As I lay in bed last night listening to the wind and the rain desperately trying to join me in my cosy bed (it failed, as my house is made of bricks), my mind suddenly focused on this article. Yes, the weather is so inclement, it must be the season to stand outside a Fives court watching those inside spend three hours trying to exercise their superiority over each other.
Not, I hasten to add, that Fives is a bad spectator sport; it is just that the viewing areas for spectators at all the great Fives arenas I have visited are not set up for warmth, comfort or dryness. I am considering requesting that a video link be set up to the TV in Quod, where one can sit and watch in the warm with a cup of tea on a nice sofa!
The first major Fives event of the term is on the horizon, as a whole host of our finest exponents of highly sophisticated glove work head for the courts at the ‘Shrewsbury of the South’. There they will take on fellow competitors from Highgate, Eton and Harrow. Will it be a step too far? We will have to wait and see!
For those of you not versed in the language of Fives, ‘Step’ means that if you win the next point assuming you have the serve – you will win the game currently being played. A server on ‘Step’ has to keep one of their feet off the step; failure to do so can lead to the loss of serve for both members of the pair! (My source for this information is none other than the reigning World Fives Champion Seb Cooley, who is also Master in Charge of Fives at Shrewsbury School.)
I visited the Shrewsbury courts to see how training for the forthcoming battles was going. The first thing I noticed was how busy the courts were. All 14 courts were full and the enthusiasm and enjoyment was a joy to behold. In one court I noticed three members of the under-14 elite squad were ‘toying’ with a more mature looking junior pro. Dan Nicholas admitted to me that he had never made it into the under 14 A Fives team when he was at school but that he thought he was in with a chance this year. “I am in with a chance this year,” he said with the look of someone who lacks a little confidence in the selectors.
His opponents and playing partner were quick to tell me how much they were enjoying a sport that all of them had only recently discovered. Oscar Mattinson enjoys the way in which the ball bounces of all the walls although it can be a bit confusing and hypnotic. “I sometimes find myself a bit out of it and pretending to be a washing machine,” he told me. Archie Mobbs likes to scare his opponents with loud yells and scary faces. He has watched Brave Heart 45 times and Last of the Mohicans twice. Joe Kynaston likes the feel of the ball on his hand. “It is something akin to a hand massage and gives me a strange sense of power. It is almost as if I am shooting a web from my hand.” Joe has watched all the Spiderman movies.
In the next court were more elite under-14 players. Will Hope and Toby Cope are a partnership because their names rhyme. When I asked them if they were looking forward to visiting Eton they told me, “We hope we can cope with the pressure of the situation.” I asked them if they had any lucky charms or rituals they indulge in before a big match. Will Hope admitted to carrying a picture of the Pope and Toby has his lucky piece of rope. They also promised that they will not mope if they lose! … There is scope for more but we will stop there!
Fingal Dickins has developed a keen interest in Fives having realised you can play in a warm room and keep dry. I would beg to differ with Fingal about the warm room aspect of a Fives court, but then I have never visited the Dickins family cave. Frenchman Antoine Legeais claimed not to be a regular Fives player, but I could see that he was being sucked into the squad by the generosity with which they gifted him points and boosted his confidence.
Antoine informed me, “I enjoy les cinqs and I think that if there were more cinqs courts in France it could become a very popular game. I am lucky to live in Shrewsbury and be educated and taught at this very fine school where I have an opportunity to play Fives every day and be coached by a World Champion.” Fingal told me that Antoine’s Head of School campaign has started well and he just hopes he can maintain it for the next four years.
In another court I found some of the top squad playing with World Fathers and Sons Champion Grant Williams. Stefan Cottey and Matt White have been playing together for a while and last season made the last 16 of the Nationals. Matt enjoys the considerable improvement in his hand-eye co-ordination that he gets from playing Fives. I can verify this, as I teach Matt and he can write now. Grant reminded him that he also enjoys excellent coaching.
James Harris was enjoying a return to Fives from rugby and gave me two reasons for his switch of codes. “Firstly, I have studied this year’s long range weather forecast; and secondly, if I am honest I found playing rugby was like banging my head against a brick wall and I would prefer to do that with my hands.”
It was at this stage that I felt I was getting frozen and thought I too would venture into the courts to take some action shots as the players ‘let it go’! This was quite brave, as the ball was being hit at a considerable velocity; indeed so fast that you cannot see it in some photos.
Before I left, I also had a chance to catch up with Fives Captain George Lewis, fresh from his captaincy of the Cricket Tour to the UAE and South Africa (see last week’s report).
George was with George Panayi, Jack Fox and Luke Lloyd-Jones (in the photo above), all of whom are hoping to be on the bus to Eton. George Panayi remarked that he liked the sociability of such trips, although he did admit that everyone takes a pillow and sleeps the whole way. Jack Fox and George Lewis are hoping to hear more of Seb Cooley’s excellent music collection.
Coaches Matt Barratt and Torin Morgan (below) were also looking forward to a trip to London.
For the junior squads, it is all part of building experience, Dr Morgan told me. He went on to tell me that the Shrewsbury players develop faster than elsewhere, as we train at a higher intensity. This is necessary, as some of southern prep schools play Fives and therefore have an edge in the younger age groups – but not for long!
I left the fives courts just as the elite under-14 girls were starting to train under the watchful eye of Andy Barnard – a veteran player if there ever was one! They are preparing for a tournament at Berkhamstead on Tuesday and they told me they are quietly confident, or at least that’s what I thought they said.
Fives is a very sociable game as there can be mixed pairs in terms of gender, age and ability. One thing was clear from my visit to the Peter Worth Shrewsbury School Fives courts. Fives is thriving at Shrewsbury and a lot of fun is being had by all. As Borat would say, High Fives!