All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC), also known as the All-England Club, based at Church Road, London, United Kingdom, is a private members' club. It is best known as the venue for the Wimbledon Championships, the only Grand Slam tennis event still held on grass. Initially an amateur event that occupied club members and their friends for a few days each summer, the championships have become far more prominent than the club itself. However, it still operates as a members' tennis club, with many courts in use all year round.
The club has 375 full members, about 100 temporary playing members, and a number of honorary members, including past Wimbledon singles champions and people who have rendered distinguished service to the game. In order to become a full or temporary member, an applicant must obtain letters of support from four existing full members, two of whom must have known the applicant for at least three years. The name is then added to the Candidates' List. Honorary Members are elected from time to time by the club's Committee. Membership carries with it the right to purchase two tickets for each day of the Wimbledon Championships.
The club was founded on 23 July 1868 at the height of a croquet craze as the All England Croquet Club, and held its first croquet competition in 1870. Its original ground was situated off Worple Road, Wimbledon. Croquet was very popular there until the then-infant sport of lawn tennis (a game introduced by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield a year or so prior, and originally called "Sphairistike") was introduced in 1875, when one lawn was set aside for this purpose. The first tennis Championships in men's singles were held in 1877, to raise money for a pony-drawn roller for its croquet lawns, when it changed its name to The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. That year at Wimbledon serves were made underarm. The champion, Spencer Gore, opined that "Lawn tennis will never rank among our great games." In 1878 the nets were lowered from 4 feet 9 inches (1.45 m) at the posts, to 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 m). In 1882, croquet was dropped from the name, as tennis had become the main activity of the club. But in 1889 it was restored to the club's name for sentimental reasons, and the club's name became The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.
In 1884, the club added Ladies' Singles and Gentlemen's Doubles, and then in 1913 Ladies' Doubles and Mixed Doubles. For the 1908 Summer Olympics, the venue hosted the tennis events. The early club colours of blue, yellow, red, and green were found to be almost identical to those of the Royal Marines, so they were changed in 1909 to the present Club colours of dark green and purple. The popularity of Frenchwoman Suzanne Lenglen was largely responsible for forcing the club to move to larger grounds at its present site in Church Road, Wimbledon, in 1922, where its first Championship was "plagued by rain each day". The current Centre Court dates from that year. It has been improved and extended on several occasions. Most recently a sliding roof was added in time for the 2009 Championships. In 1928 the old No. 1 Court opened on the west side of Centre Court. During World War II the club remained open with a much smaller staff, and was used for fire and ambulance services, British Home Guard, and a decontamination unit, and troops stationed nearby drilled on the main concourse. In October 1940 five 500 pound bombs struck Centre Court, demolishing 1,200 seats. The old No. 1 Court was replaced with the current No. 1 Court in 1997, and the Broadcast Centre was built at the same time. Shortly afterwards, the Millennium Building, which houses facilities for players, press, officials and members, was built on the site of the old No. 1 Court.
The Church Road site initially extended only as far north as Centre Court. In 1967 the All England Club purchased 11 acres (45,000 m2) to the north. This was leased to the New Zealand Sports and Social Club and became known as Aorangi Park (Aorangi means "Cloud Piercer", and is the Māori part of Aoraki/Mount Cook; "Aorangi" is the standard Māori spelling and "Aoraki" is used in the Māori dialect in the vicinity of the mountain). It is most commonly known as 'Henman Hill' because of the popularity of former British tennis player, Tim Henman. Initially the only use that the All England Club itself made of this new land was for car parking during the championships, but in 1981 the New Zealanders' lease was terminated, and the club has developed most of the area for its own purposes.
The All England Club, through its subsidiary The All England Lawn Tennis Ground plc, issues debentures to tennis fans every five years to raise funds for capital expenditure. The original debentures were issued in 1920. Each debenture provides a pair of tickets for each day of the tournament for five years. Only debenture holders are legally permitted to sell on their tickets to third parties.
Angela Barrett, née Mortimer, who won the Ladies title at Wimbledon in 1961 and became a member of the club, described it in the 1980s by saying: "We do stick with tradition here; we haven't ever lowered our standards. For instance, this isn't a place you bring children. But should you, they're always quite well-behaved. The message gets through." The issue of children arose again in 1999, when the Duchess of Kent, whose husband the Duke of Kent had been president of the club for 30 years, was refused permission to bring the 12-year-old son of a friend into the Royal Box, and then received what The Daily Telegraph reported in a front-page story was a "curt letter" from club chairman John Curry, informing her that children were unwelcome in the Royal Box. In an editorial, the paper said: "The Club has been accused of snobbery and arrogance before. Even by its own standards, however, managing to offend its principal Royal supporter must surely count as a grievous double fault."
The club's 'exclusivity' included its not allowing any black tennis player to play there prior to 1951, and no Jewish tennis player being able to claim it as their home until 1952. According to Angela Buxton, the Jewish former British Wimbledon doubles champion, it also has led to her exclusion. Buxton said in 2004, reflecting on the fact that the All England Club, almost 50 years after Buxton's 1956 Wimbledon triumph with Althea Gibson, had still not invited Buxton to join: "I think the anti-Semitism is still there. The mere fact that I'm not a member is a full sentence that speaks for itself." Buxton told New York Post reporter Marc Berman that she had been on the "waiting list" since she applied in the 1950s. The Chairman of the Club appeared on television, and when asked about it said that he would have to look into it, and couldn't comment without more information. "I wish it still wasn't such an elite sport," Buxton told Berman. "I wish we could bring it down to a common baseline. It's going that way. It's still not there." After Gibson and Buxton won the doubles at Wimbledon, one British national newspaper reported their success under the headline, "Minorities Win". "It was in very small type," said Buxton, "lest anyone should see it".
The club currently has 19 tournament grass courts, as well as five red shale courts, three Continental clay courts, one American clay court, and five indoor courts, which are hidden under temporary stands and marquees during the tournament. There are also 22 Aorangi Park grass courts, which serve as competitors' practice courts before and during the championships. An experimental SoftB hard court has been laid down. The grass courts can be used from May until September. The grass has been cut to 8 mm since 1995, and 100% perennial rye grass has been used for its strength since 2001 (prior to that, it was 70% perennial rye and 30% creeping red fescue). The courts are renovated in September, using one ton of grass seed annually.
The largest court is Centre Court, which usually hosts the finals of the main singles and doubles events at the championships. The quotation above the players' entrance to Centre Court is an extract from the poem "If", by Rudyard Kipling, which reads: "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same." This court also served as the main venue for the tennis events at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Initially, the courts were arranged in such a way that the principal court was situated in the middle with the others arranged around it; hence the title "Centre Court". The present Centre Court, built in 1922 upon the move of the club, wasn't actually in the centre at the time it was built, but as new courts were added in later years it became a more accurate description. It currently seats 15,000 – expanded from 14,000 following redevelopment in 2007–08 (spatially, the expansion is greater than those numbers imply, as seats have been widened), and (as of 2009) is the fourth-largest tennis stadium in the world. The club installed a retractable roof on Centre Court which was completed in May 2009. It is a 'folding concertina' made of 5,200 square metres of a translucent waterproof fabric that allows natural light to reach the grass, and opens/closes in under 10 minutes. Redevelopment work commenced in 2006 and Centre Court had no roof at all in place for the duration of the 2007 Championships.
The other 'show court' is No. 1 Court, built in 1997, which holds around 11,500 people and occasionally plays host to Davis Cup matches (Centre Court usually being reserved for the Wimbledon Championship). This is to be fitted with a retractable roof similar to Centre Court in time for the 2019 Championships.
A new No. 2 Court with 4,000 seats was first used at the 2009 Championships. The old No. 2 Court was renamed No. 3 Court in 2009, and was rebuilt after the 2009 championships. The grounds are set to undergo major renovation in the coming years.
The club also houses the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum, and it still has a croquet lawn, but it is too small for top-level competitions.
Among the features that differentiate The Championships from the other Grand Slams are that they are played on grass courts, they require the players to wear white, and they schedule a day off on the middle Sunday of the tournament. The winner of the men's singles at The Championships receives a gold trophy inscribed with the words: "The All England Lawn Tennis Club Single Handed Champion of the World".
The Championships attract attendance of 450,000 people. Ninety per cent of the financial surplus that the club generates from running The Championships are used to develop tennis in Great Britain; in 1998–2008, the surplus ranged from £25–33 million per year. The Championships are run by a Committee of Management that consists of 12 club members and seven nominees of The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA). The 2009 Committee included the following club members: Timothy Dewe Phillips CBE (Chairman), PGH Brook, JS Dunningham, RM Gradon, IL Hewitt, Miss. DA Jevans, Mrs. AS Jones MBE, Mr. MA King, Mr. TH Henman OBE, GM Newton, JC Tatum, and KF Weatherley. Phillips indicated, in November 2008, that The Championships would weather the then-current economic crisis better than other sporting events, because of long-term contracts and its popularity.
In 2003, a long-standing tradition of Centre Court players bowing or curtseying to the Royal Box was scrapped by order of the Duke of Kent, President of the club since 1969, who deemed it an anachronism in modern times. The only exception would be if the Queen or the Prince of Wales were to attend. Andy Murray and Jarkko Nieminen elected to bow when the Queen visited The Championships for their 2010 2nd Round match, as did Roger Federer and Fabio Fognini at their 2nd round match, watched by the Prince of Wales, in 2012.
In 2006, Phillips said that paying men and women equal prize money at The Championships was something they "fundamentally don’t think would be fair on the men." But the following year Phillips announced that The Championships would pay men and women equal prize money in 2007 for the first time. The decision overturned more than a century of inequality in pay, and brought the tournament more into line with the other three annual grand slam tennis events, which all pay men and women champions the same amount. Philips insisted that the club had not caved in to pressure from politicians, female tennis players, and women’s rights campaigners.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to All England Club.|
- Club page on the Wimbledon Championships site
- "Wimbledon: Facts, Figures, and Fun," by Cameron Brown