Happy campers pitch up for Henman

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The Independent Online
It looked like a colony of homeless refugees. Makeshift tarpaulins stretched over the pavements to ward off the worst excesses of the English summer yesterday. But this colony stretched around the perimeter of the All England Tennis Club where the only war zone is usually Centre Court or Number One Court.

The colony of people queuing for tickets has become a regular feature at Wimbledon - acquiring tickets through the Lawn Tennis Association's annual ballot is regarded as soft by the colony's diehards. Corporate hospitality tickets are not even regarded as real tennis.

The steel barriers left conveniently by the police to control the day- time crowds are used by the pavement colonists to delineate their own piece of little England. Emily Aslin, Lyndsay Hassett and Neil Sherwood arrived at the colony at 10am yesterday to take up their fourth year of official residence at the championship's second Monday. They had counted their place in the queue at 135, perfectly safe for the 300 golden tickets that are reserved each day for those unable to penetrate the inner sanctum of ticket acquisition. Neil said: "The queue is the most important thing to me about Wimbledon. Pre-paid is just not tennis but this is Little England." Around the threesome was enough equipment to set up base camp at Everest: a dome tent that could have survived a Sahara wind and food and drink that would be the envy of a famine zone.

Each colonist's space around the entire All England Club's perimeter is customised and seemingly more elaborate as each unit returns with a little more experience each year.

The Royal Box may be inside on Centre Court, but the Royal Colony this year, outside, belonged to four women from North Devon and Worcestershire. The candelabra was the give-away - along with a table for four and a storm tent with blow-up mattress, colour coordinated quilt and pillows, small external heater, a two ring stove with grill, matching towel and flannels and a pile of smoked salmon canapes neatly arranged on the table.

Sheila Braunton and Sally Clegg, both from Devon, and Denise Biggs and Cath Young, from Malvern in Worcestershire, left home at around 4.40am yesterday to take up position number 100 in the queue.

Why do they do it? "We love tennis and we don't want to watch it at home and have to listen to Virginia Wade. We come for the atmosphere," explained one camper.

By 7.30 this morning, the colony will have dismantled for the day. By 9.30 each will have the pounds 36 pass which will allow triumphalism to take its place on Centre Court as Tim Henman, Britain's final chance in the men's singles is hopefully cheered on to the quarter finals. And if there is disappointment? "It does not matter, we will be back next year."

Photograph, page 2