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Old friends hold court in queue for Wimbledon: As the tennis championships open, Charles Oulton finds out why it is fun to be part of the crowd

AS DAWN was breaking in Worcester yesterday, Chris James collected a group of students from the technical college where he teaches and set off for Wimbledon, a place he knows well. He played Junior Wimbledon in 1978, losing to the eventual winner, Jeremy Bates, after a close-fought match, but was happy yesterday just to be part of the crowd.

Even when it is raining or the tennis is dull, being part of the crowd is part of the fun of the championships, which opened yesterday under the grey skies traditionally reserved - although not last year - for the first few days.

Mr James may have been more of a tennis connoisseur than some fellow watchers, but prowess on court is not what Wimbledon crowds are about. It is more about resilience, endurance, the ability to sleep overnight on pavements to secure that centre-court seat. And good humour above all, particularly when you're number 501 in the queue and only the first 500 get in.

There was plenty of good humour, notably from a veteran watcher of 15 years from Egypt, Sayed Ali. It costs him pounds 3,000 to fly over for the championships, a price worth paying, he says, for the renewed acquaintances alone. 'Nothing but trouble, that one,' smiled a policeman, after bounding up to the Egyptian to say 'hello'.

A few hours earlier, Karen Davies had been in jocular mood, drinking champagne and Liebfraumilch with three former colleagues from a Rank Xerox factory in Buckinghamshire. It is an annual reunion and the laughter rang out, despite a distressing incident shortly after 6am when a motorcylist collided with a car only a few yards away from the women and was taken to hospital with a serious injury.

Richard Farnfield, sitting a few yards away in the picnicking area of Aorangi Park, was more concerned about his revision. He was preparing for his last Spanish examination tomorrow at Kingston University, and will then be able to concentrate on his duties as a cleaner at the championships.

The tennis provides thousands of temporary jobs over the fortnight, mostly taken by students - some so they can watch free tennis; but many others are content to earn money for summer holidays. Not all of them are students, however. Brenda Shew has been selling programmes for 25 years, working daily from 9.30 to 6.30. 'I watch the tennis on the telly when I get home,' she said.

A 36-year-old man appeared in court yesterday charged with making multiple applications for Wimbledon men's final day tickets. Eamonn Montague, of Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, was remanded by Wimbledon magistrates on unconditional bail until 11 July.

He was charged with three counts of deception relating to multiple applications for last year's championships and three counts of attempted deception in March this year.

The 107 pairs of tickets at pounds 98 per pair - allegedly at the centre of the case - would have been worth more than pounds 267,000 at black market prices.

Wimbledon, pages 35 & 36

(Photograph omitted)