Ballboys and Ballgirls are now such a well-established part of all the major tennis tournaments that it would be difficult to imagine any of the major championships taking place without them. This however wasn’t always the case. In fact, Wimbledon was the first tournament to use Ballboys when they were introduced back in 1920.
Back then there were only Ballboys used on court and they were chosen from boys being looked after in Shaftesbury Homes. Often, they would be disadvantaged youngsters who had found themselves taken into care. For most, the chance to appear at Wimbledon would represent the opportunity of a lifetime.
The basic duties expected were very similar to those of modern day BBGs (Ballboys and Ballgirls). Look after the player and clear any loose balls. As today, they were expected to wear a uniform which consisted of a grey shirt, dark short trousers and dark socks. To see an image, please click on the link below.
1946 to 1966
For twenty years, from 1946 to 1966, all the Wimbledon ball boys came from Barnardo’s Goldings school in Hertfordshire. Also known as the William Baker Technical School. This was a school that looked after many disadvantaged children and, just like Shaftesbury Homes, looked after children who had been taken into care. Whilst there, they were given training in a variety of different trades to help them find work when their time at the school was over work.
Being a ball boy was a prized role at the school and so competition for places was fierce. In fact, only one third of those boys at the school who tried out for a place were successful. Those who were successful underwent training led by Reverend E Appleyard.
Once chosen, they would make the two and-a-half hour journey by coaches to the grounds for each day of the tournament. To ensure they were up in time, they were woken by the school’s customary bugle call at six o’clock in the morning. Thankfully, this is not something the present day BBGs have to experience.
As with those children from Shaftesbury Homes, the chance to work as a Ballboy had a very positive impact on their lives and instilled in them a sense of pride in what they had achieved. This is something that still holds true today for current BBGs.
The uniform for this period went through a couple of changes.
Between 1947 and 1954, they wore grey shirts and long, dark trousers. Images can be seen by clicking on the link below.
Between 1955 and 1957, they wore a shirt in the club colours, (Purple and Green) and long, dark trousers.
Between 1958 and 2004, they wore shirts and shorts in the Club colours. A tradition that was to continue until the introduction of new kit in 2005.
1967 to 1968
In 1967 and 1968, the children from Shaftesbury Homes were used again for the Championships. This was to be the last time that boys from institutions such as Shaftesbury Homes and Dr Barnardo’s were to be used as Ballboys at Wimbledon.
1969 to 1976
1969 saw the introduction of boys being selected from schools in the Merton and Wandsworth area. At this time, the only school to be used outside these areas was The Nork Park School in Bansted. This school was renamed The Beacon School in 1989 and still provides BBGs today.
A full list of the schools that have been and are still involved in the BBG programme is available elsewhere on this site.
1977 to 1979
1977 saw the introduction of Ballgirls for the first time. As with the boys, they were selected from schools in the local area. During this time teams on the outside courts were served by teams of four. Two at the net and one each at the back of the court. Teams would usually work for a whole match which meant that some teams could be on court for several hours. Bearing in mind that they only had teams of four, working on court then would have been considerably tougher than it is today.
This was the year that Ballboys and Ballgirls would work together in mixed teams for the first time. Although it was a complete success, it was still to be a couple of years before Ballgirls could work on Centre Court.
This was to be a notable year in the history of the Championships at Wimbledon, with the introduction of a woman umpire officiating a final on Centre Court.
Georgina Clark, who died on February 28th, 2010, at the age of 70, was the first woman to umpire a Wimbledon singles final, between Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.
Navratilova defeated Evert, 7-6, 6-2.
The Championships of 1985 saw Ballgirls working on Centre Court for the first time throughout the Championships' history. In those days the team for Centre Court was made up of ten BBGs, six bases and four Centres. They were responsible for rotating the team members to ensure that no one spent too long on court.
Other Show Courts at this time were working with teams of six, whilst the outside courts were still working with teams of four.
Ten years after Ballgirls made their first appearance on Centre Court, teams of six BBGs became the normal allocation on all courts. This proved to be very popular with the players, many of whom had been requesting such a change for some time. I think it is also fair to say that the BBGs were grateful of the change as well.
For the first time in their history, Ballboys and Ballgirls were given access to online training modules. These were designed to reinforce their knowledge of the rules of tennis, the layout of the court and the rules of scoring.
It provided an opportunity to revise for the written tests as well as allowing prospective BBGs to answer the online quizzes. As a tool to help them prepare, the introduction of these modules proved to be very popular.
With a number of tweaks and changes, these modules have continued to be an important part of the training.
From the BBGs perspective, 2006 was to represent a considerable change. Up until that time, their kit had been in the club colours of purple and green. Supplied, in the latter years, by Kent and Curwen, the design had changed very little. In fact, the only noticeable change was to the design of the colour combinations of the shirts. Sometimes quite subtle, at other times very noticeable with the introduction of bright purple stripes on green.
2006 was to change all that when Ralph Lauren came along and introduced their Polo range to the Ballboys and Ballgirls. Out went the purple and green and in came the predominantly blue uniform. With hints of green and white, the new uniform was to prove very popular with the BBGs.
At the same time the uniform of the umpires and line judges changed as well, bringing about a major change for Wimbledon and the Championships.
With very small, subtle changes being introduced every couple of years or so, Polo Ralph Lauren remains the supplier of the uniform for Wimbledon.
A new website has been developed for use by BBGs, whether they be returning for another Championships or applying for their first.