the queue.
Bring your own food and drinks: Yes, you’re allowed to bring some alcohol—one bottle of wine or two 500ml cans of beer. Food is expensive in the camping ground and inside the venue, so bring your own as long as it’s not hot or strong-smelling.
Luggage: There is a restriction on the size of bags allowed inside the venue (40x30x30cm) as well as those that can be left at the luggage facility at the camping ground (60x45x25cm), so pack accordingly. Don’t take items like a selfie stick, you will not be allowed to take them inside.
Navin Sharma is a sports fan who has channelled his passion into work with Eventraveler, a company that enables travel to sports and other live events around the world.