As well as a few league squad regulars, the occasion attracted a large school contingent, some recent school leavers and a couple of players who've been away from the game for a while. Club stalwart Neil Margerison presented the cup after the event, held at Highgate ... then we all went down to the Bull And Last pub just off Hampstead Heath for supper. The cup itself was the gift of club captain Giles Coren.
Neil Margerison's take on events was as follows:
The preparations and arrangements made, twenty two hopeful and expectant Westminster Fives players arrived at Highgate School lower courts on a warm and sunlit September afternoon. They sought combat, reunion, recognition, a silver cup, and roast beef and ale – and found all these and more in spite of padlocked gates, grey-bearded interference, and a mother and dog.
Two pools of five and six, respectively, where each pair played every other meant either four or five single games per pool – balance attempted by making the four up to 15 and the five up to 12.
Although the pairs were drawn at random the tale of Pool A is easily told as two pairs were soon established as clear favourites. Laurie Brock and Riki Houlden were models of consistency through their first three games, the closest being with Peter Kennedy and Ben Merrett (noted colt), as the game edged to 7 all before running away from the less experienced pair to finish 15-7. By contrast Giles Coren and Nick Lorch contrived to come from behind, clearly enjoying the longer game to 15 – most notably against Callum Brock and Alex Wessely whose solid play took them to 8-1 and 11-7 up, only to finally succumb 13-15 after several fine shots from Giles (and one from Nick) that hit the brick.
In thee deciding match of the pool Laurie and Riki took an early lead at 7-0 before Giles and Nick began their expected comeback reaching 10-8 down before Laurie and Riki ran away fairly comfortable winners in the end 15-9. The surprise and most exciting match of the pool was between Callum and Alex and Freddie Krespi and Napper Tandy. A mix of determined play and scattered mistakes took the pairs to 9 all. Callum and Alex then nudged ahead at 12-10 only for Freddie and Napper to pull them back to 14 all. The pairs had to check that sudden death (sic) was indeed what was expected. A good return of cut and winning volley saw Callum and Alex just edge it.
Pool B was altogether more complicated and in the end both frustrating and thrilling. The late arrival of one or two and Miheer’s unavailability led to some rearrangement of pairs but also meant, happily, that everyone played. And of course the late starting game between Sam Williams and Shaneil Patel and Harry de Quetteville and James Sherwood, although finishing 6-12, and played with a blue ball, proved to be a lengthy one due to some fine cutting by all. The earlier and more comfortable wins for John Reynolds and Fred Tomlinson, and for Matt Chen and Edward Levy, meant there were eight players waiting for the late game to conclude. Somehow the pool never made up the time, in spite of the shorter games and finished well after pool A. In the second round, Will Illingworth and James Alster overcame Harry and James 12-10 in a tight and close fought contest. This result, in the end, would shape the outcome of the whole pool.
John and Fred progressed steadily and at times imperiously through their games, with John’s positional play and choice of shot always giving them the edge. Harry and James also won their next two games trading blows with Ed and Matt and with Will Reid and Adam Robinow, but always just too powerful and accurate. It was Will and James, though, who impressively and steadily won game after game, having lost their opener to John and Fred.
Frustratingly after three games each it turned out there was no combination of pairs that allowed all pairs to be playing. Edward and Neil checked this twice and then thought whether the organiser should be blamed. But the sun continued to shine - and it would mean less of an interval between the end of play and getting to the pub, so that was all right.
It looked as though the pool would be settled by the final game between John and Fred and Harry and James. The match was played as if all depended on it. There was more ‘talk’ in that one game than most of the others put together. It made unsettling and compelling viewing – and led to some stunning Fives. Harry and James took an early lead 2-0 and 4-2, but then a run of points including some fine returning and volleying from Fred took him and John 7-5 up. 7 all, 8‑7, 9-8 John and Fred kept their slim lead. Long, looped drives to hit the brick at the back more than once from John recalled Martin Shortland-Jones at his impish best (for those of us old enough to remember the old master, RIP).
A cut that hit the roof, and a drive that caught the very back edge of the court took John and Fred to match point, 11-8. Two fine cuts from James sent them straight down; and he and Harry’s all court play brought them back to 10-11. One stunning rally saw Harry recover a ball that had hit both the brick and a side wall: 11 all – sudden death. A drive from the back of the court, dipped off the front wall, John’s reply was just down: Harry and James had taken it.
Meanwhile Will and James’s 12-6 victory over Matt and Edward meant that there were three pairs with a 4 and 1 record [won 4, lost 1]; with each pair beating one of the others once [that early loss coming back to haunt Harry and James]. Will confirmed that adding up total points and points difference – whichever way you looked at it – John and Fred were the overall pool winners.
The final was between Laurie Brock and Riki Houlden and John Reynolds and Fred Tomlinson. Two more shots to the brick from John overturned a 0-2 early deficit, 4-2, and then a fine volley from Fred made it 5-2. Laurie and Riki dug in to pull back to 4-5, then from 4-7 down to 6-7. A spell of fine return of cut and confident rally play then saw Laurie and Riki move into a 9-7 lead, and a ball flying out off a ledge made it 10-7. John and Fred managed one further point. A let after a small scrum following some fine scrambling exemplified the fine spirit of the game. Laurie and Riki were worthy winners 12-8.
The Westminster Cup, donated by Giles Coren, and procured by John Reynolds, was presented to the winners by Neil Margerison (school captain in 1970/71).
The company transferred in convoy to the Bull and Last for scotch eggs, roast beef and a superb crumble. All agreed: We must do this again.