2010 Veterans Tournament: the Golden Oldies shine in the sun at Eton

Graham Pulsford reports:

The Veterans Tournament took place at Eton on Sunday 18th April with 17 pairs taking part in a veritable festival of Fives. With a combined age of 283, Messrs Whitehead D, Whitehead G, Cooper and Stringer may have set some sort of record in their match, whilst at the younger end of the spectrum the Open tournament was won by Mike Hughes and Grant Williams, who defeated defending champions Graham Pulsford and Courtney Friend in a close final.

The twenty-sixth Veterans Tournament was held on Sunday 18th April at Eton College in glorious sunshine and with the normal good humour and bonhomie. It was particularly pleasing to welcome a large number of spectators including Jim Fredenham, Lady Nancy Fredenham, Gareth Hoskins, John Reynolds and Joe Seelig.

The traditional format had been amended to encourage more entries. In addition to the Open Competition for the MJS-J Cup there were categories for the over 40s, over 50s and over 60s. Each match was a single game to 15. The only concession to age was that the younger pair had to cut first!

The new format attracted an encouraging number of new entrants and we were particularly pleased to welcome David Blofield, Will Campion, David Martin, Richard Murray, Tony Walters, Peter Worth and Chris Yaxley on the day.

In the Open Tournament there was some high quality Fives from the start. Pool A became a three way battle between Chris Davies/Chris Lloyd, David Blofield/Peter Worth and Mike Hughes/Grant Williams to reach the semi finals. The two Chrises narrowly missed out and proceeded to take their revenge out on Paul Kendall/Phil Lyndon in a remarkably quick execution of a normally competent pair.

In Pool B the Wulfrunian pair Chris Moore/Mark Yates started strongly whilst the scratch pairing of Patrick Gibbs/Will Campion became more effective as the afternoon progressed; Patrick managed to take a venomous hit to the eye which left him looking ‘more scoundrel than saint’ in readiness for a court appearance (on the side of the righteous) the next day! Despite this the experienced pairs Nick Bunyan/Pete Scholey and Courtney Friend/Graham Pulsford eased their way to the semi-finals.

The first semi-final was a closely fought affair with Mike Hughes/Grant Williams coming from 5-9 down to overcome stubborn resistance from Nick Bunyan/Pete Scholey. The second semi-final was a more straightforward win for Courtney Friend/Graham Pulsford against David Blofield/Peter Worth in a game notable for the large number of top step winners from both pairs.

The final was a good, clean and open contest. The players each did what we have come to expect from them and the spectacle was worthy of the large group of spectators. Mike Hughes was attacking and accurate, Grant was fast and aggressive, Courtney was elastic and unpredictable and Graham was calm and unflappable. Fives is a game of hazards and Graham, although playing the shot of the day to extended applause*, also managed to hit six shots out of court from the most unlikely of positions. The final score was 15-12 to Mike Hughes/Grant Williams to complete a hat trick of victories.

The Over 40s competition was won by Spencer Chapman/Mark Platt. This age category was the one most decimated by the flight ban caused by the outpouring of the Icelandic volcano which left players stranded as far apart as Brussels, Budapest and Toronto. The suggestion (or is it allegation - Patrick?) that Spencer had paid the remaining opposition to stay away to gain yet more silverware was refuted in the nicest terms, but remains unproven. It will be tougher next year!

The Over 50s competition was completed at 6.10pm as four thoroughly exhausted players staggered off the court. Peter Boughton/Simon Woolfries had managed a 15-12 victory over Andrew Fraser/Neil Margerison after a tremendous and lengthy struggle (at one stage it looked unlikely that Simon would be able to remain upright, let alone finish the game!) The Heath pair could count themselves unlucky as in a previous game they had managed to beat the newly anointed Over 40s champions!

The Over 60s competition was won by Tony Walters/Chris Yaxley who won 15-11 in an intriguing tussle with Derek Whitehead/Gordon Whitehead. This group also included stalwarts David Cooper and Gordon Stringer; rumour has it that in one game the total age of the four players was 283? Derek Whitehead, at a young 77, confirmed that this was potentially his last Veterans Tournament and if so it was fitting that his last game was a 15-0 victory!!

The MJS-J Cup was presented to the new holders by Gordon Stringer (who always manages to find the right words to say). The players then retired to the Henry V for liquid refreshment and good conversation. Nick Bunyan was in fine form, although his trick with the empty crisp packet was a little loud. Courtney and Pete chatted amiably as the rest of the players listened and slowly relaxed. As the players finally dispersed Simon Woolfries was walked to his car…just in case he didn’t make it…….

Finally my thanks to all competitors for taking part and, more importantly, for taking part in the spirit of the competition. Martin S-J would have enjoyed that.

* If anyone is interested enough to ask about the shot of the day I would be most happy to talk them through it…again and again…

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