Olavian Legends: Daniel Hawkins

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In the next episode in the Legends series, we had the pleasure of catching up (virtually, unfortunately) with Daniel Hawkins. As one of the illustrious group of Olavian Legends that has left the country, Dan probably has justifiable cause to claim the title of current Pan-American Champion since my victory in 1999 is undergoing a stewards enquiry.

With each of these interviews, I’m tempted to write that the interviewee ranks highly among the all time list of Nice Guys Who Set Foot on  Fives Court and Dan is no different. A true gent both on and off the court, it was my pleasure to partner Dan in many games across the years (coming second in a number of matches, thanks almost exclusively to my talents, I might add) and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that Dan will be remembered as the best player to emerge from his year group at St Olave’s.

Unfortunately, we weren’t able to adopt the normal interview format for this episode but Dan very kindly sent this response to our enquiries into his Fives memories.

To set the scene, when I started at St Olave’s in 1989 fives was not a popular sport. While 20 first-years gave fives a go by the end of second year I was the only active player. In the year ahead there wasn’t a single player. Two years ahead of me there were just four players – Ed Sanderson, Colin Wilson, Rowan Crossingham and Guy McClaren. Then another gap to a group of talented sixth-formers including Karl Rudman, Pauli Markkanen, Martin Street and a handful of other players. Looking back it is extremely hard to believe that fives would be such an important part of life at St Olave’s and Olavian Fives would flourish so much in years to come.

It probably goes without saying that the turning point was the arrival a young, enthusiastic coach – Howard. He ran a coaching session after school on a Friday. It really was a terrible time for a practice so Howard deserves credit for hanging on to one player. I loved the game and was hooked. I must add that watching Karl and Pauli’s run at the Nationals finals was very important for me. I remember being delighted when Pauli overcame several mishaps that led to a twisted ankle and could actually play in the tournament. It made me believe that fives could be a competitive sport – Karl played rugby and Pauli has never taken any prisoners – and it was possible to imagine that St Olave’s could play at a high level. We now take that for granted.

As a third-year, there was a tour to Shrewsbury and Wolverhampton with Ed, Colin et al. Dave Haydon and I also tagged along. It was a fun trip and indicative of the way fives at St Olaves has always connected players across year groups. Dave will forever be remembered for asking for “a pint of lager, please Alan”. Inevitably, with Howard’s enthusiasm, each new year group below had more and more players. Matt Wiseman, Chris Cooley and Dave Haydon were all in the year below me and of course James Toop, Seb Cooley, Sanjay Ranasinghe and many others two years behind them.

There is another ingredient that we should not forget. Howard was an important link to the first glory days of Olavian fives – the 1971 Barber Cup win. I’m fuzzy on the details. It is again another unlikely turn that Howard should be the bridge to Dick Spooner, Ray Toomey and the other members of that team. Howard did not start at St Olave’s until 1980 so I assume that as (super) keen schoolboy he played with the Old Olavians and kept that connection alive. I also remember playing in games Howard organized with Tim Hurn, Tim , Stuart Greenwood and Darrell Woods.

Those connections between year groups have become easier over time with the player base growing at school and the retention of players during and after university as active players for the Old Olavians. I am a good example of that progression. I was even the first gap year coach at St Olave’s returning to teach the likes of Pete Cohen, Paran Sarmah, Tom McDonald and a large crop of other first years.

While I live on the other side of the pond, in Boston these days it is really exciting to hear about the prospect of 4 additional courts being built. I send my support and look forward to reading more about other’s memories of fives at St Olave’s.




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