Belfast Telegraph

When youth treat every Wimbledon match like Federer's playing, it puts gripes like eye-wateringly expensive Pimms into perspective

By Mike Gilson

I missed my younger son's birthdays from the age of 12 to 17 because of work. I vowed never to do it again. It was Monday just passed and he's now 20. No longer a teenager.

It feels like only yesterday he was born in Cardiff on a swelteringly hot day. I've a Press pass to Wimbledon and suggest to him and his elder brother that they come to London with me and catch some tennis. I'll buy them some eye-wateringly expensive Pimms and strawberries as a birthday treat.

Only trouble is, while I've an access-all-areas pass and can swan in as soon as I arrive, they have to go and join the longest queue of all-time to buy a ground ticket for the day. While I settle in to watch an early match, they are four hours away from even seeing the entrance gates. Their queue must be visible from space.

I start to worry that this might not have been a good idea. Yet I forget they have youth on their side. Everything bounces off them. They are able to find joy where we wouldn't even dream to look.

They've time to soak up boring rituals like Wimbledon queues, even revel in them. Meanwhile, in the Press centre I'm moaning about the internet connection being too slow and behind me at the (free) drinks machine two Fleet Street sports desk time-servers lament loudly that the hot chocolate tastes like sludge. On court, I join a Press debate with some very well-known faces about how "boom boom" serves kill the enjoyment of modern matches.

We all have the best seats in the house. I phone my sons. They've just been told they're now only three hours from the entrance.

But it's okay, there's a mass crossword puzzle-solving team forming around their newspaper and someone's got a football for a kickabout when they get to the two-hour mark. Then it starts to rain. Not drizzle, stair- rods. I head into the Press centre and its subsidised canteen. Outside, there's no protection. Boneheaded stewards handing out ponchos tell my sons they're only for "the ladies. You guys can look after yourselves". It's always like that for young men. They get used to it.

Four hours later they're in. Drowned, but unbowed. We head together to see what we can find. The answer is not much.

Second week in and all the big games are on the show courts, where it's tickets only. Thousands have to make do with stroppy Eastern European kids playing in the junior tourn-ament, or that dull staple of club tennis, the mixed doubles. But my sons don't seem to care. They treat every match like Federer's playing, they laugh and joke and are just happy to be there. I'm already fulminating about how Wimbledon crams the crowds in here and gives them little to see. The elder is taking pictures of service actions even though he doesn't play tennis. For a service action scrapbook is his surreal answer to our obvious question.

And then the rain comes again. We grab another Pimms (£7.50 a glass, folks!) and shelter under a tree. The jokes and the jibes keep coming as I steam.

Then, when the rain shows no sign of easing, they casually announce they're going back on the train. Four hours of queuing and two-and-a-bit hours of tennis later their Wimbledon experience is over.

As they jauntily disappear in the murky downpour and I prepare to head back to my cushioned seat in the covered Centre Court to watch Murray on his imperious way, I realise how proud I am of both of them and how once again they've taught me how much we have to learn from the young.

Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph

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