Yes ladies and gentleman, Wimbledon fortnight is upon us. It’s time to invest in punnets of strawberries and cream, drink Champagne and prepare to talk about nothing else but tennis for the next 2 weeks. Yet, have you ever wondered about some of the less obvious things that make Wimbledon so special? Consider the story of one of the oldest and most iconic traditions of this great event – The Ball Boys and Girls of Wimbledon.
The annual Wimbledon Championships begin again today. ‘Murray Mount’ will yet again be the talking point of the British press, as hundreds of avid tennis fans descend upon the green grass verge of SW19. The Championships which first began in 1877 are held at the All England Club and are considered the oldest and most prestigious tennis tournament in the world.
Naturally, given its long history, traditions are aplenty at Wimbledon, where it is not only common to see world famous tennis players such as Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, and the Williams sisters, but also the Royal family and various celebrities. It is safe to say that Wimbledon attracts tennis enthusiasts from all walks of life and from all over the world.
Traditions include a strict dress code of all white (or nearly all white) for competitors and the eating of copious quantities of strawberries and cream. However, one of the greatest and most iconic traditions that has existed since the 1920s is that of the Wimbledon ball boys and girls (commonly known as a BBGs).
Dating back to the beginning of the early 20th century, BBGs were selected from The Shaftsbury’s Children’s Home before becoming exclusively supplied by Goldings, a charity school in 1947. These days, BBGs are selected from local schools within the boroughs of Merton, Sutton, Kingston, Wandsworth, and Surrey.
Becoming BBG is far from easy! On average, half of the applicants are rejected before stage 1 even begins. So how do you apply? The process begins with a recommendation by your child’s Principal, who will then submit an application on their behalf. Upon selection, the potential BBG must pass a written exam on the rules of tennis in addition to physical fitness, mobility, and suitability exams. It almost sounds like school all over again! If they pass all these exams, they begin training in February. According to instructor Faisal Abdalla, “A BBG should not be seen. They should blend into the background and get on with their jobs quietly.” Because they learn to blend in so well, we tend to forget the great job they do for the tournament!
So why would you want to be a BBG considering there’s so much pressure, not to mention the risk of being walloped in the face by one of Roger Federer’s 135mph serves?
Well, life isn’t too tough for the guys and gals. They not only get to miss school (bonus!), but they also get paid between £120 and £160 over the course of the 13 day tournament. Not bad really! Not to mention the opportunity to brush shoulders with some of the world’s most talented athletes. Perhaps now you can see why Wimbledon gets inundated with applications year on year. For parents thinking of letting their children apply, it’s worth bearing in mind that apparently potential future employers believe BBGs show discipline, the ability to make decisions under pressure, and self-confidence, meaning it gives them a leg up in the job market.
So when you become tennis’s number 1 fan (for 2 weeks only of course) and can be seen screaming “COME ON MURRAY” at the top of your voice, be sure to keep an eye out for the royal blue and cream clad teenagers. For without them, the tournament just wouldn’t quite be the same…
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