Michael Constantinidi 1928-2019: A Tribute
26/02/20: That Eton fives should become a headline in an obituary in both The Times and The Daily Telegraph, endorses the considerable achievements of the EFA's former Chairman and President, Michael Constantinidi.
Described as a ‘genial adman’ and a ‘traditional sports enthusiast’, who helped to widen the appeal of Eton fives, Michael has been one of the game's greatest champions.
Michael came from a distinguished Greek family: his father was a diplomat, who had represented his country at the signing of the Versailles Treaty and then worked at the Greek Embassy in London. His mother, a good lawn tennis player - one of the last to have served underarm at Wimbledon - died when he and his twin brother, George, were seven years old, and the boys were sent to prep school at Scaitliffe; there Michael learned to to play Rugby fives. He entered Eton in 1941 and immediately developed a passion for the Eton variety. He won the School Fives with AL Cleland in 1946. After national service he went up to Christ Church, Oxford, to read Law and won half blues for Eton fives in 1949, 1950 and 1951; he was a member of Vincent's Club.
After coming down from Oxford and a brief period in accountancy, Michael joined the advertising firm, SH Benson, to be taken over by Ogilvy and Mather, and he later set up his own agency, BCB, which included amongst its clients, Brittany Ferries and Guinness. It was in advertising that Michael made his name.
For over 50 years, Michael was a mainstay of the Old Etonian Fives Club and when the vacancy arose for the Chairmanship of the EFA, their President, Lord Aberconway, suggested that Michael might be persuaded to apply. He was elected and filled the position with flair and vision for seven years. He later said that it was one of the best decisions of his life.
Although he disclaimed involvement, Michael was one of the prime movers behind the building of the first public courts to be built since the 1930s at Westway Sports Centre in Notting Dale.
Under Michael’s chairmanship, entries for the School Championships increased significantly; communication with players and members was improved with better reporting and a new website; liaison with our sister organisation, the Rugby Fives Association, led to the formation of a Fives Forum. There was no area of the game that Michael’s hand did not touch: the laws and rules were revised and published; a professional administrator was appointed; defunct courts reclaimed and new ones built. Michael realised the importance of coaching and was ready to tackle less glamorous but essential issues such as the supply and distribution of gloves and balls, equal opportunities, risk assessment, insurance cover, health and safety and child protection.
One of the great advantages to the game of having an Old Etonian at the helm was to draw the EFA closer to the home of the game. The Association was fortunate through Michael’s offices to be allowed to use College Hall for its annual dinner during the Schools’ Championships, until that became impractical for other reasons.
The radical developments in the organisation of Eton fives from someone who brought business acumen and a professional approach to an amateur sport, could have ruffled a few feathers, but Michael’s steely determination – to be witnessed in his competitiveness on the fives court – was always accompanied by a disarming smile and disclaiming hand movements.
At the end of his term as Chairman, Michael continued to play a major role in the furtherance of the game: he secured the services of the next Chairman, Richard Barber, and himself became President of the EFA and the Oxford University EFC. Michael was a regular attender and valued contributor at EFA board meetings beyond his 90th birthday.
Both in his lifetime and his bequests Michael has been extremely generous to both Eton College and the Eton Fives Charitable Trust. His generosity will greatly assist the Association and Trust’s efforts to spread Eton fives into state sector schools and he has been advising Eton College on the detailed plans for rebuilding their indoor sports facilities. The proposed new Fives pavilion at Eton will carry his name.
In 1956, Michael married Joan Price. The couple had no children and Joan was to become a successful businesswoman in her own right as proprietor of Joan Price's Face Place, a beauty salon at two locations in Chelsea, and as beauty editor of The Queen magazine (later Harpers & Queen). Among her clients was Margaret Thatcher, then Prime Minister. However Joan was to be immortalised in a poem by John Betjeman, Lenten Thoughts of a High Anglican, written one day in Grosvenor Chapel, Mayfair, where they both worshipped and Michael was a sidesman. Betjeman, who had never met Michael or Joan, thrust the poem into Michael's hand after the service; he was delighted.
Joan was a great support to Michael in all his endeavours – as he was to her in hers – and she was often to be seen at fives dinners until her loss of hearing made social events a trial.
Amongst the many accolades on Michael's passing was the tribute from Lord Waldegrave, Provost of Eton: "…[Michael was] a life enhancer, a wit, a person, whose energy and good humour were infectious and who would make a dinner party fun and memorable". To the game of Eton fives he was more than that: he was one of the great heroes of our game.
Gordon Stringer/Dale Vargas/Mike Fenn - with acknowledgement to The Times and The Daily Telegraph.