2014 EFA Trophy Qualifiers: Harrow to the rescue
The qualifying rounds of the 2014 EFA Trophy took place at Harrow yesterday and produced a highly enjoyable day's Fives, with eight teams taking part and a huge number of close matches played. The final pair of the final match eventually determined who made it through to the semi-finals on Sunday 2nd March and it will be Old Salopians v Old Wulfrunians and Aldenham v Oxford University to see who makes it through to the final.
With most of Eton under water and the Fives courts there threatening to turn into a tributary of the Thames, the eight teams entered into the 2014 EFA Trophy were grateful to the person who decided to build Harrow on top of a hill and also to James Poole for allowing us to switch the tourrnament to the Harrow courts at short notice.
This year's tournament featured some hardy perennials such as the Old Salopians, Old Wulfrunians, Windsor and Eton/Wycombe and North Oxford (with enough players for two teams this year) as well as last year's surprise finalists the Monday Knights and some returning teams from previous years in Oxford University and Aldenham. The result was an eight team round robin qualifying round, with all the teams playing each other across three pairs, with each game being played to 12.
First out of the blocks were the Old Salopians, led by the evergreen Grant Williams, who took on old rivals the Old Wulfrunians in the first game of the day and came out 3-0 winners, although two of the games were won 12-11. This set the pattern for the day, as a huge number of games went down to the wire, with 12-11 the most popular scoreline of the day. The first round of games also saw two significant retirements - the Wulfrunians' Andy Husselbee and North Oxford's Justin Shaw both going in the fetlock early on. Thankfully two supersubs were on hand as Wendy Carling became an honorary Wulfrunian for the day, going on to perform some third pair heroics and playing a key part in the their eventual qualification, and Simon Warren-Thomas stepped in to make up a full North Oxford complement, with youngster Jack Parham moving up to the North Oxford A team to replace Justin.
Oxford University and Aldenham, neither of whom played in last year's competition, soon began to show that they were serious contenders. Even without the inspirational leadership of the injured Phil Lyndon, the Aldenham squad looked young (well some of them anyway), determined and fluorescent, with shirts outdoing even Windsor & Eton for once. A last minute selectorial masterstroke from Oxford's skipper Jack Flowers had convinced Oxford Brookes student Sam Welti and Jack's younger brother Harry to complement their strong bona fide Dark Blue four and their strength in depth paid off, with third pair Ed Birkett and Max Wintle in particular mastering the art of winning close games, coming out on top of all four of their matches that went to 11-11.
Moving in to the last round of matches, it was clear that defending champions the Old Salopians were going to top the group, that Aldenham and Oxford University looked pretty secure in second and third and that fourth place was going to be between the Wulfrunians and the Monday Knights, the embodiment of on court chivalry and sartorial elegance. Neither of these things were enough to spare them from a 3-0 defeat at the hands of the Salopians in the last round of matches, which left them anxiously watching the Wulfrunians/Aldenham clash. The Midlanders, twice winners of this competition in recent years, needed to win two of the three pairs to pip the Monday Knights to the last qualifying place and this they duly did.
The two North Oxford sides and the combined Windor & Eton/Wycombe team were a bit further down the leaderboard, but all three performed creditably all day, with some narrow defeats and a few inspirational victories to remember.
The semi-finals will take place at Eton on Sunday 2nd March at 11am, with the final and 3rd/4th place match in the afternoon. All the matches should be well worth watching!
My thanks go to all those who played, to the team captains for their organisational efforts and to James Poole at Harrow for stepping in and saving the day.
1 Old Salopians 18
2 Oxford University 16
3 Aldenham 15
4 Old Wulfrunians 13
5 Monday Knights 12
6 North Oxford A 5
7 North Oxford B 3
8 Windsor & Eton / Wycombe 2
Old Salopians v Old Wulfrunians
Oxford University v Aldenham