Brian Viner: Behind the green and pleasant courts toils the unseen army that is 'Wombledon'

The Last Word

Share
Related Topics

Like one of those ladies who lunch, of whom there are so many in Wimbledon, the tennis championships that have made the south-west London suburb so famous present a carefully made-up face to the world.

But what of Wimbledon beneath the make-up? In the bowels of the All England Club there are some lifts used only by staff, in which the graffiti tells a tale incompatible with the public message that all is sweet and wholesome and strawberry-flavoured. In one lift, a disaffected employee has scribbled – I can hardly bring myself to write this – the words "Fuck Wimbledon!" That is an act of lèse-majesté that you might think sufficient to force the ravens from the Tower of London, or the Wimbledon equivalent, to make the pigeons flee Centre Court. And yet it has had no effect on anyone or anything. It's just a small act of rebellion by someone fed up of working 14-hour shifts, or being bollocked by a self-important boss, or whatever.

He, or she, is probably one of the thousands of youngsters who make the championships tick along no less, in fact rather more, than the stewards and the referees and the line judges. The truth is that Wimbledon is run by a battalion of 20-year-olds. It is they who search the bags, work the tills, serve the drinks, wash the dishes, empty the bins, fold the linen and perform a hundred other small but vital jobs without which Rafa Nadal and Serena Williams would not get on court. Some of them operate without even the pleasure of natural daylight. The waste disposal team, not inappropriately, are like Wombles, scurrying around out of sight in the cavernous spaces underground.

It is not exactly slave labour, of course. Some of these kids are getting £100 a day or more, which at the end of two weeks, plus training days, yields enough for next term's tuition or a second-hand car. But the point is that, like an iceberg, 98 per cent of the monolith that is Wimbledon lies beneath the surface.

Sometimes, during one of those pesky showers, television viewers might be treated to a glimpse behind the scenes, perhaps of the people frantically stringing rackets, or of the full-time seamstress, but of the real nuts and bolts of the operation we never see anything. And actually that also applies higher up the food chain, in fact to the poached salmon and watercress salad level of the food chain, for there is even more corporate hospitality at Wimbledon than most of us realise. Every lunchtime, for example, the fragrant Annabel Croft is ushered in to offer some cultured pearls of wisdom to that day's guests of the Lawn Tennis Association. Sometimes, to their manifest delight, the former British No 1 confides a little bit of gossip. On Thursday, she told them that Venus Williams habitually eats like a horse before she goes out to play, but since the new locker-room rules banning food has had to smuggle it in and stuff herself in the loo.

Croft, I should think, makes a much more lucrative living out of tennis than she ever did when she was engaged in the demanding carry-on of hitting a ball over a net. But Wimbledon fortnight represents the biggest opportunity all year to coin it, not just for her but all the way down to the Orinocos, Bungos and Great-Uncle Bulgarias sorting out the rubbish, to say nothing of the malcontents with their marker pens.

Much Wenlock takes gold in pioneering the modern Olympics

The continuing brouhaha over Olympics tickets seems to call for a reflection on simpler times and, with perfect timing, a lovely book has just been published, written by Catherine Beale and called Born Out of Wenlock. It tells the absorbing story, with which some of us are familiar, but nowhere near familiar enough, of how the small Shropshire market town of Much Wenlock, and the efforts and vision of a Victorian surgeon, William Penny Brookes, gave rise to the modern Olympic movement.

The father of the Olympic Games as we know them is generally held to be a Frenchman, Pierre de Coubertin but, without the slightest doubt, Brookes was the grandfather. He it was who formed the Wenlock Olympian Society, and from 1850 invited competitors from all social backgrounds to take part in the Wenlock Olympian Games. In October 1890 Coubertin went to Much Wenlock to have a look for himself. Until then, Beale informs us, he had never uttered the words "Olympic Games" except in derision. Within four years he had formed the International Olympic Committee, and the rest is history, and ticketing cock-ups.

Zeros to heroes – it's o-ver to you

In the Wimbledon media bar late on Wednesday evening, I sat with two fellow hacks, and, in that way I have of raising the important topics of the moment, invited them to name the three former England footballers (male) whose surnames contain three Os. It must have been the lateness of the hour, or perhaps the couple of glasses of wine quaffed, but they thought and thought and then gave up. So, over to you.



React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own