Old Citizens 125 Not Out

08/05/18: The Old Citizens EFC celebrated their 125th anniversary with a magnificent gala dinner in the Long Room at Lord's on Friday night, featuring a veritable "Who's Who" from the world of Fives.

Masterminded by John Reynolds, Ronald Pattison and Stephen Kelly, the evening united nearly 200 people, with Citizens past and present joined by representatives from a host of other Fives clubs, including a large party of Old Zuozers who went on to play for the Hawken/Garrett Cup against the Old Citizens the following day and then join in the Adams Cup competition on Sunday.

After a group photo on the pavilion steps and a fabulous meal, David Cooper, Mark Stockton, John Gee-Grant and Jivan Navani guided the guests through a brief history of the OCEFC before Felix Buchi responded on behalf of the Old Zuozers. The final speech of the evening came from former EFA Chairman and President Richard Barber and is reproduced below. Here's to the next 125 years!

"There could be no finer tribute to a club founded in 1893 and still going strong than by holding a glittering celebration with the whole Eton fives community in this place, one of the most prestigious dining venues in the world - a celebration unique in the whole annals of Eton Fives and one that no one present will forget as long as life lasts. I understand that it is a long-standing tradition among the members of the Old Citizens fives club always to dine with great people, to drink with great people and to sleep – with a clear conscience. And that tradition is certainly fully in evidence this evening!

From all that we have heard from the other speakers tonight, the Old Citizens is a fives club of numerous superlatives. The first of these is that you are probably the most distinguished and respected club in the long history of Eton Fives, with historically the greatest number of fixtures; an international tradition; several Schools national champions; illustrious Oxford and Cambridge blues down the years; 13 Kinnairds won by some of the greatest names in the game like Stuart Courtney, Cliff Hampton, Brian Matthews and John Reynolds; and in John the most prolific winner of successive Kinnaird championships and one of its greatest coaches.

Secondly you are the most pioneering of Eton fives clubs, having led the game into its earliest international links when Messrs Garrett, Hawken, Hewitt and Wagstaff inspired the first fives expedition to Zuoz in Switzerland in 1954; and in 1965 when Gordon Stringer was one of the moving spirits behind the EFA’s first ever tour to Nigeria in that year.

Thirdly you are without doubt the most resilient club in the games’ history. Losing your courts when the school moved in 1986 would have resulted in most schools simply giving up, like nearly all other schools that have lost their courts. But not City of London School or the Old Citizens. With inspirational leadership – especially from Gordon Stringer, Peter Stiles, Kevin Brooks, Geoff Bates, John Reynolds, David White and Robin Nagy – fives at the school and the club rose again, like a phoenix from the ashes. It’s told of Derek Randall that he once arrived at Lord’s on the second day of a Test match to find the England dressing room in rather downcast mood and in typically positive fashion said to everyone at large “Come on lads, let’s get going, a couple of quick wickets this morning and we can rise like a pheasant!”. And someone said gloomily “Like a WHAT, Derek? Don’t you mean ‘like a phoenix?” and Derek replied “Oh well, like a whatever – I knew it was something beginning with F”. Well Fives begins with an ‘F’ too and risen again you have. It is an inspiring, gravity-defying story and with your enviable record for continually feeding through school leavers into the adult game you have grasped one of the most important ingredients in keeping the Old Cits’ fives flourishing far into the future.

Fourthly I am sure that no individual Eton fives club has ever spread the sheer passion for the game more widely than the Old Cits, especially among younger players. In 1961 you famously had no fewer than 94 fixtures in the season: what’s less well known is that one third of these were played against schools. In other words there wasn’t one Eton fives playing school in the land that didn’t have a fixture – and sometimes two – against the Old Cits. You have spread your passion for the game in a way that few clubs have ever matched. Today the EFA is driving the appeal of the game well beyond its traditional base into state schools and local communities across the country, and John, author of the Eton fives’ definitive guide to coaching, is inspiring us to unimaginable levels of ambition to build new fives courts wherever a patch of empty ground can be located.

It’s that passion for Eton Fives as the best court game in the world that we all hold in common this evening. I do not believe that any club has exemplified these passions more consistently or over so many years than the Old Citizens.

And finally, among all these superlatives, we remember this evening that of all Eton Fives Clubs, you are also the most venerable. And as every venerable person knows (and I see that there are one or two here this evening who, like me, could possibly qualify) …. as we in the venerable camp well know, there are 3 Ages of Man: namely Youth, Middle Age and “You are looking well!”

I think everyone would agree that at 125 years old the Old Citizens Eton Fives Club and its members are indeed looking well. So to celebrate that, and on behalf of the whole Eton Fives playing community past and present, I would ask you to be upstanding and join me in a toast to the health and long life of the Old Citizens’ Eton Fives Club."

Photographs by Paul Hawkes (OC)

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