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The Championships….Queuing’s Reign    

Mark Winters

Having attended The Championships for ages, there are a host of things I still don’t understand about the tournament, or for that matter, Great Britain…………..Communication is the best place to begin… because of the catalog of words that may needtranslation (or a movie crawl) before people are aware of the point being made… For example…Alright (How are you?); Clanger (Embarrassing mistake); Nowt (Nothing…); Bloody (Paired with another word such as “marvelous” is a meaningful exclamation); Rubbish (Not believable; a foolish statement); Minging (Ming-ing… something horrible); Chuffed (Pleased with an achievement); Busking (Panhandling) …

When it comes to being its own dictionary of definitions… nothing rivals “Brilliant…” It is used to classify (and clarify) virtually everything from success to abject failure, as well as stages of results in between.

The Championships, clearly, justifies a “Brilliant” decree…as do the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) and SW19, the postal code that has become synonymous with the event… They form a revered triumvirate…recognized in Great Britain and throughout the tennis world.

There are additional characteristics of the annual London fortnight that define and further set it apart from the other Grand Slams …The draws are “Gentlemen’s” and “Ladies’” competitions. Historically, all white has been the clothing color “dictate…”  Supposedly it indicated that an individual wasn’t working class and thus didn’t become dirty “laboring…” More important, because of the implied class distinction members would never “muss…” their all-white attire. It has also been pointed out that sweat stains don’t appear as readily on white garments as they do on various other colors.

Before the 2014 event, “All White Is A Must” was codified when The Championships referee, Andrew Jarrett informed those participating in the Ladies’ competition, “Undergarments that either are or can be visible during play (including due to perspiration) must also be completely white and contain no more than 1cm of colored trim.” A couple of participants were unable to comply with the guidelines when it came to the blush of their sports bras and were forced to play “supportless…” which resulted in a public relation “playing braless” scrum that the AELTC sidestepped by…simply remaining mum.

In the past, Church Road was always busy during the fortnight...Photo Mark Winters 1993

Nothing sets The Championships apart or is more typifying than “The Queue…” Based on my decades of observation, it is an unrivaled… a treasured activity which stands alone because it transcends the boundaries of time for those participating. Mind you…it is not a matter of waiting a few minutes…it could be for hours or half a day… or due to queuing time’s amorphous definition, maybe longer…even overnight.

Nearly as comfortable as home…Photo Mark Winters 1997

Queuing is an institution… In a July 8, 2019, Daily Mail Online story Rory Tingle wrote, “Britain’s long-running love affair with tennis has been celebrated with a collection of black and white photographs showing Wimbledon fans queuing for tickets and camping overnight to get good seats as far back as 1913…”

A July 3, 2022, ATP Tour feature noted, “Since 1922, thousands of fans have camped out and joined the Wimbledon Queue in order to secure a ticket for the grass-court Grand Slam, with 1,500 tickets offered up daily across the show courts, while several thousand grounds passes are handed out…”

Historians have also offered that what has become a Championships “Way of Life…” began on the tournament’s first Saturday in 1927, (May 25th), when over 22,000 spectators, (a record), attended the third-round matches… According to reports, people had begun queueing at 5 a.m. and in the end, more than 2,000 were turned away.

Its inception doesn’t really matter…Queuing is unmatched…Adding to its allure, is the fact it can take place in “brilliant” sunshine, kite soaring wind, wear a mackinaw chill or a “Noah-like” downpour… or combinations of all four.

In 1991 and 1997 torrential rain brought about play on Middle Sunday because the match schedules were soddened with delays… Though flooding took place on Church Road, people “Queued on…” The next morning, following an evening when tents and provisions were washed away in ’97,  a local home furnishings store used the public relations opportunity to hold a drawing for queuers and gave five mattresses away to those who survived … (It was rumored that one of the winners was a US couple who investigated shipping their damp mattress home.)

Not what the Rolling Stones meant by “Give Me Shelter…” Photo Mark Winters 1997

For years, those queuing slept on Church Road…in recent times the “Sleep Over” field of play has moved from the concrete to the grounds of the Wimbledon Park Golf Club, the 73-acre plot of land that is across the street from the AELTC. In December 2018, the 750 individual members of the 120-year-old club received $107,100 (85,000 pounds) from the sale of the property, [which is no longer a golf venue], to its neighbor.

Vrushank Mehta, Rikesh Valand and Pritesh Bhausar Photo Mark Winters 2014

In 2014, I decided to wander the queue and talk with some of those in line… knowing that it was the perfect setting for a “Story waiting to be written…” and it proved to be true.

I met three lads-Vrushank Mehta, Rikesh Valand and Pritesh Bhausar-who had driven two hours from Leicester (a bit over 100 miles away), to SW 19, found a spot to leave the car (not an easy task during the tournament) and joined the line…

They were kitted out with camping gear that readied them for the unpredictably of an overnight stay. Though I didn’t see it…I knew they had been given (because everyone is…) the 17-page Queue Rules pamphlet by one of the ever-present Stewards, (who are essentially the “Queue Governors”), along with a vital Queue Card, the gain entry to the AELTC “Passport…”  Clearly, they were aware of the “Queue Canons…” since each had a tent (and it is stipulated that only two individuals can be in one such enclosure) and enough condiments-snacks, drinks and the like-to feed a small village.

Based on their “Give it a ‘go’…”, exuberance, it was obvious they were looking forward to the adventure that would enable them to check “Attend The Championships” off their Bucket Lists…

A fun outing…Photo Mark Winters 1993

Queuing is not solely an activity for the young. Over time, I have found that the ages of those in line varied widely, as did the extent of preparation. For those who were not spending the night, it was just a matter of having enough to “hydrate and nibble…” while withstanding the wait. If anything, it was the perfect setting for “traditional beverages…” to be consumed since the local belief is that chilling beer (and certain other “spirits”) destroyed the very essence of what was being sipped…

Setting up for the night… (before the Wimbledon Park Golf Club was available) Photo Mark Winters 2018

A few overnighters went so far as to have gourmet meals delivered to their “Camps…”, along with wines that would do a fine restaurant proud. Some didn’t go as “deep into pocket…” They used a refined versions of “Meals on Wheels” to have catered repasts dropped off thanks to the magic of cell-phone GPS.

The key to queuing is to have fun with anyone and everyone. Thoughtfulness seemed to abound resulting in a “Queue Understanding…”, for what was and wasn’t appropriate … Truth be told, the Stewards and those in line who had queued before were responsible for sustaining the ambience.

Church Road used to be a sanctuary for those who loved the game…Photo Mark Winters 1997

The ticket distribution was scripted… For Centre Court, five hundred tickets were available for each of the first nine days of the tournament. Courts 1 and 2 offered the same number, but on Court 2 the giveaway halted when matches were no longer scheduled. Thousands of Grounds Passes, providing access to all the outside courts, as well as unreserved seating on Court 3, were also available daily.

Rain often visits the queue…Photo Mark Winters 2014

For those who have never queued, it may be difficult to understand… waiting and waiting and/or spending a night sleeping on the ground a few hundred yards from the AELTC………….But queuing is part of the mystique that makes The Championships…The Championships.


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