Sun cream, chips and heartache for mob on the mound

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The Independent Online

On a good day it is hot, sticky and uncomfortable. On a bad one it is wet, cold and uncomfortable. The good spots are a half-an-hour round trip from a refuelling outlet – or a toilet.

And a constant stream of people interrupt the view. But a seat on Henman Hill, Murray Mount, or, to give it the official title, the Aorangi Terrace, has become the place to be in this steamy summer of tennis.

Yesterday afternoon another 4,000 packed on to the grassy mound at the north end of the Wimbledon complex, with hundreds more standing at the edges. Andy Murray’s semi-final was also being shown live at the 4,000-capacity, all-seat Court Two, and, of course, was being beamed live into sitting rooms across the country on terrestrial TV. But the most popular option remained the Terrace. Why?

Daisy Narayanen and Helen Stanley knew. “It’s the atmosphere,” they said. The pair had already been to Court Two and pronounced it “Dead”. Now they were on the Terrace taking pictures on their mobile phones and sending them to jealous husbands and ex-colleagues working in offices.

Narayanen, 35, and Stanley, 30, had until recently worked for an architectural practice, one which had been involved in the rebuilding of Centre Court a decade ago. Daisy had quit ahead of returning to live in Edinburgh, Helen had been laid off – “It’s not the best time for architectural practices at the moment.” So they decided to take advantage of their free time and go down to Wimbledon. “We could have seen it on TV. But sitting at home watching television and drinking is something to avoid if you’re unemployed,” said Stanley.

Narayanen is Indian but regards Scotland as “home”. Stanley, something of a rarity on the Terrace as she actually plays tennis twice a week, is Australian. Both were making their first visit to the Hill and were loving it.

So, it seemed, was everyone else. Through word of mouth and media exposure the Terrace has become a destination in itself, and with everyone paying £15 ground entry a useful money-spinner for the All England Club. A wide range of social classes and nationalities are represented, all ages and most dress codes, though the shirtless were ticked off by suited – and sweltering - security guards who picked their way through the crowd attempting to maintain decorum. While the early arrivals had seats at the picnic benches - and some impressive picnics - most settled for a patch of grass. The aroma was of sun cream and chips, and the spirit sometimes boisterous - bottles of champagne, Jack Daniels and vodka were among those smuggled in. There was occasional tension between those who were there to watch the tennis, and those who were there for a good time, but the mood was generally akin to a carnival. A South African I met on the way to Wimbledon observed that Britain was a better place to live when one of its sporting heroes was winning. “It dispels the negativity,” he said, “so much I often hope English teams to beat South African ones.” The buoyant mood on the terrace yesterday, as Murray’s match began, was a good illustration of that.

Gradually, as Murray struggled to impose his game, the Terrace became tense, the rallies increasingly watched in near-silence before concluding with a relieved cheer or despairing groan. Always, however, there was the sense that the communality of the experience made the bad times more bearable, the good times more enjoyable. The same factors are behind the pub-football boom. In an increasingly fractured society people find community in the shared consumption of sport.