The Fives Club has enjoyed the usual, busy start to the season: the courts are full to bursting in pretty much every games hour, thankfully unaffected by conditions that have written off both the pitches and the river for most of the term. Just spare a thought for the staff standing at the back watching though: this week I resorted to pointing my car at the courts and watching in warm comfort from behind the hard-working windscreen wipers. Martin Knox would have approved.
We opened the season with a weekend of fixtures against Highgate and Eton. It was the first trip for both the Third and Fourth Form players as last year the weekend fell victim to snow. Highgate’s reduced court count meant that we changed the format and our seniors and U16s had a third fixture, taking the form of a high-quality round robin of matches with some of the best recent leavers. Season ticket at Slough Travelodge renewed and supper taken on Saturday evening, we counted the spoils from the Highgate fixture: good wins at 1st senior pair and 1st U16 pair made an early case for seedings. Overall the seniors drew 2-2, as did the U16s. Our U15s and U14s both lost against Highgate, another long-standing tradition as Highgate have about five years’ playing advantage.
Eton on Sunday was always going to be a challenge – especially as some of Saturday evening’s games had got a little competitive, despite my efforts to the contrary! Would a little extra energy and sharpness have made any difference to Henry Blofield and George Lewis on Sunday? Maybe not: one of Eton’s pair has stepped up this year and was playing very well. We lost 3-0. We won at 2nd, 3rd and 4th pairs though, losing a good 5th pair match 3-1. So overall, a 3-2 win at senior (including 5th Formers George Panayi and Tom Breese looking strong even playing up). Without Breese and Panayi in the U16s however (and without Jack Fox, who had academic commitments in Shrewsbury), we lost all three U16 pairs. We lost the U15s 3-1, with only the triumvirate of Arkwright, Morris and Pearce mixing about to win at 4th pair and in the U14s we likewise picked up 4th pair thanks to David Schofield and Dom Ainslie, though Jordan Zaza and Tom Brunskill came close, losing in the decider. That said, we fared well at 1st and 2nd pairs given it’s the start of our season. We look forward to the return fixture after half term!
From this kick-start, the term has gone well. The senior pairs were already playing at a good level but saw there was work to do. And work has been done! The quality of fives in training sessions is high across three courts of seniors and the sheer numbers of U15 players never ceases to amaze me on my occasional forays to the Chapel side of the courts. I am beginning to suspect some of the Fourth Form actually live in those courts. They are always expertly marshalled by Torin Morgan from deep inside a very large and very serious-looking jacket, assisted this year by Paul Andrews, cricket specialist and all-round good sportsman who lends both technical and technological dimensions to the coaching. The Third Form are showing some real quality at the top end, again hugely down to Matt Barrett’s superb coaching (and the fact that several of them are on the courts after Top Schools on most nights).
Further fixtures have included Berkhamsted and Westminster, and here the juniors started showing their quality with some strong wins.
The seniors’ commitment to the sport includes giving up numerous Sundays for tournaments at Eton: the most recent of these was the national U21s, in which Henry Blofield and George Lewis reached the final. Particularly pleasing was their semi-final victory against Eton’s top pair, showing progress in the few weeks since we played them. They are pictured (right) in final against Cambridge University 1st pair.
As is usual in fives, anyone scratching the surface by walking by the courts in the week would see apparent mayhem. Out of all this come quality fives pairs. No-one quite knows how.