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Secret army ensures Wimbledon never sleeps

The grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club are shown as night falls.
by Sarah Edworthy
Wednesday 3 July 2013

Gates open at 10.30am and play must not go on longer than 11pm (for reasons of Health and Safety, and respect for the neighbours’ ear drums), but Wimbledon is a pulsing 24-hour operation.

Inside the All England Club, the call to ‘go home’ coincides with the arrival of armies of specialist staff who beaver away through the night to prepare for the following day. The players leave the locker room, the spectators wander home, the day staff clock out, the night stewards take over the Queue management – and then Wimbledon nightlife starts.

Underneath the moonlight, it's all action. First in – from 10.30pm onwards – is the battalion of cleaning staff who pick up litter, pressure-wash floors, empty bins, wipe and polish.

The court cleaners aim to get around the entire bowls of Centre and No.1 Court in half an hour. From quite a distance, you hear the cry of ‘Bucket!’ as the cleaners, working with bin liners to dispose of the rubbish and plastic Pimm’s cups, have to share a bucket to slop out any undrunk Pimm’s.

Regardless of the weather, the court attendants cover the courts and inflate. Security continues at the same level around the clock with super-bright lights, and a guard and dog stand sentry on Centre Court all night.

In the Broadcast Centre, the rooftop is busy with al fresco highlights package filming. While the European studios lie deserted, the American broadcasters have a five-10 hour time difference to accommodate, so Chris Evert, Brad Gilbert, Darren Cahill, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Tracy Austin and Justin Gimelstob will still be chattering away to cameras into the small hours.  ‘Lights out’ is late in the International Press Room too.

In the various Wimbledon Shops and kiosks, staff undertake a major re-stocking of shelves. The Championship towels that are provided on court for players are taken away for laundering off-site and returned in bundles in the morning.

Catering staff – on the late, late shift – re-stock the chiller cabinets and fridges in all the food & beverage outlets. The rubbish is systematically crushed and removed. Night deliveries of fresh food and extra supplies of drink arrive in waves culminating in the convoy of lorries bearing the precious daily cargo of 2,000kg plus of trademark strawberries at 3am.

Kitchen staff  – on the early, early shift ­– arrive to hull strawberries and chop, slice and prepare salads. Campers in the Queue are up by 5am and packing away the overnight kit ready to leave in Left Luggage. As the sun rises, Imogen Davis of Avian Control brings in Rufus, the Harris Hawk, complete with his staff photocard pass to do his pigeon deterrent work.

Bundles of the day’s programme, printed overnight once Order of Play has been confirmed, come in hot off the press. The ground staff count the blades of grass in a given area on each court to compile the record of how each court deteriorates throughout the Fortnight. The landscape gardening team clip tendrils and water pots and hanging baskets. The sniffer dogs start their professional prowling… And then, the day staff back. Another Championship Day dawns ready for tennis.

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