Cambridge sport focus: Eton fives

Robert Wilson 21 November 2013

In TCS Sport’s weekly feature, we take an in-depth look at some lesser-known university sports.This week: Eton fives.
If you have ever asked an Eton fives player what exactly their sport entails, the chances are they will have told you: “it’s like squash, but with your hands.”  

Eton fives is a bit more complicated than its cousin rugby fives, with the addition of various hazards around the court that were originally features on the side of Eton College chapel (whose design is almost identical to that of King’s College chapel), but it boils down to squash with your hands.  
Aside from the hazards, the main differences are the lack of a back wall, a harder and bouncier ball and the fact that you always play doubles. 

The focal point of the game is the buttress, a stair-rail-like structure positioned halfway up the left-hand wall.  It lends the game its need for spin, accuracy, and quick reflexes, both to exploit the opportunities its hazards provide and to defend against the opponent from doing the same.

The sport is played by about 2,500 people nationally, many of them at schools such as Eton, Harrow, and Westminster.  Eton fives has its own national body, which organises several country-wide tournaments every year.  The Cambridge club has around thirty members, both men and women.

The biggest match of the year is the Varsity match held every spring at Eton. Last year the men’s team won while the women’s team lost, and with a strong team this year the Blues will look to build on the successes this year. 

The omens have been good so far this year.  The men’s first pair of Jamie Abbott and Robert Wilson won the Universities Tournament in October, and the women’s first pair of Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd Smith reached the final of the women’s tournament.

The club has just had three new courts built in the new university sports centre, and is thriving on being able to hold group practices and home fixtures for the first time in over ten years.