St Olaves Grammar School, and Summerfields Prep school house the only indoor Eton Fives courts in England, with four courts being part of an Eton Fives and Squash Court complex (consisting of four top quality courts for both sports) at the former. However, the first real public courts have recently opened in the Westway sports centre in London's White City, marking a possible change in fortunes for Eton Fives as a minor sport. Only a few courts exist outside Britain, most notably at Geelong Grammar School in Australia (the school is often referred to as the 'Eton of Australia'); there are also courts in Geneva, Zurich, Lyceum Alpinum Zuoz, Switzerland, St. Paul's School, Darjeeling, India and Malay College Kuala Kangsar, Malaysia, and two brand new courts have recently been completed in the South of France, in the village of Grillon, Provence.
Throughout history, different races and cultures have always played some type of game where a ball is hit against a wall. This is no different with England, and Fives, as a secular inclusion of Rugby, Eton, Winchester and any other of the many types of Fives, is the same. In mediaeval times, peasants used to hit a ball against their chapel wall as a form of entertainment. The game has moved on a long way since then, but in essence it is still the same; you hit a ball against a wall. The shape of the court used now is taken from the chapel at Eton College, where A. C. Ainger and some of his friends developed a simple set of rules in 1877. The rules have been modified since that time to those seen now, but the essential components are still the same and are described below in the 'Rules' section.
An Eton Fives court consists of three walls, with the left hand wall interrupted by a buttress approximately halfway up the court There are also two levels to the court, the front being around six inches higher than the back half of the playing area. On the front wall is a vertical black line about three quarters of a metre from the right wall; this is used during the serve and return process detailed later. There is a diagonal ledge that circumvents the entire 'top-step' at about chest height; it is this ledge which the ball has to hit or go above to be 'up'. Below this ledge, at knee height, is a horizontal ledge about two inches wide, and which is only present on the 'top-step'. This is merely here because of the origins of Eton Fives as the ledge is present at the chapel in Eton College. The diagonal ledge drops vertically at the edge of the 'top-step' and then returns to normal at a slightly lower height on the bottom step, running to the back of the court. At the back are brick columns that jutt out slightly into the court, which are only about an inch to two inches wide. Shots very rarely hit this part of the court, but once they do it is usually very effective for winning a point. Each of the courts at varying schools differ in some way, leaving room to modify how your school's courts are built to a certain extent. In this way the 'home team' will often have an advantage over a visiting side because of their knowledge of the court's layout.
Fives has many rules that are similar to other court type games, such as Tennis or Squash:
However, there are a large number of rules unique to the game of Eton Fives:
A point operates thus: At the start of the play, the server stands between the buttress and the front wall. The receiver, known as a 'cutter', stands in the backcourt, along with the other two players (the cutter's partner stands behind him, with the server's partner in the bottom right corner). The server throws the ball high so it bounces off the front and right wall, landing after the step and roughly in the middle of the court (note: different players like the ball to bounce at different points in order to get varying types of spin on their 'cuts'). There are no rules about the serve but as a cutter can reject any serve, there is little benefit in giving him a serve which can not be easily hit. The cutter will then smash the ball overarm so that it is 'up', usually into the corner, so that the ball hits the right then the front wall and goes straight back at the server. The best way to follow up this 'cut' is to follow the ball in and stand on the step, ready for a volley if the server returns it high. From here the cutter and the server will try to volley the ball, while the other two players will sweep up anything that they miss. This continues until the ball is either hit 'down' or out of the court.
There are now a huge number of Championships and tournaments that take place at various times throughout the fives season.
The Kinnaird Cup is an open tournament for men of any age. Over the years it has become more and more competitive, and is now the most sought after trophy of them all. Other Men's tournaments include the Northern Championships and the Eton Fives Association (EFA) Trophy, where teams of 6 players (3 pairs) compete against one another in one-set matches. This year (2007) was the first year that the EFA Trophy was won by a school team (from St. Olaves Grammar School).
The Schools National Championships are the highlight of the season for school players across the country. The location of the championships changes every year between Highgate School, Eton College and Shrewsbury School. There are championships for every age group, ranging from the Under 10s to the Open (Under 18s). Within these championships are the Main Tournament, Plate A, Plate B and as many plates as possible until everyone has played as much Fives as they want.
Among those to have succeeded in recent years are the notorious Wiseman brothers, Matthew (Matt) and Howard. Matthew currently teaches at Westminster School.
Fives is a sport that has become evermore popular amongst both junior and senior players. There are now a wide range a recreational competitions, ladder-style and knock-out tournaments at regional and national level to keep players involved. The enthuiasm of top players like Matt Wiseman and Howard Wiseman is passed on throughout the teaching and hopefully a new generation of talent is on the brink.
Also notable to the achievement of Fives today is the growing involvement by women. The relatively new women's fives league has started up with the addition of an annual nationals and many ladder competitions — female or mixed.
Some current successful players include:
Note: The Keeling Cup was introduced in 1993; the Northern in 1982.