Cooley Banks Ipswich Tournament
09/01/18: The Fives players of Ipswich celebrated the New Year in the style to which they have become accustomed over the years with the annual running of the Graves Cup, won this year by guest player Seb Cooley and young Ipswich schoolboy Harry Banks, neither of whom actually played in the qualifying rounds but who nevertheless ended up winning the trophy, in a move worthy of John Caudle himself.
The weekend began in suitably Ipswichian style, with the majority of the field assembled by the courts for the 10:30am start ready to play (or at least get into the pavilion for a cup of tea) but waiting for the arrival of the tournament organiser, who as usual was operating in his own time zone. With access to the pavilion finally secured, a draw allegedly spotted somewhere and the emergence of Nigel Cox from the back of his van after a cosy night's sleep in sub zero temperatures things gradually began to get moving.
There was a youthful look to the OI contingent this year, with Simon Woolfries abroad, Mike Fenn still off games and John Caudle struck down overnight by the Friday evening wine-tasting lurgy, leaving the likes of Steve Burnell and Gareth Hoskins feeling worryingly senior. Thankfully for them, Peter Boughton, Nick Bunyan and uberveteran Cox were on hand to fly the flag for the golden oldies. Those with long memories were assuming that the late Caudle withdrawal was some kind of cunning ruse and that he would still somehow end up in the final; it soon became apparent, however, that it was in fact giant of the game Seb Cooley who was pulling the Caudelian fast one this year, pleading "teaching commitments" in Shrewsbury for Saturday's play but already appearing automatically in the quarter-final draw for Sunday.
The other seven places were as ever keenly fought over. The four pairs in Group A produced the sort of mathematical nightmare that the Ipswich tournament is famous for, with Will Gibbons & Oscar Taylor coming first, but with Andrew Rennie/Tom Hoskins, Elana Osen/Steve Bland and Nick Bunyan/Max Hyde all taking games off each other. More of that later. Group B was equally competitive, with Tim Fletcher & Alex Williams edging Cox - in sparkling form - & Simon Cass for the top spot and Oli Watts & Toryn Whitehead also looking more than useful. Will Main & Steve Burnell took the honours in Group C after another series of tight games, as Karen Hird & Eloise Carter showed that they were in with a chance of becoming the first all female pair to win the Graves Cup by qualifying in second place.
One of the great traditions of the Graves Cup is the debate during the course of the evening dinner about who has actually qualified and what the composition of the quarter-finals should be, a process best described as fluid, and often indeed heavily influenced by fluid. This operation was conducted initially to the bemusement and then the subsequent consternation of certain tournament debutants, but as always the white smoke emerged from the pavilion roof eventually (although that may just have been Gibbons nipping out for a fag) and a line-up agreed upon. The dinner itself was as always the model of self-restraint and good behaviour and much enjoyed, if not necessarily remembered, by (nearly) all.
The proof of the success of the Saturday evening debate was in the Sunday morning matches, with a series of epic quarter-finals, all of which could have gone either way. Cooley and his young partner Harry Banks sneaked through 12-10 in the decider of an epic contest with 2016 champion Watts & the impressive Whitehead; an ailing Fletcher & Williams slipped to defeat at the hands of Bunyan & Hyde and Burnell & Main outlasted Cox & Cass in another three setter. The hopes of those wishing for a win for the women were dashed as Hird & Carter went down in two tight games against Gibbons & Taylor. There was a notable variation on a traditional Ipswich Tournament theme in this match as Gibbons - rather than injuring his partner for once - instead combined with him to damage the ball, hitting it so hard that it turned from spherical to cuboid, necessitating a replacement.
The close contests continued to come thick and fast, with both semis also going to third game deciders: Cooley & Banks came through strongly in the third to beat Burnell & Main, while Gibbons & Taylor saw off Bunyan & Hyde in a repeat of their group game on the Saturday. Gibbons & Taylor were unable to go all the way, however; with young Banks improving all the time and volleying well, Cooley had enough support to be able to control the match and keep Gibbons & Taylor just far enough away on the scoreboard to win 12-9, 12-10 and claim his first Ipswich Tournament title since 2014, a stat that proves conclusively that it is much harder to win the Graves Cup than it is to win the Kinnaird.
Plate A was won by Andrew Rennie & Nadia Mason, who came from miles behind to win a dramatic group game against Osen & Bland and then repeated the feat in the final against Charlotta Cooley & Will Carron, with Nadia finding her best form towards the end of the weekend, undoubtedly benefitting from a partner upgrade having very sensibly jettisoned her Saturday partner in favour of a younger model for the Sunday.
The Ipswich Tournament wouldn't be the Ipswich Tournament without Stubbsy winning a Plate, and after his shock failure to qualify for the Plate A final alongside Dmitri Seymour-Howell, normal service was resumed as he took the place of the flagging Cox to win the quarter-final losers plate with Simon Cass.
The Ipswich Tournament has been going for over 40 years now and is proof of the old maxim that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. What better way could there be of spending the first weekend in January than a fun, friendly weekend of Fives with old and young alike (from 12 to 70+) all enjoying themselves and proving that Fives really is a game for all and a game for life?
Our thanks as always go to the school and the caterers for hosting the tournament and providing the dinner and to Peter Boughton for running things in such idiosyncratically splendid fashion as always. Same again next year!
S.Cooley & H.Banks beat T.Whitehead & O.Watts 2-1 (12-8, 11-14, 12-10)
S.Burnell & W.Main beat S.Cass & N.Cox 2-1 (12-9, 10-12, 12-6)
W.Gibbons & O.Taylor beat K.Hird & E.Carter 2-0 (12-9, 12-11)
N.Bunyan & M.Hyde beat Tim Fletcher & A.Williams 2-0 (12-9, 12-10)
S.Cooley & H.Banks beat S.Burnell & W.Main 2-1 (12-5, 9-12, 12-3)
W.Gibbons & O.Taylor beat N.Bunyan & M.Hyde 2-1 (12-7, 10-13, 12-7)
S.Cooley & H.Banks beat W.Gibbons & O.Taylor 2-0 (12-9, 12-10)
A.Rennie & N.Mason beat C.Cooley & W.Carron 15-13
A.Stubbs & S.Cass beat K.Hird & E.Carter 12-4