I’d gradually become accustomed to the idea of the Olympics coming to London in 2012 though still righteously aggrieved that, as a resident of Bexley London borough, I would be paying for the games for ever and a day without benefiting from them in any way.
Stifling indignation, I tried for Olympics tennis tickets on their first release, with no luck at all. I naturally assumed that demand had just been too high, although, when learning of people who had received several sets of tickets for different sports, I did wonder if I might have been successful if I’d only been a bit greedier.
The controversy that ensued from the ticket sale policy continued to dog the event, with many feeling that they had lost out to bigwigs from dodgy regimes and fat cats from giant corporations.
Regular emails arrived, offering further chances to purchase tickets but, infuriatingly, these all concerned other, completely unrelated events. Incidentally, they almost always pushed Paralympics tickets, so that’s why those have sold well. It’s no mystery – most people realised that was the only way they would get inside the Olympic Park.
However, despite constant disappointment, I persisted in checking these emails until finally, they let me apply for tennis tickets online again, one Sunday in May, and I was rewarded with two sets of ground passes, one for Saturday 28 July and one for Tuesday 31 July. Another of our friends got Centre Court tickets so it seemed that these events weren’t sold out, as we had been led to believe. I can imagine that many others had long since given up opening the emails.
On the positive side, I applaud the inclusion of London travelcards in the package (tickets to many German events have covered your travel for years). We were also pleasantly surprised to find a free shuttle bus running from Wimbledon Station to the grounds. This is something the Wimbledon Championships themselves should invest in, rather than trying to screw more money out of punters by charging for shuttles. In Monte Carlo, the free navettes that run through town to the Masters tournament are very popular and well patronised.
On the Saturday we arrived at Wimbledon BR at about 11 am and had no problem catching a shuttle bus or entering the ground. Security lines ran very quickly and smoothly.
On arrival, we were astounded to find the Court 2 stands virtually empty for an exciting contest between Cljisters and Vinci. Although great to have our choice of seats, it was a shame that this match and the one following, also very competitive, between Rochus and Isner, weren’t better attended. Racing across to Court 18 for Baltacha vs Szavay, an encounter we expected to be packed out, we also found few people in attendance and had no trouble getting seats.
This marked a stark contrast to the usual situation during Wimbledon, when I actually think too many people are admitted, making it a real struggle just to get around, let alone into any outside courts for popular matches. And all of the above matches would have been oversubscribed.
But where were all the people if the tennis was meant to be sold out? It certainly wasn’t due to federation bookings, etc., on the outside courts in particular, where seating was unreserved.
Although it’s commendable that so many people volunteered, some of the information disseminated wasn’t really up to scratch. Someone at an information point helpfully looked up the progress of matches on various courts for us. One in particular concerned Dimitrov/Kubot, as far as I can recall. The score was 6-3, 7-6, she reported, so there was another set to go. Confused, we said, but it sounds like that’s over. No, she insisted, all the matches are three sets today. Right, we responded, but Dimitrov’s won two out of three, so it’s over. No, she remained adamant, they’d been told all matches would be three sets. Well, that told us.
By the time of the Murray doubles, Court 2 was full and there was also a good crowd at the Robson/Watson doubles on Court 12. This was slightly marred for me by the presence in the front row of four or five boozed up foreign VIPs, I presume, in the bizarre combination of suit jackets and shorts, who seemed to think their badges entitled them to move in and out at will, in the middle of rallies or service actions, basically whenever they needed to get another round of drinks in, which was pretty much all the time.
Seeing completely empty stands in Centre and No. 1 on TV the next day left me seething. There are genuine tennis fans prepared to pay for tickets who could have been there appreciating these matches. I also think it’s scandalous that volunteers had been instructed to wear t-shirts over their uniforms in order to pose as members of the general public. So many people ended up missing out on tickets and a chance to be at the Olympics.
A general rule is that if you’ve paid for something, you’re more likely to turn up. People who get free passes often can’t be bothered to attend.
On our second day there, attendance was improved. But still, Court 2’s opening match between Lisicki and Shvedova progressed through two sets with mostly empty stands before the threatening clouds finally delivered.
The chips on my shoulder multiplied during the day too, as I listened to posh ladies on the shuttle, already wearing their massive lanyard badges, talking on the phone to others also in receipt of badges, daughter Emily (a go-getter apparently with a top job and its attendant perks) and ‘her Minister’, who were going to try to make it over for some free tennis too. Did they need these badges back, her companion asked? No, they had more. Yeah, probably a lot more than they needed, I shouldn’t wonder. Wouldn’t it be great to be among these privileged folk who can just decide ‘Oh, I fancy seeing a couple of hours of tennis’ and be assured of free entry and special treatment?
Then, fearing the rain might continue all day, we get directed to the ‘white hut’ at the top of Henman Hill to join a rather wide and ramshackle queue for resold Centre Court tickets. Some have already been waiting an hour and a half. So, along with other only slightly hopeful folk we stand for a further hour and a half, incubating a kind of resigned camaraderie, a ‘we’re all in this together’ solidarity, and shifting companionably apart every now and then to accommodate each other’s umbrellas when the rain gets heavy.
Even though very few people leave with tickets and the line is for the most part static (if anything, it expands as some are taking it in turns to wait and suddenly a group returns and you realise there are actually many more in front of you than you thought), the general consensus is that while there’s no play on the outside courts, we’re not losing anything by standing in line.
Generally, when someone gets tickets a muted cheer and minor celebration ensue. When people walk off without initiating a cheer, we decry them as spoilsports. It’s their job to raise our spirits and keep up morale.
Some little girls walk along the line every few minutes counting how many people are ahead of them and we are able to gather that we are about thirtieth in line. Half an hour passes and we’re only up to twenty-seventh but that’s possibly only because some of the group in front of us have gone to sit down and eat lunch.
A volunteer walks down the line warning us that we are extremely unlikely to get tickets and recommending we give up. He reports that they’d only resold fifteen tickets in three hours and we’d be lucky to get into Centre before end of play. It’s tempting to abandon the line, especially as the sun has come out, the covers are off and players are returning to the outside courts.
However, we persevere, having already invested so much time in the endeavour. And within about twenty minutes of the chap issuing his doomladen pronouncement, the line starts moving and we get tickets. We fulfil our civic duty and cheer our own success, with the remaining people in line joining in.
When we reach our seats, which are pretty good, just in time for the Robson/Sharapova match, we are surprised to find that, apart from other normal punters we recognise from the resale queue, all the other spectators in this area are sporting those enormous laminated badges. The steward thinks that they are all from companies who’d purchased tickets for their staff. And again, there are still banks of empty seats reserved for people who haven’t turned up. Why not encourage the people at the very back to come down and fill the empty seats?
The majority of the people with badges seem more interested in how much alcohol they can consume than in the tennis. ‘Is it 3 nil?’ they yell at each other as they return with more drinks. They gleefully cheer and clap Sharapova’s double faults, call out in the middle of points or between first and second serves. The chips on my shoulder are getting a little heavier.
I’m also amused when a tall, leonine gentleman with swept back hair and a black and white golf umbrella comes in for the Ferrer/Kavcic match and asks the steward, in all seriousness, ‘Will it finish dead on eight?’ The steward has to explain that tennis isn’t quite like that.
Incidentally, despite retuning my freeview box as instructed before the games commenced, I was still unable to get any of the supposedly twenty-six channels of different sports. All I got were BBC1 (or BBC2), BBC Three and one extra channel (301 on my set, which I normally get anyway). The BBC Red Button (302) simply carried a message saying that extra games action would be available on it during the games. It featured this message alone throughout the entire period. Anyone else have more luck?
Naturally, I got carried away in the general patriotic euphoria at times, shouting encouragement to athletes like Jessica Ennis and Mo Farah, standing up in front of the TV waving my arms about like everyone else.
I did sit through the start of the closing ceremony, just to see Ray Davies perform. What did I get? Weird bits of expensively choreographed rubbish strung together into an annoyingly OTT theatrical spectacle, epitomising the principle of style over substance. I hate parades and films like Moulin Rouge! and all that kind of glitz and glitter.
If you’re going to feature Madness, please not the awfully mundane ‘Our House’ – they had much better songs. The Pet Shop Boys, pseuds extraordinaire and One Direction depressed my spirits further. By the time Stomp came on I was fast losing the will to live.
‘Taxi lights shine so bright’: the incomparable Ray Davies.
But then we got Ray, thankfully less than half an hour in, accompanied by guitarist Bill Shanley and thousands in the audience, obeying his command in supplying the thunderously triumphant sha la las, to ‘Waterloo Sunset’. This slight, captivating butterfly of a song set against the whirring cacophony, meaninglessly frantic activity and spectacularly overblown backdrop of the ceremony thus far is almost its antithesis.
Ray is that ‘still, small voice of calm’ rescuing us from all the pointless hoopla with his sanity, serenity, simplicity and self-possession. That uninsistent, delicate voice intones a melody so precious, so familiar, encapsulating that peculiar pathos we Brits cling to with such affection and sentimentality, the melody to a song that truly reflects what London can mean. For a brief moment, Ray, we’re in paradise too.
For Ray’s feelings on this momentous occasion, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00xj074.
All in all, I think GB emerged unscathed and a little more nationalistic from the Olympics minefield and definitely whistling a happy(ish) tune.
 Though Judy Murray, who’s doing a sterling job coaching the British girls, was there to support Elena.
 And why was all the narration in French first?