Having walked all the way down to the river and then back up again to bring you news of rowing successes for my last Team of the Week piece, I felt I owed it to myself to go a little closer to my office this time.
One of my nearest sporting venues is the Fives courts. My ex-English teacher and distinguished OS Ken Shearwood has a picture of the Fives courts on the back of his book ‘Hardly a Scholar’ filled with top hats and books, whilst presumably the owners of these artefacts were deep in prayer and reflection in Chapel.
Such a scene can still be found, with the exception of the top hats, as the present generations still pay their respects to the Divine before lessons on Tuesdays and Fridays. However, you would be wrong to think that the Fives courts are just some glorified file, book and pencil-case depository. Most afternoons the courts are seething with athletic endeavour as players of all shapes, ages, genders and sizes battle out games that seem to go on for ever, especially when it is cold, under the watchful eyes of Master in Charge Seb Cooley and his team of master tacticians.
Mr Cooley reminds me of another diminutive general, Napoleon Bonaparte. He likes to win and he has a look of steel in front of those friendly and twinkly eyes. Although I have to admit that that is where the similarities start to diverge, since Mr Cooley is not French, has two arms, does not wear a three-cornered hat, nor aspire to control most of the Western world (as far as I know), ride a white horse, go to Russia for his winter holidays. And he is very very good at Fives (World Champion, no less).
Having established that Mr Cooley is not very similar to a nineteenth century dictator, I wondered how he felt the Fives squad was shaping up. Mr Cooley felt the Fives squad are shaping up very well and this article could now end at this point. Yet I know how many of you have come to depend on a more analytical and in-depth analysis of our Salopian sporting gods and goddesses.
I told Mr Cooley that I was going to probe him for further information. (At that point he began to look a little worried and the information began to fall from his lips like a veritable torrent.)
He admitted that he was a little frustrated that a couple of fixtures had been cancelled this term, but he was proud of those players who had performed so well at the Northern Championships. Dan Orchard and Mr Cooley reached the semi-finals, defeating OS pair Ed Taylor and Sam Welti before losing to the eventual winners.
Mr Cooley is confident that his talented group of top players, Max Morris, Tom Bromley-Davenport, Tom Brunskill, Sam McLoughlin, Adam Aslam-Baskeyfield, Dan Orchard and Josh Himsworth, can perform to a high level in the National Championships at the end of this term. I asked Dan Orchard what it had been like playing with Mr Cooley in the Northern Men’s Championships. Dan told me it had been an amazing experience to play with one of the world’s top Fives players. “It was an amazing experience playing with one of the World’s top Fives players.” He went on to tell me it is something he will be able to tell his grandchildren, although he admitted that he may well embellish it a little, as of course in a fairy story Dan and Mr Cooley would probably have won.
Tom Bromley-Davenport wanted to tell me that Fives had a really cool image around the School. “When I say I have done a lot of court time, one or two people seem to think I am quite hard.” Ed Stapleton only plays Fives for the KitKats. “Mr Cooley has explained to us how important KitKats can be and as Fives players we are encouraged to have ten a day now (fingers that is). I think Mr Cooley thinks that a finger of KitKat can strengthen our actual fingers,” Ed told me. (Currently the Fives team do not have any nutritionists working with them).
The girls’ squad is also in a good place. Izzy Wong and Adelaide Sillar won the Plate at a recent tournament in London and a number of pairs performed well in the Ladies’ Open competition in London last weekend.
Top pair Nina Lange and Sophia Breese were hoping to bring back some silverware. “We are hoping to visit a jewellery shop in Kensington,” Nina told me. Apart from their purchases, they also came back with the Ladies Plate trophy, having lost to the winners of the main competition early on. Other successes involved the mighty Ella Windle and equally mighty Georgie Nicholas, who came second in the Ladies Festival. Whilst at Eton the boys had success against Highgate on the Saturday but not quite so much against the home team.
Lizzie Ware, Phoebe Wasdell, Libby Hedges, Abi Watkinson, Katie Oswald and Emma Graham have been training hard, as the Girls’ coaches Andy Barnard and Gwen Davies run a tough regime. “Mr Barnard is quite tough on us,” Katie told me “although since he has heard that Rod Stewart is coming to do a concert in Shrewsbury his mood has lightened somewhat.”
“I think Rod Stewart and Mr Barnard may have gone to school with each other,” Lizzie Ware added.
“We really enjoyed our tour to London,” Emma Graham said. She likes the camaraderie when they go on tour. “I like the camaraderie when we go on tour,” she said. “We turn up the music in the minibus and someone usually has a Little Mix of sweets to hand out; Miss Davies calls us the Sugar Babes but we don’t eat that many sweets. As its only Girls allowed at this competition there are no mixed pairs. We are hoping to put in a good performance in London. Mr Barnard has told us we need that extra Three Degrees of effort if we are going to be known as the Supremes.”
Libby Hedges is looking forward to a team curry. “We all like a curry and Mr Barnard calls us the Spice Girls!” Sophia did say that she was pleased to get back to the safety of Shrewsbury, as Slough is not as salubrious as one might imagine.
To conclude after all my research: it would seem that Fives at Shrewsbury is literally in good hands!