The RGS is lucky enough to have two fives courts which are used by boys in all year groups throughout the school day. There is a Fives club with specialist coaching every Thursday from 1.30pm until 4pm. Fives is played as a competetive sport at RGS with over 40 boys playing regularly.
Although the etymology of "fives" is still obscure, players have come to accept that it derives from the games being played with the fingers of the hand acting as a "bunch of fives". The word was not used before the 17th century, but by the 18th and early 19th centuries fives was constantly recorded. The great Dr Johnson in his dictionary defined it as - "a kind of play with a bowl".
The game was played at public schools, apparently without rules until the Eton Fives Association published "the first authoritative set of laws" in 1931. The buttresses of cathedrals and churches were particularly convenient for a ball game. The modern court is faithfully modelled on the one long used on the chapel steps of Eton College The difference at Eton to any other school or cathedral cloister, was that at Eton one bay formed by the buttresses was quite different to all the others. This is the one where the steps down from the Chapel meet the buttress.
More matches are played between schools today than ever before. The Eton Fives Association has forty affiliated schools.
How to Play the Game
The following Hints on Eton Fives were written by the late G. Townsend Warner, assuredly one of the greatest players who have ever lived:
Fives is popularly supposed to be played with the hands. This is only part of the truth. It is also played with the legs and the head. Few things are hard if you are in the right place: nothing is easy if you are in the wrong place. Therefore:-
HINTS ON ETON FIVES
2.To the player hitting the first cut.
3.To the player taking the first cut
4.To the top court generally
5.To the back court
6.To which may be added the following...
1.Never Lose Sight Of The Ball. Players in the top court should keep their heads out of the way, but should always keep their eyes on the ball when it is in the back court. If you are on the look-out and your opponent makes a weak stroke you can see it in time to kill it: therefore always watch the ball all the time.
2.Volley The Easy Ones. Volleys can only be reached by moving for them. Be ready to move for them. The underhand volley (ball well below the shoulder) is rarely a good stroke. It should only be used in defence.
3.Play With Your Head. Don't be content to hit the buttress; try for the hole; place the ball well out of your opponent's reach. Direction is more important even than pace. It is not necessary to knock the stuffing out of the ball every shot.
4.Avoid As Far As Possible Either Taking Or Causing 'lets'. You must get well out of your opponent's way at once. He is entitled, not only to get the ball up, but to have the best possible chance of hitting it. Should he, however, grasp you with one hand while he hits it with the other, you may remonstrate with him.
To The Player Hitting The First Cut.
1.Never take a Serve you don't like; not even from your tutor.
2.Take pains with the first cut; it is the best chance you will have of getting the other side out. Hit hard and low; if possible, get 'cut' on the ball. Ensure that it will hit the buttress and not come round into the back court.
3.If your enemy keeps on getting up one kind, try another: 1.More round; i.e. more on the right-hand wall, and as hard as you can. 2.Slower and with a great deal of cut'.
4.Jump well up into the top court immediately you have hit the first cut. Don't wait to see if your opponent gets it up,. you will be too late then. jump up at once beside him, and you will often be in time to get an easy volley and kill him "with the second barrel". If he knows you are there ready to destroy him, you will often frighten him into missing or making a bad stroke.
To The Player Taking The First Cut
1.Get it up; anything is better than missing it.
2.The easiest way of getting very hard-hit first cuts is to hit hard at them with the right hand. If you only hit quickly enough they are easy. If you let them get too close to you or to your left hand they are difficult.
3.Remember that anything that comes to your left hand will go round to your partner if you get out of the way, so leave these. Let them pass either behind you or in front of you.
4.If you are constantly being beaten by the first cut, change your- position and stand either 1.more to your own left i.e. farther up the left-hand wall, or 2.farther forward, that is, out of your corner towards the corner from which the ball is coming or 3.step in to meet them or 4.stoop more.
5.First cuts can often be returned by hitting them against the left-hand wall first.
6.Not a bad stroke is to send them back high over the box, near the left-hand wall.
Back to To The Top Court Generally
1.Keep close to your opponent when playing gently (sniggling) in the top court.
2.The best place is on his inner side, i.e. on his right when you are near the left-hand wall; and on his left when you are neat the right-hand wall - you will not then have to run round him, and volleys will come easier.
3.Don't sniggle except in defence. As soon as you get a chance put the ball back over the box, close to the left-hand wall and far back.
4.If you and your partner have put up an easy volley to the other side, don't despair; don't say " oh 11 ; run up under the line near the left-hand wall. The ball is almost certain to come there. Never put your head down so that you cannot see the ball.
5.Never stand in the Box. By doing so 1.You spoil your partner's best strokes. 2.You are a victim to an opponent's volley.
6.Hit the ball; don't hold it. If you "carry" the ball, you should admit it at once.
7.In the case of a doubtful one, call "Mine" or "Yours" at once.
8.Never use two hands when one will do.
9.Practise volleying with your left hand, you get more chances with it; and especially practise the left - hand volley which keeps the ball on the left - hand side of the court. A left-hand volley across the court, i.e. to the right side, is generally useless, unless you can hit it very hard.
10.If your opponent is in difficulties far back in the left-hand side of the court, come well back from the front wall on the chance of a volley. It is generally a mistake to stand close to the front wall, except in defence. You cannot make a good stroke if you are too close.
To The Back Court
1.Look out for volleys.They are easy to you and deadly to the other side.
2.Goliath can always volley the strokes that come back over the box; very often with the right hand by getting close enough against the wall; but the left hand is best if possible. David must let these pitch.
3.Hit hard and low. Play for the buttress (face, not the sloping top) and for the hole, or for the pillar at the back of the left wall.
4.If you get a difficult one, don't try and make a stroke from it. Play it back high on the left or somewhere out of reach.
5.An easy one can often be hit with excellent effect round the right-hand wall, like a first cut, but remember: 1.Hit it pretty hard. 2.The ball will drop a good deal so don't aim too low. 3.The Stroke is not good if your opponent on the top court is on the left-hand side of the court - if he is crouching on the right-hand side of the court, it is very good.
6.Never call 'Mine' to your top court partner if he has the chance of a volley. Call at once if you see that it will be difficult for him.
7.Be ready to back up your partner in the top court in case of a return coming round. Even if you did not expect it to come, you ought to have. A really good player in the back court is always ready to take everything and anything that his partner misses; but there are not many players as good as this. But all but the worst players STAY AWAKE ALL THE TIME.
To Which May Be Added The Following:
1.The man in the centre controls the game. Therefore when your partner cuts and goes onto the top step, move into the centre of the back court and forward a couple of yards-only in this way will you see shots coming round by the buttress.
2.On the top step when you are on the defensive, a useful way of getting yourself out of trouble is to hit quite hard -but keeping the ball as low as you dare onto a side wall first instead of straight onto the front wall.
3.At all times vary your pace: do not be content to hit six shots hard consecutively.
4.When cutting, don't forget the one straight onto the front wall and down to the opponent's right hand. This may be played very softly as well as very hard.
5.It is worth practising the game-ball cut: it must defeat the opponent. Don't hit it very hard, but 'cut' it as much as possible, so that it lands either in the box or as near the foot of the buttress as possible.