Last Eight Club: lifetime credential and lots of wine to keep Wimbledon’s memories alive
LONDON – Madness takes over the facilities of the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) on its final day of the 2022’s edition. Visitors line up to grab the last strawberries and cream of the fortnight, empty the official stores, and collect selfies with the Central Court in the background.
Hidden behind the gate five, one of the entries to the venue, there is a refuge to scape the accelerated pace.
The traditions honor the history of the oldest tournament on the tennis planet, and also pay tribute to the players who made the spotlight fall on them during the second week of competition. A lifelong tribute to those who made history on the legendary grass is what the Last Eight Club proposes.
It was founded in 1986, with Buzzer Hadingham as president of the AELTC, the leader who pushed to convert the mentality of the institution. He made several changes without the loss of identity or traditions.
“With the chairmen we thought that former players shouldn’t be standing in lines, or buying tickets to come. Without them, The Championships is not what it would be today,” says John Feaver, a professional tennis player from 1971 to 1987, former Davis Cup player with the English team, and club administrator for the last nine years.
“They are important voices in their countries. Commentators, journalists and club people listen to them. When they ask them ‘how was Wimbledon?’ we don’t want them to say it’s difficult, you can’t get in, there’s nowhere to be. The groundman every night tells them interesting things about Wimbledon, for example, that the courts are made up of fourteen types of grass. So they won’t tell rumors, they’ll tell facts,” explains Feaver, curiously, someone who was very close to become a member of the Last Eight Club, but failed in the edge. He missed a match point in the quarterfinals of the men’s doubles draw.
The singles quarterfinalists, the semifinalists in doubles, and the two best mixed doubles teams each year earn lifetime membership in the club.
The memory is intangible heritage. The Last Eight Club was intended as a place of reunion, and so it is constantly a place where history is recalled. Just as they want at Wimbledon.
Norma Baylon traveled to London in 2022. She earned her right to be part of the club after her 1964 campaign, when she made it to the quarterfinals.
“You meet players from my era, who I haven’t seen in over 50 years. I was chatting with Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, John Newcombe, Frew McMillan, Fred Stolle and a bunch of others. We reminisced about old times,” said the Argentinean, who was accompanied by two of her daughters. The three of them were actively observing the tournament: “We were very well looked after. For me, Wimbledon is the perfect tournament”.
Baylon’s name is written, along with those of so many other history makers, in golden letters on the club’s green wall. They are all entitled for life to a credential for themselves and a guest; tickets to matches on the main courts; the comfort of the small physical space to rest and refuel; and even cultural panoramas between Picadilly Circus and Covent Garden.
“Inviting them to the theater is a significant detail. We care about giving our members a nice cultural experience through London’s theater scene as well. Margaret Court and Rod Laver love it,” says Feaver.
After Cristian Garin lost to Nick Kyrgios in the Last Eight Club round at the 2022 edition, an All England Club member gave him a pin with a number 8 on it. “Not many people get too happy because they’ve just come from losing, but I’m sure they realize later how good it is to be part of this,” Feaver comments with conviction.
The Englishman’s hypothesis is confirmed by Fernando Gonzalez, quarterfinalist in 2005: “It’s great, I’m sure I’ll take advantage of it. I’ll come with my children when they become older”. He is already the father of two, with the former hockey player Luciana Aymar.
There is another significant benefit. Happy hour takes over the small shelter every day at six o’clock. The effects produced by the good wine help keep memories alive, according to Feaver: “That’s when the best stories from 50 years ago come out. After two or three glasses, there’s a lot of laughter, jokes, and great anecdotes of times gone by.”
Like those remembered by Baylon in 2022. Like the ones Garin will be able to remember in 2072. That’s very special, says the Briton, who takes care of every detail so that members live the best experience. “That’s priceless. There is no other tournament that treats former players the way we do.”