On the 10th September, a mighty collection of old court warriors returned to Orpington from all over. An assembly of 140 testified to the enduring importance of Eton Fives and to so many great memories.
The event had already kicked off in the afternoon with some friendly games rolling back the years and no one could be unmoved by hearing that familiar “thunk” of fives balls impacting the walls of (the current) four courts.
Energy levels remained high throughout as the great and the good reassembled after in the Great Hall. For many it was the first time they’d been back anywhere other than the fives courts in decades.
A quick glance around the room quickly dispelled any nerves, as so many familiar faces beamed back. The ageless Joe Ward gave a sense of permanance and continuity – his links to the very start of Olavian Fives is quite remarakable. The Reverend Alan Chadwick had seemingly cycled the breadth of the country to be there and was quite unchanged – For a long period he was the only one who could go glove to glove with a certain young Wiseman! Every group easily located old chums and probably the only person harder to spot was Pauli without his blonde 80s hair!
Headmasters old and new were in attendance. Mr Coulson looking far better than his portrait exchanged supporting words with Mr Onac, the current Head who is an enthusiastic supporter of the sport and the plans to expand the courts to eight. This will enable St Olaves to make a similar statement on facilities to the one the club continues to make in competition.
There were quizzes, a raffle, and more than a dozen memories read out by ex pupils from those who unfortunately could not attend; there was a bar marshalled by Dom, and plenty to eat. There was allegedly a rigid schedule to pack everything in but this quickly went out the window and no one minded one bit.
Above all this was Howard’s day. Howard – that force of nature who incredibly has been working with St Olaves for thirty years. Howard put it all together, Howard provided the keynote speech and is leading the fundraising drive. His gifts are many, and what united everybody present other than their love for the game was the deep respect and affection for this unique individual. Howard is not only a very talented fives player but his inexhaustible energy allied with unquenchable enthusiasm means we all owe him a great deal. Unceasing, unrelenting, (and still not driving), Howard has lifted Fives in general and Olavian Fives in particular to unparalleled heights. We are lucky to have him: The standing ovation was long and heartfelt.
The biggest disappointment was that it had to end, and a decent number were only prized out of the Hall by the lure of a couple of rounds of further drinks elsewhere. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion and when good company, banter and respect all come together it makes for a top night. Most importantly of all, the objective was also very much on looking forwards, of giving back, and enabling even more people to experience the game. All proceeds went to supporting the project to add these new courts and we all eagerly look forward to breaking ground.