I’ve lived in London now for 10 years. I’ve been a tennis fan for over 20. I’ve never been to Wimbledon. Go figure! The excuses to date have ranged from ‘tickets are too hard to get hold of’ or ‘I can’t afford the time of work’ to ‘I hate crowds’ (when I’m at my most curmudgeonly). And if I’m totally honest, my interest in tennis peaks and dives with the attractiveness of the top 5 male seeds…. (The Agassi and Pat Rafter years saw my tennis interest become a mild obsession. I digress…)
So finally, after all these years, I get an email from a friend at 4pm on a rainy Wimbledon afternoon, with the faint prospect of tickets to the late afternoon Murray quarter final. I’m all about the spontaneity (and the ‘free-ness’ of free tickets of course), so I jumped at the prospect, tied up my loose inbox ends and ran up and down tube escalators and train platforms to get to Wimbledon station from Oxford Circus in a record 32 minutes.
It wasn’t until my friend and I were sat on the shuttle to the ground that she revealed her failure to get anything resembling a ticket – but by which case I thought ‘what the hell’ and started window gazing for my first sight of Centre Court. To my surprise, at 7pm on quarter final Wednesday of Wimbledon, gate staff aren’t as attentive as they can be, and it’s fairly easy to slip into the Wimbledon ground unnoticed and free of charge. Bonus! Next stop the bar. Next stop, the famed ‘Murray Mound’ or ‘Henman Hill’ of yore. Huge screen, 1000s of people, not an inch of grass to be seen.
We perched ourselves on the concrete right at the front, next to the over-officious ‘No stopping! Move back!’ stewards and settled in for the final 2 sets of the match. I would have said the atmosphere was electric amongst the passionate masses but that would be a lie. Murray lost in 3 straight sets and the Murray Mound masses were fairly quiet, a bit despondent and at one point, much more interested in the ejection of 2 fairly harmless drunks by an unnecessary 8 policemen. I wasn’t disheartened, I thoroughly enjoyed my free 2 hours at Wimbledon (and I don’t really like Murray anyway – he’s anti English). I cheered the 3 points or so he won with everyone else, groaned at the dubious line calls and just soaked up the sights and sounds of something I’d only ever seen on TV: the pleasant sounding ball-thwacks, player grunts and polite applause, the well-behaved, well-dressed spectators, strawberries and Pimms.
We wondered around the different sections, picked up a free (normally £9) souvenir programme off the floor, got a glance at John McEnroe punditing from a roof top above us, and even wondered into Court 1 (ticketless, again) to watch the final points of the other quarter final. Wimbledon’s got atmosphere. You can’t deny it. Even just wandering around outside of the courts you can soak it up, and it’s all so very civilised and English.
The sun had returned and on leaving at 8.30pm, we looked back to see the ground framed by the most gorgeous pink sunset. As I weaved my way past the polite, orderly taxi and shuttle bus queues, my taster experience felt all too brief and I resolved to return. Next year: tickets (paid for), a day or two off work even and fingers crossed for some better looking top seeds.
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