Three is the Magic Number...

19/12/16: Sunday saw the Fives players of North Oxford take on their biennial Three Code Challenge for the third time, with 16 players playing Eton Fives at Eton, Rugby Fives at Rugby and Winchester Fives at Winchester all in the same day.

The Bell Inn in Rugby provided a fine start to the day with a Full English at 9am (poor Spencer was reduced to having a mince pie and a green tea as they were out of granola) before the first mini-tournament started on the Rugby Fives courts at Rugby School at 10:00am. That wasn't the first excitement of the trip, however, that being the semi-anticipated late Lancing withdrawal the night before. The bookies would have been surprised by the identity of the drop out, however, as illness prevented Jonny Nelmes taking his place in the starting line-up, leaving just the famous five of Gareth Hoskins, Karen Hird, Spencer Chapman, Mandie Barnes and Rosie Scott as the three code challenge threepeaters. Happily, Colin Turnbull stepped into the breach, exchanging his expected driving/spectating role for a rather more active one as he manfully overcame a variety of ailments to get on court and save the day.

One player was immediately on the back foot in terms of the overall points competition, with giant of the game Seb Cooley - already mindful of the difficulties placed in his path by Rule One of the Three Code Challenge - immediately suffering from the first ever use of Rule Two in the history of the competition, this hitherto unused rule imposing a large points fine on anyone leaving their coat in a pub and requiring the NOEFC captain to drive back and fetch it. Undeterred, Seb proceeded to start on the (inevitably futile) catch up mission, partnering club president Andy Bishop and together laying waste to the opposition to claim the Rugby Fives title. Thoughtfully, Spencer Chapman had ensured that Graham "Grandad" Pulsford, although unable to play, was present in spirit as his photo adorned the prizes handed out to the winners of each leg of the trip.

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The group reconvened a couple of hours later on more familiar ground for the Eton Fives leg of the trip. After some fine work by Ashley Lumbard to crack into the giant toblerone and with everyone suitably fortified, the second mini tournament got underway with a change of partners and Rule Three invoked, meaning that any shot hit by Seb that hit the buttress while the ball was still alive meant automatic loss of rally. The two main consequences of this were a narrow first round defeat at the hands of Nathan Tunbull and Chris Ballingall for Seb and Francesca Turnbull and then a rush of points in subsequent games as both opposition players looked to stop Seb hitting the bricks, allowing Francesca to nail a series of glorious winners into an undefended buttress. Meanwhile, Nathan and Chris used their first round win as a springboard for further success, winning their next two matches in fine style to take the second prize of the day.

The final leg of the tour took place at Winchester with another change of partners and some weary bodies dragging themselves back on court for the third different code of the day and yet more new rules for the Three Code virgins - the Turnbull clan, Oliver Lawton, Fergus Imrie, Ashley Lumbard and Chris Ballingall - to get their heads around, although Ashley and Chris were able to bring plenty of previous Rugby Fives experience to bear. With Seb still miles behind, the race for the overall prize for highest points scorer of the day was hotting up and it was Ashley and Charlotta who made the early moves, with a crushing victory over Nathan and Colin Turnbull followed by a convincing semi-final win over Gareth and Andy pushing them both up the standings. Their momentum was slightly halted by defeat in the final at the hands of Seb and Mandie Barnes, whose Arthur Daley/Terry McCann "Winchester Club" prizes were highly appropriate as Seb had needed a minder all day, attempting to leave something behind at virtually every venue. Meanwhile, there were some pretty hefty scores being racked up in some of the other courts to leave everyone in suspense as to the identity of the overall winner.

All was soon revealed as the group retired to Gandhi's in Winchester for an excellent curry to end the day. Charlotta and Ashley's Winchester heroics had moved them up the table to claim second and third respectively, but at much the same time as Andy Murray was winning the SPOTY title and claiming the day's second most important sporting gong, it was our youngest player Francesca Turnbull who deservedly topped the rankings and who was presented the trophy by NOEFC President and 2012 champion Andy Bishop.

This was a fantastic day's Fives and it is now an established biennial event in the North Oxford calendar. We would recommend it highly to any club or group who fancy having a go at something just a little bit different. We'd like to thank everyone who played and drove, Colin Turnbull for stepping in at the last minute, Spencer Chapman for providing the prizes, Michele Shaw for doing the scoring and timekeeping and everyone at Rugby, Eton and Winchester for allowing us to use their courts in such a frivolous fashion. We'll be back for more in 2018.


Rugby Fives: S.Cooley & A.Bishop beat S.Chapman & C.Cooley

Eton Fives: C.Ballingall & N.Turnbull beat A.Lumbard & K.Hird

Winchester Fives: S.Cooley & M.Barnes beat A.Lumbard & C.Cooley


F.Turnbull 94

C.Cooley 91

A.Lumbard 88

A.Bishop 87

N.Shaw 86

M.Barnes 77

N.Turnbull 74

K.Hird 73

G.Hoskins 73

C.Ballingall 71

S.Cooley 70*

O.Lawton 69

F.Imrie 67

C.Turnbull 65

S.Chapman 59

R.Scott 53

 *Rules 1 & 2 having been taken into consideration

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