Up at 6.45am, out the door by 7.30am – no I’m not off to work, I’m on the first stages of a mission to get tickets for the Andy Roddick versus Lleyton Hewitt semi-final showdown in the 2005 Australian Open Tennis taking place at Melbourne Park.
Surprisingly, despite being at the ticket office by 8.30am, I’m second in the queue behind a Japanese lady.
Around 9.45am a mother and her two personable teenage kids join us along with a lady wearing a velour tracksuit under shorts. Conversation spills from both parties while I listen in having already taken to sprawling on the concrete in my queuing position.
It’s already toasty warm and as much as I think I’m going to be in the queue for two hours tops, it’s been an early start and knowing that the last two men’s matches have gone through to midnight – in their infinite wisdom, the tennis powers-that-be had introduced 7.30pm start times – I’m aware I need to conserve my energy. I’ve even got a couple of bananas and 2.5 litres of water in my bag – anyone would think I was going to play myself.
The mother has tickets for herself and her husband but the kids decided they wanted to come along as well considering it was such a juicy match up and with Hewitt being an Aussie, and all.
An American guy joins the queue. “Just to clear the air, I didn’t vote for George Bush,” is his first comment. He goes on to tell us that despite having never been involved in politics in his whole life, he’d actively contributed to John Kerry’s campaign on the basis it might help keep George Bush out.
A short while later we were advised by the stadium security that this ticket office wouldn’t be open until 12 noon and we’d be better off trying to get tickets in Federation Square as that office was open now.
As I disappeared in a haze of dust behind me, a father and son I’d met in the queue tried to engage me in some chit chat and, realising I couldn’t outrun them unless I broke into a rather unsportsmanlike trot, I turn friendly compadre as we make our way to the ticket office.
There’s no queue at the Ticketek office just a girl from Tasmania also looking for tickets. We’re soon told that this office won’t be open until 11.30am and we’d be better off going to the Exhibition Street office, which, we were assured, was definitely open.
Having heard this before we formed splinter groups where Father and Son (Pat and Matt) go to Exhibition Street while Tasmania and I stay put. Pat gives me his number and tells me to call him in 15 minutes and he’d let me know if the office is open. Would Pat give me the correct number despite the fight for tickets? Apparently so.
Yes, he’s tells me, Exhibition Street Ticketek is open and a lady there was “looking after them”. What this meant was that she scoured the internet for any tickets that were released.
On arriving at Exhibition Street the lady behind the counter suggested the first tickets released would more likely be at the stadium-side box office, so, frustratingly, Tasmania and I head back to the queue where I’d started at 8.30 that morning leaving Pat and Matt to watch a computer screen refreshing every few minutes.
By this time it is noon and there is a queue of around 25 people. Swallowing my disappointment I sit down, but not before noticing Japanese had come back a lot earlier and was number five in the queue.
The ticket booth finally opened and clarified what we all knew – there were no tickets. A few lightweights disappeared leaving Tasmania and me about 10 from the front.
Tasmania went off to get some food while I kept our place in the queue, lying flat on my back, hat perched on nose ready for a kip. Next minute, “Excuse me. Hello. Excuse me”.
Five minutes couldn’t have passed yet the queue had been asked to move to the side of the ticket office. The nice man behind me didn’t want to queue jump and so woke me up. I chuckled with him but cold-shouldered the others who had stepped over me and advanced up the line.
Tasmania headed to the stadium when it opened at 2pm as there were more ticket booths inside while I stayed put. Both our mobile phones were running low on juice but we promised we’d let each other know if we had any luck. I also kept trying the Ticketek phone line but no luck there either.
Later on some tickets were released for the women’s final the next day, which I told the other queuers. A Japanese man used my phone to try to get these tickets (I thought it might stand me in good stead with the God of Tickets) but I opted to wait for tickets for local boy Hewitt instead.
The flies and I enjoyed reading a book for the next hour where at times I sat cross-legged, flat on my back, sprawled on my front, curled on my side, until a couple in the queue ahead of me asked, “Have you seen what’s going on at the front of the queue?”
I stood up.
“Apparently a couple of guys have bought tickets from people walking past. We think they’re selling them on. They’re always on the phone and they keep disappearing round the back of the ticket office.”
Blood boiling and with no proof whatsoever I decide to take action. Nobody should get between my sport and me. I ask a steward if I can have a private word. We move to the side and I explain what I’ve just been told.
I have no proof about the people in front being touts but that I am a journalist, I’m not working and I’m standing in the queue like everyone else and not using a press pass – I don’t mind doing that but I just want it to be fair and to alert someone to what was going on. If someone’s bought a ticket, they move on and we all move forward. That’s the rules. I’m English– I know how to queue properly.
The steward said she’d speak to her boss. Walking via the ‘touts’ on my way back to the queue one of them looked directly at me. I looked straight back – eyes blazing.
Back in the queue I’d caused a ripple of excitement after revealing I’m a journalist and then proactively going to speak to someone. Just for added credibility I asked the steward for her name (she gave me her security tag number) and I took my notebook out in the queue and started making ‘notes’.
I also slung my camera over my shoulder as if about to take paparazzi shots. During this excitement, my phone rings. It’s Tasmania. “Jo, I’ve got two tickets but they’re restricted view behind the Channel 7 cameras. Is that okay?”
“Just get them,” I yell. “Just get me in that stadium.”
I turn to my fellow queue-dwellers. “Erm. Sorry. Gotta go. I’ve managed to get a ticket. But I did tell the steward you guys were annoyed as well.” Shrugging their shoulders they respond that at least it had been briefly exciting and that I’d looked so innocent sitting there reading my book.
So into the stadium I dash, telling security that no, my camera didn’t take video footage…
There’s a reason for this white lie. At the Euro 2004 football tournament security had already said I could go through when I ‘helpfully’ asked if they wanted to see inside the front pocket of my bag as well. One minute later I was furiously throwing away four perfectly good expensive rechargeable batteries in case I took it upon myself to throw them at the players. The lady next to me had to bin her lipstick but caustically challenged, “So I can throw this pen at them, can I?” Apparently so.
Before long I had ticket in hand and all irritation from the heat, flies and discomfort of being in a queue for seven hours fell away. We were in. Behind a monstrous TV camera, around which we had to crane our necks to see the court, but in nevertheless.
With our newfound good humour we called Pat to let him know how we’d got tickets and to tell him to keep trying – he might just get lucky, like us.
Turns out a lady had given Pat and his son two free unwanted corporate tickets and they were currently sitting in an air-conditioned room having a cooling drink and looking forward to watching the match from the best seats in the house…