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Westminsters Win Thrilling Barber Cup Final

19/02/24: A magnificent and fluctuating Alan Barber Cup final in association with Advanta Wealth was won at Westway yesterday by the Old Westminsters.


Old Westminsters beat Old Olavians 2-1 at Westway 18/02/24:

R.Houlden & L.Brock beat J.Toop & M.Wiseman 3-1 (14-12, 12-1, 7-12, 12-6)

H.Young & I.Salim beat S.Cooley & T.Gallagher 3-2 (12-5, 12-0, 5-12, 6-12, 12-10)

B.Merrett & Quetteville lost to H.Wiseman & P.Sathiyamoorthy 1-3 (7-12, 12-6, 5-12, 7-12)


The Alan Barber Cup was first held in 1965 and this was therefore the 60th final in the competition's history. Until yesterday only eight teams* had ever won the trophy, with the Cholmeleians and Olavians both twenty-three times winners. The Old Westminsters therefore became the ninth different winners and in doing so denied the Olavians the chance to become the most successful team in the history of the competition.

The Olavian dominance in recent years has been extraordinary, with 22 wins in the last 24 years. That run has been built around a core group of players: Howard Wiseman has played in all 22 of those finals, with James Toop only missing one and Seb Cooley only two. With Matt Wiseman also having played in ten and fresh off a plane from Japan, the Westminsters were faced with a formidable amount of experience as well as Tom Gallagher and Prajeeth Sathiyamoorthy from the younger generation, neither of whom were new to this stage of the competition.

For once, though, the heavy artillery was not all on one side. Riki Houlden & Hugo Young have won both of this season's major tournaments so far and with Laurie Brock back from injury, the talented Issy Salim in the ranks and third pair back up from the improving Ben Merrett and veteran Harry de Quetteville, the Westminsters had a line up capable of putting the Olavians under pressure.

What followed was a fantastic match, one of the best three pair team matches I can remember seeing, with all three pairs ebbing and flowing with both teams seemingly heading for victory at different stages before it all came down to the final couple of points in the final game of the final pair on court after three and a half exhausting but thrilling hours.

The first pair match featured the Olavian old firm of James Toop & Matt Wiseman back together again and taking on Riki Houlden & Laurie Brock. The first game in itself was epic, a 75 minute marathon that featured umpteen long, extended rallies with points having to be almost chiselled out one by one. The Westminsters had their noses in front for most of the game and almost closed it out at 11-9 ahead, but in the end it took another 25 minutes (and a slightly anti-climactic gameball cut out of court) before they finally took it 14-12. Perhaps not surprisingly, losing such a long, close first game led to a drop off in the level of the Olavian pair in game two, which was far more one-sided in the Westminsters' favour, putting them 2-0 ahead and in a strong postion.

That strong position was being echoed elsewhere; Ben Merrett & Harry de Quetteville may have been underdogs at third pair against Howard Wiseman & Prajeeth Sathiyamoorthy but they were scrapping hard, producing an excellent second game to level at 1-1, the first game having gone the Olavians way to 7. The real early surprise, though, was at second pair where the Westminsters raced into a 2-0 lead in next to no time. Both individually and collectively, Seb Cooley & Tom Gallagher were completely out of sorts to start with and Hugo Young & Issy Salim took full advantage, playing with confidence and precision and winning the first two games to 5 and then 0.

With their backs to the wall, however, the Olavian team came out fighting, winning the third game in all three pairs. Howard & Prajeeth were able to regain control at third pair after a cagy start and moved away in the second half of the game to win to 5 and take a 2-1 lead. James & Matt at first pair were able to regain their composure and start to unpick the Westminsters steady, retrieving game, getting on the front foot more, finding the bottom of the buttress and the hole with volleys more consistently and backing up their more attacking intent with a strong set piece. By the end of the third game, the Olavians were playing much more confidently and with a spring in their step as they took the game to 7 to close the gap. The turnaround at second pair was even more stark: Seb & Tom were a pair transformed in the third and fourth games, unrecognisable from the disjointed and mistake-ridden pair of the first two. As is often the case, the change was brought about by a much improved set piece, which allowed Seb in particular to start controlling rallies, dictating play and putting his opponents under pressure while Tom began to add control and placement to his power. Hugo & Issy went from being in complete control to searching for answers and they were unable to find them as Seb & Tom won the third and fourth games to 5 and 6.

From being on the verge of a victory, the Westminsters were now very much on the back foot: Howard & Prajeeth were well on their way to winning the fourth game of their match to to claim the win 3-1, Seb & Tom were going into a fifth game with all the momentum on their side and Matt & James were rolling back the years as they established a 5-1 lead in the fourth game against Riki & Laurie. The Westminsters needed to dig in at this point and make something happen, and leading by example was Riki Houlden, who suddenly found a string of cut returns to turn 1-5 into 7-5 in the blink of an eye, at which point the Toop & Wiseman bubble burst. This was a fantastic performance from Matt & James, especially considering Matt's lack of match practice, but eventually the pressure put on them by Riki & Laurie told and they quickly reached the finishing line for the loss of just one further point.

All attention now turned to the second pair match, where for the first time the pairs were neck and neck with all four players playing well at the same time. Hugo & Issy were making the running on the scoreboard at least, staying a couple of points ahead for most of the game; at 9-6, the finishing line was tantalisingly close, but the Olavians fought back and levelled at 9-9 to set up a nailbiting climax in front of an enthralled crowd. Three and a half hours play, one pair each, 2-2 and 9-9 in the deciding pair. As a neutral, the first thing you want is for the match to be won with some terrific Fives rather than some nervy mistakes and this was definitely the case here, as the final few points contained some magnificent reflexes, movement and shotmaking (Seb would also like it noted that he was the only one of the four players not to be constantly stretching between points to ward off cramp). The Westminsters moved first, getting to 11-9. Tom saved the first match point with a fierce cut to the back left but the Westminsters got back on serve straight away thanks to some excellent cutting from Issy. Unsurprisingly, Seb then hit back with two textbook unreturnable gameball cuts followed by a point to get to 10-11. He got the next cut up, but Hugo found the edge of the buttress with a volley to cut him down. Hugo again found the winner in the next rally and this time the gameball cut came back, before an Olavian shot off the side ledge dropped just out of court to finally give the win to the Westminsters.

This was a fantastic win for the Westminster team, who have improved year on year to reach the point where they were able to take on the Olavians in the biggest club match of the year. For the Olavians, it remains to be seen whether this is a temporary blip or whether it's the end of an era - we shall see once next year's competition gets underway no doubt.

Our thanks go to Westway for hosting the final, to Advanta Wealth for their continued sponsorship and to all of the players involved for producing such a terrific Fives match.


*Old Cholmeleians 23

Old Olavians 23

Old Edwardians 4

Old Salopians 3

Old Berkhamstedians 2

Old Etonians 2

Old Wulfrunians 1

Old Harrovians

Old Westminsters 1


CLICK HERE for full results from this season's competition.


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