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2016 Review

Members of the Old Citizens’ Eton Fives Club have played hundreds of games in three countries this season and attracted scores of players to compete for its own trophies, the Adams Cup (in its 90th year) and Wood Plate. The OCEFC won its first-round tie in the national knock-out cup – this year against the Old Edwardians – and finished in the top four in both second and third national divisions.

We’ve even featured in the EFA’s new publicity film, supplying players and commentator. And that’s to say nothing of an Xmas bash at our adopted courts in Highgate and an end-of-season dinner in St James’s attended by a total of some 60 players and guests, an old-versus-young match (won by the veterans), and a thriving Thursday evening knockabout at our adopted home courts in Highgate. We even earned a nomination for the EFA’s club-of-the-year award – and this some 30 years after we lost our home courts at Blackfriars.

Our year began last summer with two visits to Switzerland and was rounded off by a return visit by our Swiss friends. Six English or London-based players - Bogdan Dovgyy, Karen Hird, Alexander Kasterine, Jivan Navani, John Reynolds and Peter White - took part in a truly international Eton fives tournament involving players from at least a dozen countries in Geneva in June 2015. The 24-strong event was run by old boys of the Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz and named after its founding spirit, the late Benny Oei, one of the game’s great gentlemen. The Zuozers - marshalled by the indefatigable Filippo Variola - also hosted a splendid Saturday evening dinner on the banks of Lac Leman at Excevenex, where guests gorged on filets de perche, a speciality of the region, at a restaurant overlooking the lake, with the Jura mountains on one side and the Swiss Alps on the other. There were even fireworks further down the lakeside. John Reynolds won the Benny Oei trophy, in partnership with OZ Jan Porr - they beat Peter White and his Swiss partner Alex de Senger in a very close final.
In September, septuagenarian David Cooper – in tandem with current Kinnaird champion Seb Cooley – won the Zurich International Fives Tournament. Cooper and Cooley beat Igor Borodaev and John Reynolds in the final of the competition, 12-6. A group of eight of us – Old Citizens David Cooper, Stephen Kelly and John Reynolds, with club guests Karen Hird, Ashley Lumbard, Chris Ballingall Ralph Morgan and Seb Cooley – travelled to Switzerland for the event, run by the Zuoz Fives Club Zurich and competed for this year by some 20 players. David Cooper has been playing the Swiss in their own country for some 60 years – he first went to play in Zuoz in the mid-1950s. The tournament – which is played for what the Swiss have named the John Reynolds Trophy – is in its second year. It was held in the club’s two courts just outside the city, on the edge of a hilly nature resort in a suburb called Geeren.
In both Geneva and Zurich, we played rounds of the Hawken-Garrett Cup against our Swiss friends. The tally now stands at two-all, but we currently hold the cup, having won the latest round at Highgate in May. The Hawken-Garrett Cup (a re-purposed Sheffield plate tea urn from about 1830) was presented two years ago in honour of Floater Hawken and Bunny Garrett, who revitalised the Old Citizens after the war and led numerous visits to the Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz in the 1950s and 1960s. The Old Citizens regained the HGC after a very tight match against the Old Zuozers which remained in the balance for more than three hours as fortunes in the first and second pairs fluctuated. John Gee-Grant and Spencer Chapman lost their first set to not very many, fought back in the second to level and looked to have the game in the bag after winning the third but then fell victim to fatigue to lose in five. Alex Nice and Stephen Kelly looked to be outclassed by the big-hitting youngsters Bogdan Dovgyy and Alexander Heuberger but survived a match point in the third to win in five. They made a vital change to their return of cut stance to turn the tables. Third pair featured a relatively straightforward win for veteran sawbones Mark Signy and his Hong Kong bound partner Jonny Powell (who has promised blind to build courts once he gets there) against Zuozer driving force Dieter Buechi and Shepherd’s Bush resident Jay Vontobel. John Gee-Grant & Spencer Chapman lost to Renato Büchi Felix Bu 2-3. Stephen Kelly & Alex Nice beat Bogdan Dovgyy & Alexander Heuberger (Heubi) 3-2. Mark Signy and Jonny Powell beat Dieter Büchi and Jay Vontobel 3-0.
Our season was bookended by competitions for our two pieces of silverware, the Wood Place and the Adams Cup, both held at Highgate. The Wood Plate kicked the season off and was won by Jivan Navani, defending his title, and guest Chris Ballingall, who was making his debut in the tournament. In the final, they beat Alan Culverhouse, making his return to the game after an absence of some 40 years, and Mark Stockton. It seemed for much of the game that Culverhouse (recapturing some of the form that had taken him to the final of the Public Schools’ Competition in the early 1970s) and Stockton (whose cutting had looked like being the decisive factor) would triumph, but the younger pair overhauled a lead of several points to snatch victory. There were 16 entrants, ranging in age from current school captain Jacob Greenhouse, 16, to EFA vice-president Gordon Stringer, 77. We were delighted to welcome a total of seven guests – as well as Ballinghall we were joined by Ashley Lumbard, a Lancing Old Girl, also making her debut; Old Carthusian Ronald Pattison; Old Cholmeleians John Robinson and Peter Chen; Old Abingdonian Ralph Morgan and David Cooper’s son Rob Cooper. Spectators this year were Geoff Bates (who presented the plate), former Kinnaird winner Stuart Courtney and Peter Stiles. The Wood Plate was donated in the 1970s by Tom Wood, to accompany the Adams Cup. Recent CLS leaver Harrison Jones and Swiss guest Felix Bu won the Adams Cup 2016 in a pulsating final against Mark Stockton and Chris Ballingall, 12-6, at Highgate. Some 26 of us took part in this year’s event, 13 Old Citizens and 13 guests, including five from Switzerland. We were delighted to welcome Swiss visitors Dieter Büchi, his sons Felix Bu and Renato Büchi, Alexander Heuberger (Heubi) and Peter Süess to the competition, representing the first contingent of Zuoz-based players in the Adams that we’ve ever had. The trophy also featured debuts from Thursday evening practice regulars Emily Scoones, Ashley Lumbard and Chris Ballingall; Abs Bhattacharya (who gets the award for longest-distance travelled to play in the trophy, as he came in from Australia especially to play, I am assured) and a club friend of very long standing, John Caudle.
Barber Cup. We won our first round against Old Edwardians 2.5/0.5 with a team evenly split between players who left CLS before and after 2000: Spencer Chapman, John Gee-Grant and John Reynolds were the oldies; Bobby Friedman, Nick Gill and Alex Nice the youngies. While first pair drew a lot of the Edwardians’ fire, second and third pairs won it. Bobby Friedman and John Gee-Grant won at second pair (3-1). Nick Nicholas Gill and Alex Nice won at third pair (3-0). Spencer Chapman and John Reynolds abandoned their game (2-0 up, 5-8) with the tie in the bag. It was the first time in three years that we have won our first-round match in this competition, the FA Cup of the Eton fives world. We lost our second-round Barber Cup clash against first seeds and eventual champions the Old Olavians at Highgate. First pair of Spencer Chapman and John Reynolds led in the first and third sets (albeit by a single point in each case) but could not make their early advantage tell against the formidable pairing of multiple Kinnaird winner Matt Wiseman and his schoolboy partner. Second pair of John Gee-Grant and Bobby Friedman competed on more equal terms with their opponents, another Kinnaird winner Howard Wiseman and his young partner Kosi Nwuba but failed to pull off an upset. Third pair of Nick Nicholas Gill and Alex Nice similarly struggled against the class of Pete White and schoolboy Tom Gallagher (fresh from competing the final of the recent London Tournament). We came second in the Third Division - pipped at the last by Team Westway - there was just half a point in it after six months of strenuous competition. And we’ve come fourth in Division Two.
We were voted second in the team-of-the-year category of the EFA end-of-season awards – out of six nominations which ran to Eton College, The Jesters, Highgate School Girls and Old Westminsters – announced on Friday evening. We lost out to the (division one champions) Old Berkhamstedians by the odd four or five votes in more than 1,000 cast, according to a well-placed source. JP. This was the citation: Running a Fives club is hard work; running one based around old boys of a school that hasn’t had its own courts for over 30 years is impressive indeed and it is testament to the work of the likes of Alex Nice and Ralph Morgan that the Old Citizens continue to punch above their weight. Two league teams, weekly practices, tours to Switzerland and a welcoming home for Fives “waifs and strays” set a fine example for other clubs to follow. OLD VERSUS YOUNG We held a three-pair young-versus-old match last summer which was won 3-0 by the oldies (defined as those who learned their fives at Blackfriars). The inaugural such match took place on the courts at Eton and each pair was won 3-1 by the senior side. EFA vice-president Gordon Stringer - and one of the giants upon whose shoulders we now stand - was there to see fair play and moderate the language. Ages varied from 12 (the sole guest in the fixture, Lucas Schreiber), to 70-something (David Cooper). That shock result in full: Spencer Chapman & John Reynolds beat Roman Heindorff and Alex Nice. Les Jacobs and Mark Schreiber beat Jonny Powell and Harrison Jones. David Cooper and Stephen Kelly beat Dan Rose and Lucas Schreiber.

(Photos in The Gazette, Autumn 2016)