I hope you all had a very Happy Christmas and that you have had a good start to the year. I know you will now want to know if I have too. The answer is a resounding yes. My family and I went to Lapland to see Father Christmas and learn how to ski and drive snowmobiles, husky- and reindeer-sleds. We spent a week inside the Arctic Circle in Finland and apparently it was warm for the time of year as it was only minus 12°C. Ironically, we nearly got snowed into the UK and were lucky that Manchester Airport was unaffected by the snow that submerged Shropshire.
Being a true professional, one of the reasons I was keen to spend a week in sub-zero temperatures (apart from when I was in the sauna) was to condition my body for the hours I will be spending over the next few weeks watching Lent Term sports. I am now able to watch Fives in my jacket and no overcoat for up to 15 minutes.
Sadly some of my colleagues have not been quite so far-sighted. Mr Andrew Barnard took the 1st XI cricket team to Perth in Australia and found the weather to be quite warm. “It was quite hot in Australia,” he told me as he shivered in his smart red Shrewsbury School player layer coat. “It is quite cold here in Shrewsbury,” he observed with his usual incisive powers of perception. Mr Barnard is a geography teacher and they love talking about the weather. “I love talking about the weather,” Mr Barnard said as he glanced down at the weather app on his phone. I was just about to ask him how he thought the girls he coaches would do this term when his phone rang and he went off to talk to Mr Fox about whether the cold front would mean that he would need de-icer for his car in the morning.
I caught up with Georgie Nicholas and Adelaide Sillar, who told me they are the number 1 pair for the Under-15 girls’ team. I was unable to corroborate my findings as their coach was looking at the long-term forecast for June and thinking about whether he would need spinners or fast bowlers for the fixtures on Speech Day.
Adelaide and Georgie both did very well last year when playing with experienced campaigners such as Ella Windle and Izzy Wong. This year they are hoping to become a formidable pair and destroy all who dare to step on the court with them. I enquired as to whether they really liked Fives and they said they enjoyed the banter with the coaches Mr Barnard and Gwen Davies. Georgie asked me not to make too much of her success as her dad Dan is still coming to terms with never making it into a Fives team when he was at Shrewsbury and is still valiantly hoping to catch Mr Cooley’s eye. “He practised every day of the holidays and I have tried to gently suggest that he takes up Crown Green bowls, but he is still determined to make it as a Fives player. Why else do you think he returned to teach at Shrewsbury?”
I gently asked Mr Nicholas about his Fives playing ambition. His eyes clouded over and with faraway look he told me; “I just want to stand on a court with a Shrewsbury School shirt on and play the best game of Fives I am capable of. Is that too much to ask?” Mr Cooley told me that it was.
The Under-14 and Under-15 girls’ teams are full of promise. “I promise to try really hard,” said Ashleigh Pegge. “I have promised Father Christmas to be really good this year,” said Hetta Harris. I did not have the heart to point out to her that Mr Barnard, despite his red coat and smart little beard, is not infact Father Christmas. But then again, maybe he is... He was strangely absent just before Christmas...
Eibhilin Moore is finding Fives to be a real joy and Charlotte Waterhouse thinks she might enjoy taking out her aggression on the court. Charlotte Russell and Kim Barnett were keen to start playing what Kim described as “the rare sport” and Imogen Morgan enjoys Fives because it is fun. They are all very keen to purchase some new navy-blue leggings so that they look the part. “Navy-blue is my favourite colour,” Kim told me.
The Under-15 boys’ squad under the watchful eye of Dr Morgan were warming up for what promises to be another good season. “There is a lot of promise here,” said Dr Morgan.
In another court, French number 1 Antoine Legais was training with Giles Mcloughlin, James Hinwood and Joe Kynaston. Antoine is considered to be the finest French player on the courts at the moment, though Mr Cooley was having trouble thinking of any other great French Fives players.
The Under-14s have a squad of 39 players, which suggests that their coach Mr Barrett will have his hands full. “I think I will have my hands full,” said Mr Barrett as he held on to three balls, a hat, a scarf and five training tops.
Joe Archer and Harry Cooke were playing one of their first games of Fives and enjoying doing something new. “It is great to be learning a new sport,” they told me. “I bet you can’t do this at many schools. What a rich and varied sporting diet we are lucky enough to have here at Shrewsbury,” they both said at once. It certainly seems that the choice of sporting options at Shrewsbury is indeed like a smorgåsbord of delights.
Tom ‘smorgåsbord’ Bromley-Davenport was part of a group of senior players who were training with World Champion Fives player and Master in Charge of Fives Seb Cooley. Tom reminded me of a Team of the Week I wrote about the Under-14 football team when he was in the Third Form and I apparently gave them all nicknames. I promised that would never happen again.
Tom is hoping to be in the School first pair. He takes his Fives very seriously and chose not to improve his cricket in case he had to go to Australia with the first team squad. “That would have seriously affected my cold-climate conditioning. I have seen Mr Barnard and the lads who went to Perth struggling to adapt back to the perfect Fives conditions we have here at present. I am delighted I just had a quiet Christmas concentrating on my courting.”
‘Genial’ George Garratt agreed that although he had tried to protect himself from the sun, it had been difficult not to catch a few rays when he was out in Perth. “Most of their batsman were called Ray,” he explained.
Other players keen to make into the first pair include Peter Clark, Karist Ng, Gen Songthanmakul, Arthur Garratt and Archie Free. Actually Archie was keen to state that he played Fives for fun and that he did not intend to make a career out of it, unlike Mr Cooley (rumoured to be the ‘Neymar’ of the Fives world).
Finally I must mention Will (not Peter) Sissons. Will has come to Shrewsbury on a September transfer from Rydal Penrhos. He was very modest about the transfer fee but as he was National Under-13 Champion, rumours are circulating that it was considerable. When asked, Mr Cooley merely stated, ‘I wanted him and the Chairman obliged!’ Without putting Will under too much pressure, all I will say is that he is a Welsh Champion Fives player and cricketer and he is promising a lot!
So it would seem that there is a lot of promise being displayed on the very busy and popular Shrewsbury Fives courts. I look forward to popping out of my warm office and watching the odd point from time to time! Good luck to all the handy players I met and the ones I didn’t too!