Richard Barber Cup 2014: Olave's On Top

Grant Williams reports:

Oct 2014: A warm October Sunday saw the fourth Richard Barber Cup contested at Eton College.

This trophy is contested between teams of three current and three former pupils of the same school. The competition was designed to bridge the gap between school and old boy fives, to introduce the school players to the world of club fives and in the process make the transition that much smoother.

The competition has continued to build traction within a very busy fives calendar and this year saw nine teams from seven different school competing. We welcomed a team from Highgate for the very first time and Emanuel back for a second appearance. St Olave’s (holders) entered two teams as did Shrewsbury and there were also teams from Eton, Harrow and Ipswich.

It was great sight to see 54 fives players on the courts in the morning sunshine. The ages ranged from a fourth former at Highgate (who won the U14s last year) to Tony Walters Senior who is now over 70.

The draw was split into two groups of four and five. The Organiser, a little inexperienced with the split of the draw, received some words of wisdom from Gareth Hoskins and Howard Wiseman to reduce the playing time of some of the group matches to avoid players missing work on Monday.

Pool one consisted of five teams playing one game to 12 with the top two pairs going through. St Olave’s as the holders were the clear favourites to top the group and quickly set about their business against Shrewsbury 2 and Ipswich. It was difficult to determine who might come out on top in the match between Harrow and Highgate with The Cholms such an unknown quantity. In the end Harrow won first and third to win the rubber 2-1 putting them in pole position. Ipswich turned over Shrewsbury 2, Highate and Harrow then took maximum points against Ipswich, but Harrow dropped their third pair to Shrewsbury. This left Highgate and Harrow on level points with them both to play St Olave’s, a daunting task for both, but Harrow knew that provided the results were the same for both teams they would go through having won the rubber. Harrow lost 3-0 to Olave’s but Highgate took second pair, upsetting the bookies’ odds and sending Olave’s and Highgate through to the semi-finals.

Pool two also promised to be a close run thing with Eton and Shrewsbury most likely to battle it out for top dog but Emanuel were also looking very strong. Could there be an upset? Olave’s 2 looked like they might be in a little trouble in this group but provided the upset that altered everything. Eton comprised a very youthful team including last year’s national schools champion and they powered their way through the group (matches to 15) by taking three points against Emanuel and Olave’s 2 but dropping a critical game against Shrewsbury’s first pair. Shrewsbury looked as though they were never going to get started, losing 1-2 to Eton and 1-2 to Emanuel. They then took 3 points against Olave’s 2 but it looked most likely that Emanuel would go through. However they lost 0-3 to Eton and dropped the crucial 3rd pair to St Olave’s. As we all huddled around the scoreboard planning the semis, there was an assumption that Emanuel were through. The latest result was akin to The England World Cup qualifiers that invariably goes down to the maths.

Despite a very short break for lunch it was already 3 o’clock when the semis got under way. These were to be best of three and pitted Olave’s 1 against Shrewsbury 1 and Highgate against Eton. Olave’s powered through first and second pairs quite convincingly although Shrewsbury’s 2nd pair did take a game off Matt Wiseman who then really upped his game in the third. The third pair though was a very close match. Howard Wiseman was playing with young Charlie against Peter Stewart and Tom Breese (last years Nationals U16 winner). The whole match was a thriller and even though the rubber had already been decided both pairs wanted to carry on to the conclusion as it was such a good game with the Salopians running out winners; this was possibly the match of the day in its closeness and intensity, matched by its sense of fair play.

In the other semi, Highgate were pitched against Eton. This also proved to be a very close match that could have gone either way. The courts were awash with previous national champions at both schoolboy and club level and the standard was extremely high. Highgate won third pair. 2nd pair was a very close run thing with Highgate ahead in both games but the Etonian pair dug in, made few mistakes and deservedly won. Everything hinged on first pair with previous open winner Johnny Ho (OC) taking on Etonian James Piggot, last year’s winner. A fascinating game of attacking fives saw Eton coming out winners and securing their place in the final.

As it was now already 5:30 it was decided that the final would be one game to 15. Despite the tough semi-final, the Etonians agreed to start straight away.

In the meantime the Plate competition was underway and once again with all five teams playing there was lots of action. It seemed likely that it would be battled out between Emanuel and Harrow and that was more or less what happened but the other three teams all contributed to what was another very exciting tournament. Emanuel beat Harrow 2-1, winning 2nd and 3rd and looked to be favourites but went on to drop a pair against Olave’s 2 and Ipswich and two pairs against Shrewsbury. Harrow dropped two pairs against Olave’s. Yet again it all came down to the maths.

Harrow finally won the Plate accumulating 8 points, one more than Emanuel and St.Olave’s.

Well done to all these teams that stayed so very late to finish even though there were long journeys ahead.

Meanwhile back at the final, some fatigue had set in but it was nevertheless a fantastic finale with the Old Olavians winning 2-1 and lifting the trophy deservedly for a third successive year. Richard Barber kindly awarded the eponymous trophy to a jubilant Olave’s team.

The day was played in the most tremendous spirit, the organiser receiving many warming comments and plentiful emails attesting to the harmonious nature of this tournament that brings out all the best there is in fives. The younger generation seemed quite surprised (in a pleasant way) that the golden oldies are approachable and occasionally fun, it looked as though the main aim of the competition to bring fives players of all ages together in a fun but competitive environment met all its goals. We hope that the Richard Barber Cup will continue to grow in stature, numbers and importance for both clubs and schools alike. It was wonderful to have Highgate and the Old Cholms back competing at the highest level which augers well for the future.

Everyone contributed to the day in so many different ways especially in spirit and fair play but one very special mention must go out to Ellie Morgan of the Ipswichians as the only female player of the day who held her own brilliantly and played the whole tournament with a beaming smile, although that did disappear when she smashed the ball directly into the face of Tony Walters. We don’t think we have ever seen anyone so apologetic on court…ever!

There was another great moment when Matt Wiseman asked "Who's bleeding on court?" - no-one could work it out - turned out it was the Ipswichian schoolboy who hadn't even noticed, they breed them tough in Suffolk

Thank you for all your support without which the day would not have been possible. Please put October 11th 2015 in your diaries for a re-run.

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