Gray and Watts Win in Ipswich
The 2016 edition of the Ipswich Tournament was won by OIs Oli Watts and James Gray, who beat Seb Cooley and his Ipswich schoolboy partner Tom Conway in the final after an excellent weekend's Fives, which proved that this tournament - first played in 1979 - is in fine fettle and flourishing more than ever.
There were 17 pairs converging on the pavilion on Saturday morning to do battle; firstly over Charlotta Cooley's enormous cake which was finished before lunch on the first day (rather like one or two of the tournament participants) some pairs were persuaded to venture onto the courts to start proceedings. Saturday's play featured three groups, with the pairs in each looking to make it to the Sunday morning quarter-finals. Assessing the runners and riders before a ball has been struck is a notoriously tricky business thanks to the large number of variables: age, injury, form, chocolate and/or alcohol consumption and the very nature of "Boughton's Excellently Even Redistribution" handicap system that comes up with the pairings, a variation of the previously used "Caudle Random Algorithm for Pairs"*, which included the controversial "whatever the results the organiser shall be in the final" clause.
Group 2 was dominated by Watts - back from Singapore for his annual outing - and Gray, with Alex Yusaf and Isaac Weaver through in second place. Giant of the game Cooley and his partner Conway won the Group 1 decider 12-11 against organiser - and new OIEFC President - Peter Boughton and Dominic Barker with Karen Hird and Piers Prior taking the third qualifying slot. Group 3 was complicated by being won by Cameron Lyle and Toryn Whitehead, who were unable to play on Sunday, which meant the other pairs shuffled up a place, creating disturbing echos of the discredited Caudle algorithm as the aging hipster (well he has two new ones) and his uberveteran partner Nigel Cox scraped into the last eight behind Charlotta Cooley and tournament debutant Phil Lyndon and Simon Cass & Sarah Frost.
The Saturday evening dinner was even better attended than the Fives, with several non-players sheepishly showing their faces with some food and port in the offing (yes that means you, Wagland). Notable too was the reappearance of Fives legend Courtney Friend, who even managed to make it on court briefly in the plate alongside Simon Woolfries on Sunday morning before going in the fetlock and retiring from Fives for the 13th successive year. We look forward to welcoming him out of retirement and then duly ushering him back into it next year. Wagers were also struck regarding the outcome of the OI Fives club's 50th anniversary extravaganza in October; one or two were about the possible winners although the majority were made on the length of Mike Fenn's speech.
Proceedings continued on the Sunday morning in typical fashion with delays until the Greyhound had finished serving breakfast and some fairly ropy early exchanges, with the school staff representative playing particularly gently. There were no shocks in the quarter-finals, although Cooley (S) & Conway only just squeaked through against Cass and Frost and they were joined in the last four by Cooley (C) & Lyndon, Gray & Watts and Boughton & Barker.
The plate meanwhile was in full swing, despite the sad early summoning of the white screens and a couple of vets for the forlorn Friend and the absence of plate specialist Tony Stubbs, unable to play again this year as he was too busy carrying out research for his soon to be published definitive magnum opus "Service Stations of the A12 and M25". Volume 2 (Service Stations of the A14 and M6) is expected some time in 2017 and Tony is currently taking pre-orders. Keep checking Amazon as supply is unlikely to keep pace with demand.
One or two new faces appeared for the plate, with Tom Hoskins becoming the third generation from his family to take part in the Graves Cup, partnering the other Watts sibling Izzy. Tim Fletcher and Louise Rymell were the other new faces, joining the previous day's non-qualifiers. Neither of the two new pairs were able to match their battle-hardened opponents and the plate final was a demonstration of the success of the Boughton handicap system, with last year's main tournament winners now in opposition as Ralph Morgan and Matt Crowe beat Steve Burnell and Mandie Barnes to the prize.
Watts & Gray were still looking to be the pair to beat in the main tournament, cruising past Lyndon and Cooley (C) in the first semi while Cooley (S) & Conway needed three tight games to overcome Boughton & Barker. The final was a splendid game, with young Tom Conway rising to the occasion, rewarding the patience of his father who had spent the day standing watching in the pouring rain. In the end, though, Watts and Gray were too strong and deservedly won in straight games, allowing Oli Watts to claim his first ever win in a Fives tournament.
As always, huge thanks are due to Peter Boughton and everyone at Ipswich School for putting on such a great tournament and making everyone so welcome, to all the guests who came and joined in and to all the Ipswichians who always know what they will be doing on the first weekend in January.
*rarely known by its acronym except in certain exceptional circumstances**
**usually by the then organiser when his special clause didn't work
J.Gray & O.Watts beat K.Hird & P.Prior 15-10
P.Lyndon & C.Cooley beat A.Yusaf & I.Weaver 15-6
S.Cooley & T.Conway beat S.Cass & S.Frost 15-14
P.Boughton & D.Barker beat N.Cox & J.Caudle 15-3
J.Gray & O.Watts beat P.Lyndon & C.Cooley 12-5, 12-9
S.Cooley & T.Conway beat P.Boughton & D.Barker 13-11, 11-13, 12-6
J.Gray & O.Watts beat S.Cooley & T.Conway 12-7, 12-8
R.Morgan & M.Crowe beat S.Burnell & M.Barnes 12-4
K.Hird & P.Prior beat A.Yusaf & I.Weaver 12-10