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the rich and varied culture of henman hill

The Vice Guide To Enjoying Henman Hill Responsibly

When attending Wimbledon as a casual tennis fan, you’ll most likely end up on Henman Hill. Here’s how to enjoy the experience without making a complete tit of yourself.

by Aanu Adeoye
06 July 2016, 8:21pm

Photos by Will Magee

If you want to do Wimbledon properly – if you're a hardcore tennis lover, or simply someone who doesn't do things by halves – then it's advisable to camp overnight for tickets. Though it requires forward thinking, commitment and a high tolerance of physical discomfort, this is without doubt the best method for same-day purchase of seats for the three main courts. For the casual tennis fan, however, or for anyone who doesn't fancy shelling out anything up to £126 for the day, it's possible to turn up earlyish in the morning and queue for a basic ground pass. These come at the much more reasonable price of £20 to £25, granting access to Wimbledon's minor courts and, most importantly, Henman Hill.

Henman Hill is an iconic part of the rolling topography of Wimbledon, a gathering point for all those who like the idea of tennis, but can't actually be bothered to give it their full attention. If you have never actually been to Wimbledon, and only ever seen it on the telly, then you will recognise Henman Hill from the panoramic fan shots which cameramen resort to when play has been temporarily delayed by light drizzle, or when one of the players has gone for a piss. As the television cameras pan over the hillock's verdant banks, a loud "WOOOO" will inevitably emanate from the spectators sprawled out on their picnic blankets, most of whom seem to be either off their face on Prosecco or delirious from the effects of chronic heatstroke. This is the sound of Wimbledon's casual crowd, and it rings sweetly in the ears.

Nonetheless, a panoramic television shot gives only limited insight into the behaviour of the Henman Hill set. To understand them better, one must go amongst them, and learn their idiosyncratic ways. That is exactly what I did on Tuesday, on the day of the women's singles quarter-finals. The main thing that I learned is this: many of those on Henman Hill are not enjoying their day responsibly. As such, here are some pointers on how to have fun on the hill, without making a complete tit of yourself.

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GETTING TO THE HILL

Before you can sample the delights of Henman Hill, you must first queue to enter the grounds. This entails turning up in Wimbledon Park at around 7:30 in the morning, and traversing a long and winding path for upwards of two hours. It's an extremely tedious process, so bring something to entertain yourself, like a compendium of Antony Gormley sculptures, or a yo-yo, or whatever.

Whatever you do, do not pass the time by playing an impromptu game of hand tennis with four mates in the midst of your fellow queuers (or Queuemans, if you will). It is egregiously early in the morning, many of them have camped overnight, and if you so much as brush someone with a mis-hit tennis ball they are likely to go full 28 Days Later on you, and tear you limb from limb en masse.

WHAT TO CALL THE HILL

EPA Images/Gerry Penny

This is non-negotiable, guys. It is Henman Hill, not Murray fucking Mound. Why would you want to deny Tim Henman his most lasting legacy, when he has basically nothing else to show for just over a decade of Grand Slam tennis? Are you some sort of sociopath, a ghoulish, Tim Henman-hating monster? Why do you despise Tim Henman, perhaps the most decent underachiever ever to represent this sceptred isle?

I've got nothing against Andy Murray, mind, but his sporting achievements stand alone. Henman is a national treasure for the opposite reason; he was a perennial also-ran, the man who never quite made it, the clean-cut good guy who got knocked out of Wimbledon by Lleyton Hewitt in the scorching summer of 2002. Nonetheless, in his politeness, good grace and stoic self-repression, he was quintessentially British in defeat. That's why he deserves his own hill, and that's why taking said hill away from him would be an absolute travesty. Plus, no normal person calls a hill a "mound".

HOW TO GET A SPOT

While a lucky few spectators will manage to nab tables and benches, the vast majority of those on Henman Hill must sit on the ground. The hill rapidly fills up around lunchtime, which makes securing a decent spot an absolute must. While I have, up until this point, urged responsible behaviour on the hill, the only way to ensure you get a comfortable patch is to be absolutely ruthless. Do not be taken in by all the nice old ladies in sun hats and sandals; they will chuck your neatly placed picnic blanket into the bushes as soon as look at you, and stamp your homemade sandwiches into mush.

Get to the hill early then, and make sure someone is guarding your territory at all times. This is England and, as always, the most passive aggressive people will win the day. If you can improve your position at any point, then do so. If you have to fight off a fortysomething dad in cargo shorts and a wicker hat, well, that is the price you must pay.

BOOZING

This is probably the most important hot tip for enjoying Henman Hill: bring tinnies. You are allowed to bring two cans of beer into the grounds and, for God's sake, do so. If you opt to purchase all of your drinks at the bar, you'll end up paying £8.30 for a Pimm's No.1 Cup, which is frankly obscene. That's enough money to buy upwards of 40 Freddo bars, or sample the culinary wonders of Curry Club at Wetherspoons, with a drink included and change to spare. Unless you are some sort of global industrialist, or investment banker, or international playboy, you cannot afford to spend a day drinking plastic pots of Pimm's at £8.30 a pop. It's financial suicide and, accordingly, you must rely on your trusty old friend, the warm and frothy tinny.

When it comes to the actual drinking culture on Henman Hill, anything goes, really. For the Henman Hill veteran, wanging back Pol Roger is a raison d'être. People are drinking sparkling wine at 10:30 in the morning, getting seriously lathered long before ITV have stopped broadcasting This Morning. It's pure hedonism, it's Sodom and Gomorrah with strawberries and cream. It's basically the last days of the Roman Empire and, as long as you don't draw undue attention to yourself, you can get completely smashed before midday without anyone judging you. That doesn't mean that you should, necessarily.

WATCHING THE TENNIS

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Do not watch the tennis. The big screen in front of you is a facade, and nothing more. People are here to drink excessively, socialise and sunbathe. If you pay close attention to the tennis, people will think you're some sort of oddball, or a pervert.

That will lead to you being rapidly ostracised. The Henman Hill crowd are not easily won over, so don't lose their trust by actually paying attention to sport.

WHAT TO WEAR

When it comes to fashion, the people of Henman Hill are remarkably forgiving. Things that would otherwise mark you out as a complete tosser are perfectly acceptable, or encouraged, even. Just as they are with the consumption of alcohol, standard social norms are relaxed, and taboos are disregarded. Do you want to wear boat shoes, and no socks? Go for it. A silk blazer, with matching cravat? That's fine, too. What about an ironic T-shirt with Judy Murray's face on it? Yes, that's just about acceptable.

Just please, please do not turn up in a group wearing full tennis kits and matching neon green headbands. Please do not do that, lads. Yes, I'm looking at you, over there, in the full Wimbledon tennis whites. Please, no.

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR PRECIOUS SKIN

This isn't a government health bulletin, right. This isn't sponsored NHS content, I wasn't made to write this by Jeremy Hunt. Still, if you're planning to spend the day on Henman Hill, then definitely take some sun cream, or at least a floppy, wide-brimmed hat. There is barely any shelter out there on the hill, and after a few glasses of Prosecco it is easy to ignore the fact that your skin is peeling off like that of a nightmarish two-legged reptile.

With the weather meant to be overcast on Tuesday, I neglected this responsibility. I currently look like Kirby from Mario Super Smash Bros, but a lot more miserable and with a significantly increased chance of skin disease. I look like Barney the Dinosaur with scabies, for fuck's sake. Do not make the same mistakes as me, Henman Hill-goers. Learn from my errors, and save yourself the trouble of looking like the illegitimate lovechild of Patrick off Spongebob Squarepants and Peppa Pig. [Editor's note: he actually looks more like Doctor Zoidberg from Futurama].

OKAY, ACTUALLY WATCH SOME TENNIS

If you've come to Henman Hill and have a sudden urge to watch some actual, proper tennis, then fear not. While paying proper attention to the big screen is taboo, there is an alternative. The standard ground pass gives you access not only to Henman Hill, but also to the minor courts to the south of the venue. These host matches between some of the best young players on the circuit so, if you fancy a brief sojourn away from the hill, wander over to Courts 4-11, and catch a glimpse of one of the stars of the future.

Just don't forget to leave someone guarding the picnic blanket. Seriously, the old ladies of Henman Hill have no shame.

@W_F_Magee

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