I WAS one of the lucky ones on Centre Court at Wimbledon yesterday watching Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray stylishly winning their first round matches. As the matches unfolded, people watching back home understandably grew cross that they could see empty green seats, when we all know how long the queue gets each day for tickets outside the grounds. It was a bit like that time we had the Olympics and all the tickets were ‘sold out’ but there were banks of empty seats everywhere. Seb Coe got the army to sit in them or something. Now if that happened in Brazil…
There was no rent-a-soldier tactic yesterday, but maybe the sense of injustice for those locked out is heightened as the camera pops around the show court and picks out the delighted celebrities, who clearly haven’t been tenting it through the night. Yesterday, you could see Pippa Middleton, Condoleezza Rice, Denise Lewis, Felicity Kendal and others in the Royal Box. Behind us, under the roof, there was a sort of comedians’ corner of familiar faces: Alan Davies, Lee Mack and Jason Manford. Somehow Sir David Attenborough had ended up in this quarter too. Poor lad. Turn the other way, and you could see the most loved up couple in London, David Mitchell and Victoria Coren, applauding Andy Murray off. Look at the picture of them above, awwww… who said love means nothing in tennis. Now, look below, the spectator is using her iPad to get a snap of the Royal Box. Celeb spotting has become half the experience of centre court for some, which again might annoy people who just want to see some tennis.
Of course, famous people are allowed to watch tennis too. It’s just quite a collection when people are outside complaining about their limited chance of getting in. There is truth that corporate invitees may have a cavalier approach to the seats. The Pimms bar may be more of an attraction for them and that’s an ugly waste of a coveted seat. The Wimbledon atmosphere is special. Everybody should get the chance to go at some stage. People who hate tennis might just end up liking it after a trip there. More importantly, and this isn’t a revolutionary idea, having the best tournament in the world on our doorstep should be harnessed in some way to ensure that the UK doesn’t just have one good player every now and then. I don’t know, have a schools section instead of a comedians’ corner or something.
There is only one little word of caution for everybody rushing to lambast people for not pritt-sticking themselves to their seats once finally getting onto a showcourt. Not everybody who had left their chairs vacant for a few moments needed to be blacklisted in a Twitter storm. We didn’t miss a point. I must confess to becoming a bit of a tennis bore and we sat there all day. But a day ticket on Centre Court isn’t like a football match. It’s not all over in 90 minutes. It can run for seven hours. You might want to leave your seat, just briefly, without thinking you have fuelled some sort of rich vs poor argument over a game that we should all be able to enjoy. The elderly lady down the row from us with the odd Roger Federer ear-rings – what a character she was – disappeared for about half an hour to get some crisps. She came back distraught that Rafael Nadal had lost, but her seat wasn’t empty for so long.