Seeing Wimbledon on the BBC has really made it hit home on what we are currently missing. It is part of British heritage and a time of the year I thrive on, like many others. It is an event I have attended many, many times and every year without fail since my debut in 1995. The older I have got the less I have camped admittedly. The early years were even more awesome. I was always a bit of a tennis geek and found the place inspiring. As a tennis fan and as an aspiring player in my youth.
It made me think back to the days of queuing up (early) early in the morning and overnight as a kid, in the mid to late ’90s in particular. It continued well into the new century though. They were great days. This isn’t an age thing I’m sure either. The truth is you couldn’t get away with the same camping techniques these days. It has been stopped. It had to be done, nobody would dispute that but it doesn’t make for a better experience in this case. The reasons why they have been stopped are also very understandable. The queue is genuinely about ten times bigger now at the same stage of a given evening. Some of the following will seem like madness now when you think about it and very disrespectful to the neighbours, not to mention incredibly noisy.
The days of the two Wimbledon queues were the absolute glory years at SW19 for me, as much as I still love it these days. I was obsessed with queuing up the Church Road end or outside the grounds. The opposite end from where the queue still remains now, the Southfields queue up Wimbledon Park Road. I didn’t want the comfort of a golf course or the grass that went with it. I pinned for the pavement on the hill, overlooking the AELTC, a spectacular view at night time during the Championships. The lights on Centre Court making it look ‘a boss’. If I was lucky to be further forward in the queue, camping outside the old Court 13, I was more than happy. The lavatories inside the grounds were also used as a wash station for overnight campers, so you got to go inside and get a feel of the atmosphere and the buzz. Of course, you were cornered off from going waltzing around but you were there.
I remember the disposable BBQ’s that I and everyone else used with regularity right outside our tents. The late, late, all night drinking that ensued (when I was basically legal age and then beyond). The banter was incredible, to be honest. You would be having games of footy or tennis with fellow pals and campers on the street at 2 am. This was on the main road! You would stop for the taxi’s to go past naturally! It might not have happened every night but it did happen I can assure you. People as they do now, travelled from all over the world to see the tournament. You were just allowed to get away with a bit more back then and everyone wanted as much fun as possible.
The place is always ‘live’ when there is either a Euro’s or a World Cup on. The atmosphere during France ’98 was class. I remember being 15, going down with my best mate and my parents. England were playing Colombia, an England win meant progression from the group. We were listening on the way down from Herefordshire in the car and just approaching SW19 when England had won 2-0. The Dog & Fox was rocking and so were the streets. I think we were right on the slope in the tents that night on Church RD. I seem to remember it chucked it down soon after and our tricky place on the slope meant my dad had to take some pretty drastic action to ensure the one tent didn’t get blown away at night. No BBQ then, it was Chinese takeaway, the go-to in these situations. That or a good old standup fish and chips from Southfields. I was happy as Henman was playing Byron Black on Centre the following day and we were going to get tickets from that position. Back of the net!
Some of these pleasantries are still available of course but others have (sadly but rightly) fallen by the wayside. Amazing memories though.
Andy Del Potro