The Wimbledon Championships: Quintessentially British

Wimbledon.  A microcosm of established British traditions, maintained in perfect form for all to enjoy for two weeks every year.  

There is quiet, respect, calm.  Orderly queuing, assiduous ground-staff, precisely uniformed officers.  Even in media coverage, the BBC, one of the greatest British symbols and an institution recognised worldwide, reigns supreme.

Pimm’s and lemonade, champagne, strawberries and cream—perfect ingredients for a typical British summer—are readily available for the swarming crowds.  

Let’s not forget the strict dress code for players, the traditional bright Wimbledon whites.  Rules and legislation, to which all must sedulously adhere – more evidence of Britishness in this unique haven.  

The newest commodity to the Wimbledon treasure chest, a £80 million behemoth, is the latest manifestation of the traditional British nature and its quiet, unassuming manner. 

The roof remained unused for over one week. The extravagance stayed unconsumed. The novelty had yet to be displayed.  It was the perfect irony. 

How British.

The differences between, say, the US Open, the next Major on the tennis calendar, could not be more visually or atmospherically distinct.  

At Wimbledon, the deliberate lack of advertising and promotional material, the muted colour scheme of white, purple and green and the quiet, appreciative and ballot-selected audience is in direct contrast to the brash, loud, capitalist and revenue-driven atmosphere of the US Open complex and the impact that this area has on one’s sporting nature.  

One only has to look at the difference in colour, shape, scale, and design of Arthur Ashe stadium, the flagship Center Court at Flushing Meadows in New York, compared to the “cathedral” that is Centre Court at Wimbledon, in order to illustrate the intrinsic notions of British culture at Wimbledon.     

Nevertheless, both tournaments return wholly positive souvenirs.  Both stadia, both tournaments, offer deeply moving and stimulating fan experiences.  Both represent, almost subconsciously, their respective countries and their cultures in profound and multi-faceted ways. 

Deeper and darker tones too, more fundamental components of British society, accent the Wimbledon experience.  There is a consistent, underlying base note, which whirs throughout the tournament, of class, status, and hierarchy.  

The Royal Box may indeed be graced by royalty this coming weekend if Britain’s Andy Murray is still thriving on Sunday.  But oftentimes, sat on the best seats in the house are distinguished celebrities, upper classes, and Wimbledon members –  those who are able enjoy a sociable afternoon out watching lawn tennis with the option of retiring to club rooms should they feel too uncomfortable.  

Those with money and privilege position themselves out of the layman’s reach, on high terraces and in private lounges with the best (sheltered) views of the complex.

Debenture holders miss out on the panic and trauma of desperately seeking prestigious tickets by ballot or camping, by paying their thousands and attaining their own individual seats at the front of the greatest courts.

Wimbledon is anthropomorphic, a perfect fit with British upper-middle class traditions, conservative structures and high society – and these rarefied groups’ centuries-old relationship with the masses remains unmodified.

One can even note that the philology and use of the world ‘class’ is another instrumental and distinctly British phenomenon; a definition that is visually illustrated to its maximum potency at the All England Club.  

A punctual 1 pm start time—one’s distinguished person must have time to arrive, collect oneself and have tea before starting right on time, naturally)—terraces for tea and chit-chat, and a privileges-based, Oxbridge elite atmosphere all add to the distinct Wimbledon character (and the schism between fans and this elite club).  

This is not necessarily to be disliked, however—when else can one gaze and gawp at how the “leisured class” live, what they wear, how they act, in such close proximity?  For those lucky enough to be on Centre Court on Sunday, what an honour to be in the same location as the Queen.

Other British characteristics also remain true to form in this British occasion.

For two weeks every summer, all Britons have a truly legitimate excuse for complaining abut the most British of all British traditions—the weather.  Most significantly, rainy weather.  

It can be sunny and cold, sunny and windy, even sunny and extremely hot (as has been the delightful surprise for viewers and spectators this year); but rainy weather in all its forms is disliked by all.  

It is a mutual feeling that brings even the most dissimilar of Britons together—no-one, no inhabitant of cities and villages across the entire British Isles, must ever like weather of any precipitous nature—especially when it ruins punctuality and a traditional “great day out.”

A Brit, liking rain?  You cannot be serious… 

It is through Wimbledon that we can usually revel in our dislike for this type of climatology.  Our distaste reaches all corners of the world in tennis broadcasts -birds-eye views of dark, dreary and overcast skies are punctuated by a sea of brightly coloured umbrellas on Henman Hill and across the Aorangi complex.  Through Wimbledon, we have a true reason to complain.  

This year, the weather has been practically unseasonable for June, with 30 degree Celsius afternoons and cloudless, sunny skies.  But this is Britain—it has to rain sometime; and so it did, on June 29.  Never has such weather been welcomed so enthusiastically.  

However, one couldn’t help oneself—a Briton can never be happy with the status quo.  As soon as the roof was closed, there were calls for its evening swansong.  

There was no rain directly before Andy Murray’s fourth round match but the roof remained closed.  Complaining is another distinctly British characteristic—statements of discontent reverberated around the grounds with aplomb.  

Even as the night wore on, when one admitted to staring in wonderment at its luminescent beauty, there were calls from some that the players were negatively affected from playing the entire match under the concertina-like structure.  

How British.     

Yet there is a paradox within all this.  At Wimbledon, every year, there is an ever-present, over enthusiastic optimism and belief—histrionics, if you will—that we impose on our homegrown players.  

This outspokenness is so unlike the traditional British character.  We like to mock, downplay achievements; we are embarrassed by each other’s talents and successes.  

However for these two weeks of the year (and now especially, given that we have a real contender for the title in the Scot, Andy Murray), one is legitimately allowed to hype up the often non-existent prospects of the current crop of British male and female tennis players, whether they be junior or senior, experienced or unprofessional, talented or journeymen.  

The applause, cheers, yells and screams from beneath the roof over Centre Court last night were truly thunderous.  Expressions, emotions and enthusiasm exploded at every opportunity.  There was no stiff upper lip here, just unabashed patriotism and passion.  

How odd it is.  

So, will this year’s event end in traditional British fashion, with a Briton falling at the final hurdle?  Will ‘recent’ tradition be restored by Roger Federer, the so-called King of Centre Court?  

We are nearing the conclusion—not long to wait.  

Of course, even after the tournament, Wimbledon will remain the quiet, peaceful, and orderly club it is.

How British. 


(Published on Bleacher Report; June 30th 2009)


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