July 7, 2013 by juicefong
The executive summary:
- To guarantee Grounds Admissions passes to Wimbledon through the Queue, arrive at 6am the day of. Probably 7am is okay, but by 8am you’re on shaky ground. No advanced purchase required.
- Bring £20 cash per person to get those passes as they are cash-only. More if you’re going for Show Court tickets, which are no guarantee unless you camp out the night before.
- Arrive with your mates (no jumping line) and some picnic essentials—sandwiches, snacks, blankets, beverages and some balls or games to pass the time. There are locker facilities just before the entrance to store your goods. You can even bring in a bottle of wine or beer (there is a limit).
- Be prepared to be queuing until about 11:00-11:30.
- Go get a spot on Henman Hill for one of the big matches that day.
The full ordeal:
Wimbledon is the premiere sporting event in England and I happened to be in London at the beginning of its second week this year. It was a little hard to figure out how one can actually get in, so I’m writing this post so others can know. Some friends and I joined the Queue at 8:15am on the second Monday and were amongst the last group to get in on Grounds Admission passes for £20 each. It was an incredible experience, a beautiful venue, something all sports fans should experience. So I’m writing this about how to gain access to Wimbledon through the Queue.
Some basic facts and Wimbledon at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club:
- Wimbledon takes place usually the last week of June and the first week of July.
- A little over half of the tickets are distributed by public ballot, due end of December the previous year (December 2013 for summer 2014 tournament). Then there are some reserved for hospitality and debenture, which I don’t totally understand. But if you’re the rest of us who do not obtain tickets via these means in advance, the best way to secure entry is through the Queue. (The night before we went, tickets were going for £2,000 on StubHub and there were only a pair.)
- The Queue is open to anyone who’s willing to either camp out the night before or come very early in the morning.
- Wimbledon is completely accessible through the London Underground, within a 10-minute walk from the Southfields station on the District (green) line—not actually the Wimbledon Park or Wimbledon stops.
- Payment via the Queue is cash-only, so be prepared. The Wimbledon website lists prices for reserved seating (up to £130/person depending on the day in the tournament).
There are two types of access to Wimbledon via the Queue:
1) Show Court tickets: these get you reserved seating at Centre Court, Court No. 1, Court No. 2 (and on some days Court No. 3), the largest courts where the premiere matches take place with the highest ranked players. They give out about 500 such Show Court tickets for each court daily via the Queue. The day we went, that came to 1,500 tickets total for Centre Court, No. 1 and No. 2. The people who got these tickets on the second Monday that we went had all camped overnight. Wimbledon actually posted on their website the night before that there were already more campers than Show Court tickets available. These tickets range from £37 to £130/person, so make sure you have sufficient cash.
2) Grounds Admission passes: these give you access to the rest of the courts, No. 3 through No. 19 and the rest of the Wimbledon venue. While you can’t get into the main grandstands, you can go to all the smaller courts and get very close to the action, still enjoy the great eating and drinking venues (Pimms cup, anyone?!), or watch the premiere matches on a jumbo-tron with hundreds of other fans on Henman Hill, right outside Court No. 1. The cost for these passes is £20, but the real price is waking up early to get there in time. The day we went they let in about 6,500 dedicated queuers for Grounds Admission.
So here’s our story: A couple college friends and I came back from Oxford Sunday night and thought about going to Wimbledon on Monday morning. I read that you had to get there at 6am to even have a shot at getting in through the Queue. Turns out that the campers and 6am crowd (when the first tube arrives) usually eat up the Show Court tickets. In our case, Show Court tickets could only be obtained if you camped out the night before.
Sunday evening we read that there were more queuers than Show Court tickets, and we wanted more sleep so we left Central London on the tube at 7:20 and got to Southfields station at around 8:00. We started to hustle along the clearly marked path and when we got to the field for the Queue we asked one of the stewards how it was looking and she said, “Run.” So the three of us gave a healthy jog until we got to the point where they give out your dated and numbered Queue ticket. Mine was #7713 and we joined the end of the Queue at 8:15.
The Queue is a friendly place, very orderly and full of people of all ages. And there are literally about 7,000-8,000 people lined up on this big lawn. Within a few minutes some of the local newspapers had vendors coming down the aisles with souvenir tote bags that had picnic blankets, a newspaper, a bottle of water and your choice of chocolate or sunscreen for £4 total. We came empty-handed, so we got two of these and soon enough were nicely situated on the lawn with water and chocolate to spare.
Now that we were settled, we were very curious about our prospects of actually getting in. Some younger stewards told us we may have to wait until 4:30/5:00 in the afternoon, but they weren’t sure. Eventually we decided to take a nap (since we were tired from our early wake-up call—this was vacation, after all). I slept for a solid two hours—it was lovely. If we knew about all of this before hand, we would have brought a soccer ball, frisbee, bochi ball, cards or anything to help us pass the time. The weather was immaculate the day we went, though—and with London’s reputation, this could very well have been a muddy experience, I acknowledge. Nonetheless, the atmosphere was great.
Shortly after we awoke from our slumber, we asked an older steward what our chances were since we weren’t thrilled about spending the entire day waiting since we were only in London for two days. He looked at our ticket numbers and said we were right on the cusp of getting in for the 1:00 matches. He said if we didn’t make it by 1:00, we’d get in when they let in the next rush of people around 5:00 as others leave. It was about 11:30 and we figured it was worth the wait, and if we didn’t get in by 1:00, we would decided what to do then.
Sure enough, the Queue started moving and we got through the first gate where our tickets were checked. This was not the official jump-up-and-down entry moment, as there was still a line of about 500 before we actually got through and paid. We kept making our way, though and suddenly the lined stopped and we were 150 people short. The stewards announced that they were at capacity, but in 30 minutes they would count up the seats available inside and let a few more people in. I’m not sure how they actually do this or if they really count seats. Nonetheless, the line started moving 20 minutes later and in a few minutes, we approached another gate where they were literally looking at ticket numbers one-by-one, and a man with a clicker was getting a perfectly accurate head count. We were in!
From what we could tell, maybe only another 100 or so people came in behind us, which means on our day, about 7,500 queuers were allowed in by 1:00pm. We raced up through security and then paid our £20 each and got to enjoy the day at Wimbledon! (According to what we heard, the next batch of people are let in at 5:00 when troves of people start to leave the tournament, and there is tennis going on until 10:00pm. That situation I don’t know much about.)
The Grounds Admissions passes are great—you can’t get into the biggest courts, but there are many smaller courts and you can sit (or stand) right close up to the action, and move around from court to court. The day we went, there were mens’ and women’s singles and doubles matches going, along with boys and girls, so we had a look at some of the future stars of tennis. Keep in mind, as the tournament progresses, there are fewer matches to be seen on the lower courts as the tournament eliminates players.
Serena Williams was playing at 1:00 and around when her match ended we headed to Henman Hill (now nicknamed Murray Mound) to watch Andy Murray’s match which was next up. It’s pretty packed on that lawn, but people do move around, so if you’re persistent you can find a little patch of turf to sit on and eventually people around you will likely move and you can get a bit more comfortable. The atmosphere is excellent—if you ever watch a headline Wimbledon match on TV, they’ll often show screen shots of the fans on Henman Hill who end up waving at the camera. Great fun—and there are facilities and vendors right nearby. We ended up watching all of Murray’s match from the lawn (which you can only access via a Grounds Pass or other Show Court ticket), laying in the sun, drinking our Pimms. Was a lovely day altogether—I hope you’ll make it to Wimbledon some day, too.