What happened when a sports fan made his first trip to Wimbledon without having planned too many things out? A real-life story of a guy who experienced the Wimbledon queue and everything after that on a fun-filled but a lesson-learning day out in the London sun.
I am a sports fan, primarily a cricket guy but tennis and football (or soccer for you Americans) take the pride of place in my list of favourite sports after cricket.
I have watched a lot of cricket from the stadiums, been privileged to have covered a few T20 and 50-over World Cups as a journalist. And at times I have also been able to sneak away from the cricket and catch some tennis, having now watched three of the four Grand Slams – Australian Open is one still to be ticked off from the bucket – and as you would have guessed, being able to visit SW19 for the 2019 Wimbledon ranks as one of my most memorable visits to a sports arena.
Wimbledon does that to you but this article isn’t about extolling the virtues of watching it. Fact you are reading this makes me want to believe you already know that. This is more a yarn about my extraordinary experience queuing up outside the arena nearly unprepared and sharing what you could do to ensure your visit to Wimbledon is even smoother than mine – or ours, since it was the two of us.
To give you a context, I was in the UK for the 2019 World Cup. As I said earlier, I am a cricket journalist with a tendency to sneak out for other sports at times. This was my second visit to the country, both occasions for the cricket and having missed out on watching the Wimbledon previously, I had a stronger inclination to change things around this time around.
Except that Wimbledon tickets aren’t as easy to grab as a cheap beer in a London pub.
The Wimbledon tickets ballot is more oversubscribed than a stock IPO in a booming economy, the tickets at Ticketmaster are sold off before one can type Ticketmaster on that space on the browser for URLs while I doubt one could afford a Debentures ticket without selling off an important organ, even more so as a freelance blogger. (here’s all the information on Wimbledon tickets if you cannot or don’t want to queue up but tough doesn’t even begin to describe the chances of you getting tickets for Wimbledon).
The only option left for me was to queue up. And having heard of the tradition associated with Wimbledon Queues, it’s something I have always wondered if I should try out. I haven’t been much of an adventure-freak but there are some adventures that are more risk-averse than others and this sounded like one of them.
I was still unsure though because of the logistical issues involved.
I was in Birmingham covering India’s World Cup game against Bangladesh on July 2 and my next scheduled halt was to be at Leeds on July 6, leaving me with July 4 as the only practical option. (July 5, a day before a World Cup game is a buzz of activity and impossible to miss with the captain press conferences and stuff).
A friend of mine, who had also travelled to the UK for the World Cup, already had his plans in place. He was going to watch some cricket on July 2 and 3 and queue up after the cricket game on July 3, arriving at London from Durham. He convinced me to join him, and quite easily at that. It was a small matter of buying last minute train tickets from Birmingham to London and then from London to Leeds but then that’s a small price to pay for a mini-adventure, right?
Train bookings done, I realised something else.
With the amount of luggage I had – remember I was there as a cricket journalist, for a period of 50 odd days making last-minute changes to my travel plans – I might not be allowed entry into Wimbledon. Almost frantically I looked around for options but the best I found was to use Left Luggage at train stations.
A bit more of the research and I realised it wasn’t a a very economic option at that. 12 quid or so for 24 hours of storage for one bag. More charges for more.
I deposited one at the London St Pancras International from where I had my return train to Leeds but was still left with my laptop bag and another small one consisting of a few of the toiletries and change.
As it turned out, and this is something I didn’t quite realise I could have done, this was my first takeaway from the Wimbledon queuing experience. Wimbledon has a left luggage option of their own and it’s a few hundred meters from where you would camp for the night. And it costs just £1. I was going to pay £19 (extra charge for over 24 hours of storage) at St. Pancras International.
Well done, me. Not.
Essentially, if you, as a tourist, are worried about your paraphernalia while visiting Wimbledon, especially if you have checked out and it’s one of the first (or last) things you do after landing in the country (or just before returning back), don’t be. Wimbledon’s left luggage service is brilliant and doesn’t pinch the pocket, not as much as the left luggage services at any of the train stations.
There are other private left luggage services too, outside of the train stations but a lot of them are some way away from these stations and cost only a little lesser.
Of course, if you are looking to camp overnight, you will have to give away the camping equipment, tents and sleeping bags for safekeeping and that is priced at £5 – but you are left with no option anyway.
Which brings me to my second takeaway.
Bring your camping tent.
Or at least a sleeping bag.
We did neither. Just had a jacket, two extra t-shirts, and a newspaper.
London is a city with drastically changing weathers but it’s also a bit extreme. If you aren’t used to the cold, it could get very bitter and at times it could turn drastically hot.
We experienced both. And both times, kept praying for it to change. Thankfully, and that is in the hindsight, it didn’t rain, which is a solid option too. Because had it spitted down the way it had in few of the days leading up to the tournament, we would have been dead by dawn.
Let’s start with the cold. An open air, under-the-stars camping is a brilliant idea (some might even call it romantic) but not so much when you are lying down on a thin sheet of newspaper with nothing but a jacket on top and t-shirts used as tourniquet on the legs.
The 12 degrees celcius out in the open feels a lot, lot colder. Some might be able to endure it happily. Others like me had a prayer on our lips. Then again, there weren’t others like me without a tent or a sleeping bag that night.
We spent about six hours like that. Frequent visits to the rest-room – which was about 100 meters away – were a relief because of the shelter it offered but the stink and (lack of) sleep didn’t make it a very appetising option.
I am from Mumbai. The definition of winter in my city is that month when you don’t sweat immediately after you are out of a shower. Enduring temperatures that felt like single digit centigrade ensured I was going to get no sleep. In fact the only thought in at least my mind – not so much my mate from New York – was that of all things I thought could be the reason for my death, hypothermia was outside my top 100 list.
Jokes aside, it does get very cold. Get your tents. Better still, rent them, use for the night and deposit them in the Left Luggage that Wimbledon offers.
Looking to buy reasonably-priced sleeping tents? Here’s one option for two people: Camping Tent for Two!
You can also choose your sleeping bags here.
We also noticed a few fans carry their own Folding Camp Chair. I was left wondering about the need for a camping chair when a tent or a sleeping bag would have been enough. Well, to each his/her own, as they say.
Third takeaway. It gets hot in London as quickly as it gets cold.
You would have thought that being in the UK before I would have experienced that earlier too but again, it’s quite different when you are out in the open, queuing up without a chance of shelter.
So by the time it was 8 am, the sun was up and the jacket and the tourniquets were off. By 10 am, we were knocking on the doors at Wimbledon and hoping to find some shade because it had become scorching.
By 2 pm, the heat had taken its toll because most courts don’t have roof. By 4 pm, all we could was stand next to a water faucet in a bid to refuel ourselves and sprinkle some as well.
Carry your wide-brim hats if possible. Hydrate yourself as much as possible.
And refer back to the second takeaway because without a tent or a sleeping bag, you won’t sleep too well – we slept for less an hour – and the heat and lack of sleep add up to be a potent combination.
You might be very interested in knowing which tickets we finally got.
For starters, here’s how it works. Once you queue up the previous night (or even 24 hours before the start of play), you are given a queue number. Between 8 and 9 am on the day of the match the queue starts moving, and based on what your queue number is, you are allocated wrist bands that indicate which court tickets you may be able to buy.
Based on what we believe was the case on our day of queuing up outside Wimbledon, the first 500 or so queue numbers can go ahead and buy tickets for the Centre Court, the next 500 or so for Court 1 and an equal number for Court 2. Essentially if you are looking to watch the matches at one of these three show-courts, you need to be in the first 1600 or so fans (we were 1520ish and got Court 2 tickets).
On the day we went, Roger Federer was on Court 1 and Rafael Nadal was going to feature at the Centre Court. When did the queues for Centre Court and Court 1 tickets begin to form? Here’s an incident that should clear things up.
I was at Court 2, watching world number one Ash Barty complete a win in her second round encounter. I came out after the match to charge my phone and sat next to an old lady and we began chatting about her time at the Wimbledon. She said she’s a Federer fan, like a lot of us are, and had watched Federer play in the first round as well.
For the second round, i.e. on the same day I was visiting, she had queued up at 2 pm the previous day. Yep, that’s correct, there were fans in the Wimbledon queue from around the previous afternoon – and we had reached at midnight, about 10 hours after she had camped up.
Which is my fourth takeaway. You want tickets for the Centre Court or Court 1, make sure you are among the first 1000 to queue up, and in order to do that, get there early. Like very, very early.
Make that another very.
Do it from the previous evening probably. And don’t forget the first three takeaways.
Now that the Big Three of tennis are approaching their respective tennis career twilights, it’s only natural the demand for tickets will soar up and as a result, so will the need to queue up earlier. So if you are going to Wimbledon on the day when two of these Big Three are playing, even more of a reason to queue up earlier than what everyone’s advising you.
Speaking of chatting with fellow Wimbledon fans, I met that woman inside one of the very, very few stores that were offering mobile charging points. I didn’t encounter this issue at the French Open but at Wimbledon I didn’t find too many charging boxes that you can rent for a dollar or a pound or a Euro and charge the phone for an hour or so.
And the few we did encounter were so slow to charge that I was afraid to use my phone while I was charging it, lest it drains out the battery faster than it is getting charged.
Now I know what some of you might be thinking. It’s tennis, it’s Wimbledon, you got Court 2 tickets, why do you need your phone. Well, some of you anyway. I agree, we live in an over-digitalised age and are addicted to our phones and cameras and Instagrams and other social media. I know I am.
But even for those who aren’t, photographs and videos from Wimbledon are a good memory to have. And unless you have a brand-new phone or one with a super-solid battery-life, you would have no choice but desire more of these charging points. More than the fifth takeaway for me and other fans, it’s bit of a tip for the Wimbledon organisers to change this.
Now obviously, the takeaway from this for us fans could be to carry a power bank. Or three of them in case you are going to be queuing up from the previous afternoon as that lady did!
Among the ones we researched for iPhones, here’s one of the most portable iPhone Power Bank you would probably get.
Also look at this Power Bank for Android phones.
And now for a bonus tip. Also, carry your shades. And no, this is not to help you from the glaring sun but it can be used in case you end up needing a snooze during a match and you want to avoid getting caught on cameras in such an ’embarrassing position’.
Tennis watching is tough exercise. Made tougher by the invariable lack of sleep through the camping night.
There’s a very good chance of nodding off during a match that doesn’t live up to expectations. And television cameras can be very cruel at such times, zooming in to your transgression at the most (in)opportune of times.
Best is to carry your shades, like the Aussie guy next to me did that day, taking a nap every other game of an Ash Barty encounter.
Some other points that should help you.
How to Get to Wimbledon?
Multiple ways obviously but what we did was to take the London Underground to Southfields Station. The queuing gates are about a 10-12 minute walk. There will be signage on the streets leading to the arena and once you get to the main gate, there will stewards to help you at every stage (at least there were during our time).
What to Do if You Aren’t Early Enough?
As I mentioned above, if you aren’t among the first 1500-1600 or so in the Queue, there is a very good chance you won’t be getting through to the Show Courts. Fret not. The experience of watching Wimbledon at other courts is by itself one you shouldn’t miss. Get in the queue early morning and get a Grounds Pass which will give you access to all the courts other than Centre, Court 1 and 2.
What about the Access to Henman Hill?
Your grounds pass should get you that access too. Incidentally it’s also called the Murray Mound now. Or Heather Hill. Konta Contour. All mean the same. We saw the Federer and Nadal matches from there. It’s a fun experience but do carry your sun screen cream along.
What is a Grounds Pass at Wimbledon?
If you don’t fall in those first 1500-1600-ranked fans in the queue, what would typically happen is you wouldn’t get tickets for the show-courts (Centre, Court 1 and 2) but access to the other courts. These are unreserved seats and you can access them using the Grounds Pass which you can buy at the same counter where you would buy the tickets for the show-courts. A ground pass is the most economical way to watch Wimbledon from the grounds.
Can you Carry Your Food & Drinks to Wimbledon?
A big, emphatic yes. Carry your own food and water at the very least so that you aren’t forced to buy everything from the grounds, because things can get very expensive. Some of the more inexpensive food at Wimbledon, like pizzas, might still be a pinch to your pockets and well, as pizzas are, not the healthiest option.