2013: St.Olave's retain the Richard Barber

Grant Williams reports:

Sunday 13th of October, venue Eton College, the fourth incarnation of The Richard Barber Cup, the tournament that pitches schoolboys/girls with Old Boys.

The 2013 event saw nine teams enter, a record, which led to a slightly unusual format. Representations were made by Eton, Ipswich, St Olaves x 2, Shrewsburyx 3, Emanuel and Harrow School. With such a large entry (27 pairs) a 10.30 start was absolutely necessary but this is Eton Fives so 11.15 wasn't bad considering the weather and distances covered by some of the traveling teams.

The tournament was run by Grant Williams in the absence of his namesake and an immediate googly was tossed up. The draw was split into two groups, seedings were quite challenging after St Olaves 1 and Shrewsbury 1 which meant that quite a few of the matches were going to be very interesting. The first Group comprised St Olaves 1, Shrewsbury II, Eton and Emanuel. The second Group made up from Ipswich, Shrewsbury I and III, Harrow and St Olaves II.

Group I was straightforward to organise with each match best of three, step at 11 regardless. The second group played what may well be the inaugural one game to 20, foot at 19 regardless. This really threw the cat amongst the pigeons. One would never have imagined the difference playing a much longer game would have. Everyone found this format quite exhausting, the additional level of concentration deciding when to push hard and when to soak up the pressure.

Despite the pessimistic forecast for the weather, the rain generally held off with only sporadic short showers and the kind of drizzle hardened Fives spectators dismiss with a pah!

Not only was the scoring format different, so was the catering. Lunch was advertised at the morning briefing for 1pm, as it transpired it ran from 1 until 2.30 as some of the matches ran and ran such was the parity of many of the pairs competing. The organiser took the unusual step of trying to keep all the participants at the courts with the promise of a BBQ. Many thanks to Nick Bunyan who kindly dropped off his BBQ with gas bottle full during the week. Many thanks also to Mark Williams who allowed it to be stored in his garden prior and post competition. The EFA kindly underwrote the food and drink with the top up on costs being met by a small contribution by senior players in employment thus enabling all students to eat and drink free of charge. This seemed to go down very well and kept the tournament processing apace. Burgers, hot dogs and chicken wings were the order of the day and many thanks to everyone for remaining very patient as the Bunyan Burners were pushed to their limit.

Pool matches eventually finished at 3pm. Some of the teams that had already qualified for the semi finals were naturally chomping at the bit to get cracking but the final draw was on a knife-edge as the pool matches in Group A and B went to the wire. In the end Eton qualified in a nail biting finish against Shrewsbury II but had to concede as one of their players took an injury to the eye (having suffered something similar in the semi final of the school nationals 6 months prior, wouldn't have happened at Ipswich!).

In Group B it went to the very last game which saw Harrow through to the semi finals, at one time it looked like being decided on points won throughout the day!

With Eton leaving and Emanuel withdrawing due to time pressures, the semi finals lined up as St Olaves 1 v Harrow and Shrewsbury 1 v Shrewsbury 2.

The plate competition was contested between Shrewsbury III, Ipswich and St Olaves II.

St Olaves went through beating Harrow and Shrewsbury 1 v Shrewsbury II was a great match. Of the 18 Shrewsbury players, Mike Hughes was the only player over 24 years of age (and only just!!).

The final promised to be closer than previous years and we were treated to some quality Fives. Richard Black rushed to be present for the prize giving from his Barber Cup game and was quite astonished at the quality of the final, not only by the old boys but by the way the school boys stepped up. These were not one sided matches dominated by the old boys, all the schoolboys contributed at every facet of the game, cutting, returning, volleying, a credit to all the youngsters playing.

St Olaves ran out comfortable winners on paper but the matches were closely fought and we would have to say that overall the gap is closing as the Shrewsbury youngsters mature and gain more club level experience.

EFA Chairman Richard Black presented the Richard Barber Trophy.

Captain Howard Wiseman was magnanimous as always and ensured the trophy was presented to their 13 year old ......who played well beyond his years and will clearly be a presence in the Fives world at school level and beyond for years to come.

The Ipswich team picked up the plate winners prize of a tin of chocolates to enjoy on the way home.

From the remarks on the day and the emails subsequently I can report that the tournament was very well received and enjoyed by all. It was a very long day, the finals finishing just before six but everyone went home exhausted and happy, a few of the senior players didn't recover until mid week which is always a good sign of a well contested Fives day.

To my mind The Richard Barber Cup serves a great purpose to bridge the gap between school players and club. By spending the day with senior players in a relaxed but competitive environment, the youngsters can see how enjoyable Fives can be and that age should make no difference at all, the common thread being mutual enjoyment and the redeeming feature of Eton Fives, the understanding of fair play. By keeping everyone at the courts for the whole day, more barriers were dissolved and new friendships formed. It is my sincere hope that this tournament grows to match its older brother for reverence and importance in the Fives calendar. On a personal note I beseech senior players at all clubs to try and enter a side in 2014, plan your fixtures accordingly but make sure The Richard Barber Cup is the first one in your diary. By building the relationship with your old school you will guarantee the future of your fives club as youngsters will want to play when they leave because they are already part of your club.

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