The game of ‘Fives’ – never heard of it?


There is a sports game called ‘Fives’ if you can believe it. It came up in as a question in a UK TV quiz game and the quizmaster had no idea what it was – but the Contestant immediately knew! He must have been an ex-Public School boy surely?

You see ‘Fives’ has nothing to do with the convention & common Caribbean ritual & slang phrase of “give me 5” or “high five” when people meeting knock the palms of their hands together in greeting (though probably originated in America!) . No it is an actual game, an energetic sport no less. It’s name does of course also come from the slang for a hand – bunch of fives. The reason you have never heard of it is because it is rarely played these days, and when it is that would only be at a superior private school – their privilege you see.

So what is the game like then? Well, it is very similar to the game of Squash, and you have almost certainly have heard of that, as it is increasing popular these days. The main difference is that in the game of Fives the players use a hardish ball of similar size to a squash ball, but they don’t have a racket to hit it with at all (you would think that the game would be more popular therefore with the poorer classes rather than the rich aristocracy, wouldn’t you?)! Players use their hand to hit the ball – may sound very painful but don’t fret, players can wear a padded glove (a swollen hand is an occupational hazard though – but very useful as an excuse for not handing in your school prep!).

The Fives game is normally played in a three walled court (often outside) very similar to the front of a squash court, but with no need for a back-wall (a hand, unlike a racket, can’t hit the ball hard enough to give it the velocity to travel all that far you see.

It is mostly a game played as singles, but you do get doubles, and at least that is less dangerous than squash – when you are likely to get hit in the face with a speeding racket (dodging one racket is dangerous enough, without being on a crowded court risking two flailing rackets which smacks a bit of stupidity surely?). Fives has a few variations in rules of course (like Eton, Rugby, Winchester, and two or three others – you can’t expect a few Public Schools to get together and formulate an agreed set of rules can you?).

Fives probably evolved simply from Public School kids playing ball against some church walls. The first recorded game was between Eton and Harrow some hundred and thirty years ago – so of course it is basically an English game, but when we were a powerful nation we built a few courts in places like America, Australia, and New Zealand (not much used these days though). The game is kept going though, and there may be increasing interest from normal schools as it doesn’t cost much to find a few walls, thick gloves, and a small cheap  ball, does it?

[Now you are in the know about Fives, you won’t be able to accuse these Posts of not providing you with a unique source of useless information can you?]

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