The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, or AELTC for short, is a private tennis club which runs the most prestigious grass-court tennis tournament in the world, and arguably the most prestigious of all the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. The AELTC's tournament is known, of course, as 'Wimbledon'

It is located in south-west London, in grounds totalling 42 acres (17 Ha). The public facilities include a museum set within the confines of the Centre Court buildings, a shop and 34 tennis courts. But frankly, little else of interest outside the tennis season.

The main attraction of the AELTC is it’s annual tournament, known as The Championships, Wimbledon

The Championships were started in 1877 and have been held every year since. They usually take place the last week of June and the first of July, though the official opening day is the Monday six weeks prior to the first Monday in August.

The tournament nominally lasts two weeks, with a rest day on the middle Sunday. It officially closes on the Sunday evening with a ball, in which the Mens' champion and the Ladies' champion lead the dancing. In recent years, rain has held up the schedule a couple of times and the Mens' final has been played on the Monday after the scheduled Sunday match.

I live a few miles away from the grounds, and have managed to get tickets to the event most years. The application procedure is simple, but the club is very concerned about ticket touts, so places great emphasis on security (see below)

Last year (2001) we had tickets for Court No 1 on the final Saturday, when the Ladies’ final was due to take place, but rain had delayed play earlier in the week, so we watched Tim Henman, the UK No 1 play the unseeded Croatian, Goran Ivanisevic. The match took place on Centre Court, so we watched the televised coverage on the big screen in the grounds.

There are two of these huge TV screens in the grounds. The one to head for is on the so-called ‘Henman Hill’ just outside the entrance to Centre Court. Here, hundreds of spectators gather to drink champagne, or beer, while eating strawberries and cream--or home-made sandwiches-- and cheer the players. These are the real fans of the game, unlike the seated audience, many of whom receive their tickets and hospitality at the expense of corporate clients and entertainment accounts. On Henman Hill you find the less privileged, but more knowledgeable spectators, who will instinctively cheer a good ground stroke, or a fine lob whenever and by whomever it is played. Nevertheless, they are mostly Brits, and because we Brits never win any sports any more—not even the ones we invented—we love to be excessively and outrageously partisan in our support when a Brit is lucky enough to make it anywhere near the finals.

The atmosphere that day was unbelievable. The clouds were dark and heavy with rain, the steep sloping grass was slippery and wet, and every inch of it was occupied by people having a great time in spite of the circumstances. Whenever Henman moved, it seemed, a great roar of support went up from us and our neighbours, Whenever he won a point, we cheered and applauded and chanted Henman!, Henman!, Henman!

But while Henman, received the benefits of our jingoistic chanting and applause, the atmosphere was a positive expression of love and affection for our nation and culture, rather than simply a negative expression of xenophobia. In some sense, the feeling was rather like the Last Night of the Proms, in that our own patriotism in no way diminished the respect and admiration we might feel for others. One person was cheering for Ivanisevic, and he generated far more laughter than contempt. And when Ivanisevic finally put Henman out of the Championships, we all applauded his fine achievement as well.

In previous years we have watched many different matches, but one which sticks in my mind was the final of the Mens’ senior (over-35) doubles. It was a few years ago, but we watched Tom and Tim Gullikson and McNamee and McNamara clowning around on the old No 1, providing more entertainment than match play. It was hilarious and wonderful. At the end, we could walk down to the grass, and take photographs from a few feet away, shake their hands and seek autographs. It was extremely informal and very enjoyable.

That is why I love the tennis up at Wimbledon. The fans and the players make it such fun.

Take your own champagne and strawberries—the traditional refreshment--because the prices within the grounds are outrageous.

Finally, to get tickets, either pay a tout some exorbitant premium, or apply yourself. See the website for full details, but briefly, send a letter to the AELTC at the address above between September and December, asking to be entered in the ballot. They will send a form upon which you indicate your preferred dates and courts. There is no on-line procedure. The completed form must get back to the AELTC before Dec 31, and they only accept one application per household. You will receive an acknowledgement, which includes a unique reference code. Around March, they will tell you if you have been successful, and which tickets you may now buy—you get a maximum of two tickets. They only take personal cheques, and the name on the cheque must match the applicant’s name. So if you want to enter the ballot from two different addresses, make sure you think about out how you are going to pay ahead of time.


The Championships comprise five main events

Gentlemen's Singles (128 draw) Ladies' Singles (128 draw) Gentlemen's Doubles (64 draw) Ladies' Doubles (64 draw) Mixed Doubles (64 draw)

Another four events for juniors (18 and under): Boys' Singles (64 draw) Boys' Doubles (32 draw) Girls' Singles (64 draw) Girls' Doubles (32 draw)

And some further invitation events for former players. These change from year to year, but are listed as follows on the website:

35 and over Gentlemen's Invitation Doubles (16 pairs Round Robin) 45 and over Gentlemen's Invitation Doubles (16 pairs) 35 and over Ladies' Invitation Doubles (8 pairs round robin)

Details of the club itself

www.wimbledon.org

All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club Church Road Wimbledon London SW19 5AE Tel: +44 (0) 20 8946 6131 Fax: +44 (0) 20 8944 6497

The AELTC is a strange organisation. It is still a tennis club, but it is so dominated by the Championships that it limits the membership to 375 full members, each of whom is permitted to buy two tickets to each day of the championships. A further 100 temporary members play tennis for the club in leagues and matches, while past champions become honorary life members of the club.

The Grounds consist of 20 grass courts (including Centre and No 1 Court), five red shale courts, four clay courts and five indoor courts. There are a further 14 grass courts and two hard courts in a local park, used for practice before and during the Championships.

Travelling to the Club

London Underground

Regular District LIne tube services run from Earl's Court to Southfields Underground station. There is also an Underground station at Wimbledon, also on the District Line.

Trains

There is a regular train service from London (Waterloo) to Wimbledon Station. Railtrack website www.railtrack.co.uk

Taxis

Taxi services to the Grounds operate from taxi ranks at Wimbledon station.

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