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Queuing at Wimbledon: How To Get Into Centre Court (and Have Fun Doing It)

Nobody queues quite like the British, and nowhere do they do it better than at Wimbledon. This oldest of Grand Slams has moved into the 21 st century in leaps and bounds in the last 10 years with a highly-publicised move to equal prize money in 2007 and a brand-new roof on Centre Court to put an end to those interminable rain delays. However, their ticketing system is still what some would call antiquated, but others, like me, consider to be the fairest of all.

Early Morning in the Wimbledon Queue

Fun and games in the Wimbledon queue early on the 3rd day of the Championships.

Let me preface this post by saying that I know some people either can’t queue or aren’t interested in the idea of camping in the middle of a very large city. For those people, there are three (official) options:

  • If you are a member of the LTA, you are automatically entered into a ballot for Wimbledon tickets each year. Membership for adults costs £25 and as far as I know, you can join as long as you have a UK address.
  • For non-LTA members, there is a public ballot that you can enter up until New Year’s Eve the year before. Winners are notified by February so you’ll have plenty of time to plan your trip to England!
  • In 2013, Ticketmaster offered a limited number of tickets to Centre Court and Court No 3 online from 12pm the day before. I didn’t try for these tickets, but I’ve heard that they disappear pretty quickly.

For those of you that either weren’t successful in the other options or just want to take part in the fun that is the Wimbledon Queue, get yourself ready. It’s going to be a memorable night (or very early morning)!

Blue Skies Over Wimbledon

Beautiful blue skies over the ivy of Wimbledon.

When Does the Queue Start?

The first time I queued at Wimbledon in 2002, the queue only started at around 6pm the night before. As the beginning of the queue was on the Church Rd sidewalk, we weren’t allowed to set up before that due to the fact that we’d block the sidewalk. Now, though, the queue has changed. It wends its way through Wimbledon Park (next to Church Rd) and no longer blocks pedestrians (or annoys local residents quite as much).

Late Night Queuing

My friends and me in the queue in 2002, when it still ran along Church Rd.

As a result, people can arrive pretty much as early as they want to queue for the following day of play. In fact, some people even queue for multiple days — as evidenced by those that started lining up on Thursday to get a spot on Henman Hill for Andy Murray’s Sunday final. He hadn’t even won his semifinal by that point yet!

Wimbledon Awaits

Finally reaching a point in the queue where we were officially welcomed.

In 2002, we were in the first 20 people in queue when we got there at 6pm; now I’d recommend trying to get there no later than 6pm if you want to guarantee yourself a seat on one of the show courts (see below for more detail). Unfortunately, that means you may face a decision I never had to face: do you leave before the end of play to get your next day’s ticket, or stay later and possibly miss out? I really can’t answer that question.

There’s one last thing to keep in mind: you can’t start queuing in Wimbledon Park until 8am on the Sunday before the tournament.

What are the Queue Rules?

Setting Up in the Queue

Setting up our tents at the front of the queue. We ended up getting front-row Court 1 tickets from this position.

Remember: you’re in England. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the queue is one of the most orderly sporting-related things you’ll ever be a part of.

Most important of all queue rules is the queue card. Starting between 5-6pm, queue minders come around and hand out these cards, which have your exact number in the queue. It doesn’t matter how many of the minders you befriend, if you lose this card, you still won’t be allowed in — so treat it like your passport!

The queue cards stop people from cutting in line, which means you don’t have to guard your spot all night like you might have to otherwise. However, it is good form to make sure you don’t leave the queue for extended periods of time. It’s understood that everyone will have to leave their spot for a little while — whether it be to find the toilets or something to eat — but you can’t just go set up your tent and then show up again the next morning.

Queue Card and Tickets

My Queue Card from Day 1 of Wimbledon 2013 as well as the Queue Guide that comes with it and the grounds pass I eventually got on Day 3.

Since Wimbledon is a residential suburb, there are plenty of (very expensive) houses all around the park where you will be camping. Because of this, the stewards will come around and request that everyone keep the noise down after around 10.30pm. Most people pay attention to this, even if they don’t take it as a cue to go to bed. We certainly stayed up well past that point, knowing we probably wouldn’t be sleeping well anyway; we just kept the noise down as we happily talked to the strangers in line around us — strangers that had almost become good friends by the morning.

Speaking of the next morning, you’ll be woken up around 6am by the stewards, who will expect you to have all of your belongings packed up by 7am so the line can be compacted.

Andy Murray

The shared interest for Wimbledon in 2013: Andy Murray.

That’s the best thing about the queue — like with Apple Store openings and lines for music tickets, you’re surrounded by people with a shared interest. You can go there on your own, like I did last year, and end up having animated, hours-long conversations with the people around you. And why not? It’s not like you have anywhere else to go. I’ve been to a lot of tennis tournaments, and my experiences in the queue almost live up to being at the tournament itself — something no other tournament can claim.

What Tickets Can You Get?

Tim Henman Walking On Court

We really were that close to Tim Henman when he walked on court. I didn’t take photos afterwards because the hordes descended trying to get his autograph.

Each day, 500 tickets are made available to each show court (Centre Court, Court No 1, and Court No 2). Since you’re given a queue card when you arrive, which has your exact number in the queue, you’ll know as soon as you get there whether you are in the first 1500 people or not. After the show courts sell out, around 5,000-6,000 grounds passes are sold, so if you get a queue card with a number less than 6500 you are virtually guaranteed a spot for the full day.

Despite the fact that play continues until dusk, many people leave the grounds by late afternoon. Because of this, Wimbledon makes a number of extra tickets available for admission after 5pm. This means that, if you show up in the queue and realise that Andy Murray, Roger Federer, and Rafa Nadal are all playing on the same day (as happened on the first day of Wimbledon last year) and you’ve been assigned number 8000, you have the option of sticking around for the day and being admitted to see the last few matches on court for a cheaper price.

Pete Sampras

The view from our front-row seats on Court 2 for Pete Sampras’ last match at Wimbledon ever (not that we knew that at the time).

I tried this on Day 1 last year, and when I showed up at 4.30pm was given number 12,104. I still managed to reach the front of the queue by around 7.30pm, but by that point I’d realised the money wouldn’t be worth it just to watch Lleyton Hewitt finish his match.

Show court tickets (Centre Court and Courts 1-3) are divvied out around 7am once the line has been compacted. Stewards walk along the line handing out wristbands to the court of your choice (or the courts that are left, depending where you are in line). Once you reach the ticket gates, you need to show them this wristband and then they will let you select your seats. For my four days of queuing, I got front row on Court 1, front row on Court 1 in the autograph corner, front row on Court 2 (for Pete Sampras’ last match ever), and front row on Centre Court in the autograph corner. Not a bad haul!

Also, make sure you bring cash with you because credit and debit cards are NOT accepted for the purchase of tickets. The current cost of tickets for all the different courts is listed on the Wimbledon website.

What Should You Bring?

Jelena Dokic Signing Autographs

If you’re into autographs, bring something for the players to sign. I had a big tennis ball and an American flag for the US players to sign.

Wimbledon is held in the middle of the British summer, so you can predict that the weather will be…anything. Ideally, it won’t be raining so you’ll be able to watch some tennis the following day, but that’s in no way a given. Therefore, the most important item in your kit is probably your tent. It’s still possible to pick up a fairly cheap one, but I’d try it out at least once and ensure it’s waterproof before you trust it to keep you dry overnight.

The next worst thing that can happen when camping (after being soaked) is freezing your butt off for the whole night, so I’d recommend bringing a sleeping bag with a liner as well as a few layers to wear for when you’re not sleeping. I made do with a $20 Walmart sleeping bag but the temperatures in 2002 were high enough that the Tube had warning signs all over it about how to properly deal with the heat. The upside of having such a cheap bag? Abandoning it afterwards wasn’t nearly as painful!

You’ll be relieved to know that you won’t have to lug all of this equipment around the tournament all day — aside from being a drag, Wimbledon doesn’t allow it because it would take up entirely too much space. Instead, there are multiple ‘left luggage’ tents outside the grounds where you can check your baggage for a small fee (I think around £5).

Ana Ivanovic

You probably want to bring a camera so you can take photos of people like Ana Ivanovic practicing too.

It’s important to know that if your bag is too oversized, they won’t take it. They say to try to keep your baggage to carry-on size but will usually take tents that are larger (provided they are packed up as small as possible). Things like gazebos and barbeques aren’t allowed, but since you’re not allowed to put up gazebos at all in the park you shouldn’t have to worry about where to check it.

The last thing to remember is incidentals to keep you occupied. If you’re spending up to a day sitting in a park, you’re going to want something to do. I recommend a Kindle loaded with plenty of reading material as well as a few more sporting items — tennis and soccer balls both can provide quite a bit of entertainment in large groups (and there’s plenty of grassy area to play around in). Many people also bring along radios so they can listen to the action going on in The Championships that day as well.

How Will I Get There?

On the Court

The almost-unadultered grass of Wimbledon on Day 3, 2013.

Most people get to the queue by taking the District Line south from Earl’s Court. Just make sure you get off at Southfields Station — last year it was done up in purple & green with a fake green lawn on the platform, so it was pretty obvious — rather than Wimbledon Station. The first tube leaves Earl’s Court around 5.30am and will be surprisingly full of queue-goers, who then sprint up Church Rd to secure their place in line.

Otherwise, here’s a map of the area.

What Will You Eat?

You’re not allowed to cook on barbeques in Wimbledon Park, so you won’t be having home-cooked food for your night in the queue. However, you can order delivery straight to the gates of Wimbledon Park from a number of local take-out joints (in particular, pizza). You’ll probably be handed a number of flyers once you arrive with all the necessary phone numbers.

There are a few fair-style food carts set up in Wimbledon Park that sell the usual fare — burgers, pizza, etc — as well.

Otherwise, I pretty much lived off fish & chips from a shop near Southfields Station. My friends even talked to Marat Safin as they were waiting in line there.

Where Will You Shower?

Me with James Blake

I was certainly happy I had a room with a shower to go back to after queuing all night when I was asking players like James Blake for photos!

If you’re waiting in line for one day, you probably don’t need to worry about this, but if you’re queuing up for longer and are from out of town, you’ll need a place to freshen up and store the rest of your gear that you’re not using for the queue. We stayed at a YMCA in Wimbledon which wasn’t the best but was good for exactly what we needed — showering and storing gear. Since we couldn’t enter the grounds immediately after we got our tickets at around 9am, we made a quick dash back to the hostel, showered, changed, and got back to the grounds before play started at 11am (on the outside courts — play on Centre Court and Court No 1 starts at 1pm).

There’s not a lot of budget accommodation in this area of London, so it might be worth checking out Airbnb for rooms closeby.

Good luck — I hope you’re able to get the tickets you want so you can see your favourite players up close. And if you don’t get those tickets, there’s always a great atmosphere on Henman Hill for watching the big screen!

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