IT’S 17 years since I worked at Wimbledon, and a lot has changed — equal prize money for a start. My millennium towel I still have — although eBay has tempted me some days — but I’ve no idea where my ball-boy T-shirt is. Maybe it’s buried treasure deep in the hotpress.
It was my uniform for a month while working in the merchandise shop under Court 1 at the All-England Club in 2000, and gold dust to those on the other side of the counter.
It was a lecturer in CIT who put me in contact with the IMG Sports group who were recruiting staff, and me and my buddy, Mai O’Leary, applied and then spent four weeks in her sister’s flat in Fulham.
For two weeks before the championships we stocked the shop. The dream that was Wimbledon out the back garden was now our playground at lunchtime.
Or at least we’ll lead you to believe given that security guarded every blade of grass with their lives for a fortnight.
Every day we’d board the tube and head for the leafy suburb of SW19.
Passes in hand (see below for giggles), the feeling of importance couldn’t be helped as the public sneaked peaks through the railings.
I was a cashier in no ordinary shop. A shop that brought in £160,000 or €234,510 a day. The cheapest thing in sight was a six-pack of post-cards for £6 or €8.
In 2015 alone there were 28,600 Championship towels sold; 16,000 mini tennis ball key-rings; 16,000 rubber wristbands; 10,000 umbrellas; 8,000 cans of tennis balls, and 6,000 logo T-shirts.
The place smelled of money.
We were on £4.90 an hour or €7.18, less deductions, but we did get a 25% staff discount on products.
You’d have done it for free though.
The back of the shop, where we held the stock, was where the players would walk on to court — and where their off-court toilets were situated too!
Towards the latter stages of the tournament, I plucked up the courage to ask the security guard for a peep and it was a pretty impressive port of call to be fair.
The shop opened from 9.30am to 9pm but our shift was 10.30am to 8.30pm, with a two-hour lunch break (2.30pm to 4.30pm) — perfect for soaking up the atmosphere in the sunshine.
On one such break, it wasn’t the case, as Martina Hingis and Venus Williams were battling it out on Centre Court in much-heated contest. We could have sat up on Henman Hill with the ‘Come-on, Timmotha!’ brigade, wrapped in their Union Jacks, and watch the game on the giant screen, but we had better plans.
Our innocent Irish cailín disguises were fully functioning, and the charm worked on a burly security man when seeking seats to an already jam-packed stadium, and before we knew it, a door opened and we were shoved inside.
Slightly puzzled as to what was going on, it didn’t take us long to figure out we were in our very own private commentary box, watching Williams beat Hingis.
Over the course of the championship, we also got to see Monica Seles, Gustavo Kuerten, Greg Rusedski, Richard Krajicek and Lyndsey Davenport.
One day, myself and one of the other girls were waiting for Andre Agassi and Todd Martin to saunter up the corridor past us and who walks around the corner, only the man of the moment himself, Tim Henman.
‘Hellooe’, he chirped and totted past, taller than to be expected.
Another day, I hadn’t been so eager to watch mere non-seeded players take to the court. But others had the interest and it paid off. Tom Cruise had slipped out a security door facing our back entrance and chatted for 10 minutes to them before a driver whisked him away.
Our own Sonia O’Sullivan was spotted, as was Hugh Grant and Tom Hanks.
As mentioned, we had our own uniforms — Wimbledon runners, Wimbledon shorts and Wimbledon T-shirts.
I was based in the centre unit of the shop, which sold the over-priced post-cards and Wedgewood, Waterford Crystal, Links and Ettinger products.
Wimbledon towels were the hottest item and on the second last day the final towel found itself in the middle of a mini war between an American gent and an American lady.
No doubt the same will happen this year, at the world’s most-loved tennis championships.
It’s a superb experience and even though I was more or less behind the scenes, plans are being made to return as a spectator at some point.
Demand for tickets always exceeds supply therefore the club operates a public ballot for advance sales of a number of centre, court one and court two tickets. Tickets are also sold through The Lawn Tennis Association to affiliated clubs, schools, their membership scheme and foreign tennis associations.
For those lucky enough to have tickets, there’ll be 300,000 cups of tea and coffee, 250,000 bottles of water, and 200,000 glasses of Pimms served.
The famous strawberries and cream treat was disappointing on my venture, but none-the-less there’ll be 28,000kg consumed along with a dollop of 7,000 litres of fresh cream.
With an exciting finish to the French Open in Roland Garros a number of weeks ago, one can expect more feisty match-ups.