Wimbledon take the people out of 'People's Day'

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The Independent Online

Wimbledon have decided to remove some of the people from "People's Saturday," citing safety reasons. Only 500 Centre Court tickets instead of the usual 2,000 will be available for the middle Saturday of the championships next June.

The 1,500 tickets previously allocated for sale on the day will be divided between a public ballot and Lawn Tennis Association's "performance clubs", who develop junior players.

"People's Saturday" was initiated in 1992 to recapture some of the excitement generated the previous year, when the programme was disrupted by rain and matches were played on the middle Sunday, normally a rest day. Spectators were able to turn up on the day and buy Centre Court tickets.

The popularity of "People's Saturday" grew to the extent that last year, on the eve of Tim Henman's third-round match against Wayne Ferreira, of South Africa, an estimated 9,000 people camped overnight in Wimbledon Park and the surrounding areas. Although 45 stewards and six police officers were on duty, there were crowd problems at 7.30am, when about 200 campers objected to queue-jumpers. The incident passed without serious injuries, but the All England Club regarded what happened as a warning.

In line with the first nine days of the tournament, 6,000 ground tickets and 500 Centre Court tickets will be on sale, but there will be no discounts for on-day sales. Wimbledon's chief executive, Chris Gorringe, said yesterday: "The huge popularity of Middle Saturday has resulted in overnight queues of nearly unmanageable proportions, prompting increasing concern that safety could be compromised. We are therefore introducing measures to try to reduce the numbers, and our message to spectators is clear: as there will be fewer Centre Court tickets on sale at the gates, you are encouraged not to travel to the Club on Friday night, but to come on Saturday morning instead when there should be plenty of ground tickets available at the turnstiles."

Reaction from some regular Wimbledon spectators suggests mixed feelings: regret that the middle Saturday may no longer be special mingled with relief that the Friday night may be less of an ordeal.

"Some of the Friday night crowd lower the tone," said Denise Kimble, who has camped overnight for all Andre Agassi's Wimbledon matches since 1991. "They drink more and sleep less. I like the idea of the tickets going to the youngsters at the clubs. I hope they keep the kids together in one place on the Centre Court. That would add something to the atmosphere."

Sara Vickery, who runs a website, Tim Henman World, said: "I notice that the Saturday tickets are no longer going to be cheaper. I think when they first started 'People's Saturday' they were half price. And I don't see why they can't reduce the Centre Court tickets to 1,000 instead of 500. But there has been a lot of squabbling and queue-barging. A lot of people come just to get their face on television."