It had been nine hours, and yet there was still little more than a few complaints and grimaces. I was at Wimbledon, for the fifth time, but on this occasion everything had just gone, well, wrong.
For those who have never had the bizarre pleasure, the prestigious tennis tournament still retains many of its tickets for sale on the day, an offer taken up on by thousands every year. So far, so good. Starting at just £27 for a grounds pass, SW19’s prices remain stubbornly resistant to the cost-of-living/otherwise-induced inflation. In fact, at under thirty quid, you would be hard pressed to find a better value day of sport in the UK.
Wimby’s system for shifting these tickets is, however, a little arcane. Perhaps not surprising for an event which still forces its players to wear white and calls its women and men ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’. But the Queue, as it is officially and capitally titled, really takes the biscuit.
This is also looking beyond the impracticalities for those with jobs, or children, or indeed a desire for merely human levels of comfort
The procedure essentially goes like this. If you want to queue for Show Court tickets (i.e. a seat inside Wimbledon’s Centre, No. 1 or No. 2 Courts), you must arrive crazily earlier. Either camp overnight or come in the wee small hours of the morning to the bemusement and annual fury of local residents. And if you want to queue simply for a grounds pass (rewarding you entry to all the other courts) and catch a full day’s action, you must defy the forces of Transport for London to get there at least before 7:30am.
This tentatively held system usually pays off, provided you prepare, and gets you inside the grounds before about 12/1pm. That is, of course, looking beyond the obvious barrier it presents to people with mobility or disability issues, for whom sitting in a park for hours and hours is not the most helpful system. This is also looking beyond the impracticalities for those with jobs, or children, or indeed a desire for merely human levels of comfort.
But on this particular day, the first day of the Championships, things did just not go to plan. The purported reasoning for the major delays to the Queue, which left me and my brother who had waited in line since 7am only inside the grounds just after 4pm, was security. Bumped up security that is, regarding a feared Just Stop Oil protest. Foretelling abilities would have told the competition’s security team that JSO would instead, two days later, go to extraordinary lengths to disrupt action by spilling a jigsaw on court (not on the amended list of prohibited items, which now includes glue and cable ties). Instead, however, it was Day 1’s fans who suffered with major tailbacks and delays.
The dissenting voices? All of them non-Brits, the only people marvelling at our stupidity
For myself and my brother, who had already attended four times previously, we were perhaps less disturbed. We saw many throughout the afternoon who simply turned back. Who knows how many were there on a once-in-a-lifetime trip or how far they had travelled. What was amazing about the whole experience was just how unbothered so many others seemed. Take even the unnecessary queues for the men’s toilets in Wimbledon Park, where this whole spectacle takes place. A few plucky individuals came out to tell the rest of us that there was actually no need to queue at all, because the urinals were basically empty and the queue was instead forming accidentally for the toilet cubicles. The dissenting voices? All of them non-Brits, the only people marvelling at our stupidity.
Thankfully, Wimbledon were seemingly able to put these opening day struggles behind them as far as the Queue was concerned, and all those attending since have had (unavoidable bad weather to one side) typically pleasant experiences. But maybe just maybe it is time for us as a nation to reassess our brand loyalty to the British queue. There are better ways than this, and a system which still leaves many outside the grounds after play begins is not the wisest. Removing the revered Queue would not irreparably damage Wimbledon’s deeply-held traditional value. We can keep the strawberries and cream, the sitting on Henman Hill and even the white clothes. But Ticketmaster might not be so bad…?