EFA Trophy Back With A Bang
22/11/21: The EFA Trophy in association with Advanta Wealth qualifiers were back at Eton yesterday for the first time in a couple of years, with nine teams, 55 players, 108 games of Fives and four teams through to Finals Day in February.
Although one or two regular teams were absent from the line-up for various reasons, this was still a strong turnout; it was especially pleasing to see the Salopians join North Oxford in being able to field two teams and to see entries from Cambridge University (one up on their Varsity rivals, who didn't make it to the start line this year) and the Westway club as well as historical adversaries Highgate and Wolverhampton joining forces to create a Cholmfrunian super club.
The format was straightforward - a nine team round robin with matches of one game to 12 played across three pairs with a point scored for each game won.
The pre-tournament bookies predictions were that the Guy Williams-led Salopian team, Karen Hird's North Oxford outfit and the Old Ipswichians would be the three teams to beat and the early exchanges confirmed that, all three cruising through the first four rounds of the competition with hardly a pair conceded. What was less predictable was what would happen behind the top three, with all six other teams in with a chance of claiming fourth place and a coveted slot in the last four.
The Salopian second string, captained by Marc Quinn and featuring school first pair Digby Taylor-West & Rory McDonald-O'Brien at the top of the order and the returning Ben Jones & Connor Jones at secnd pair, were putting in some strong performances on court but were hamstrung in qualification terms by only having five eligible players; they did find a sixth player who happened to be hanging around hopefully with his gloves on the offchance that someone would let him play, but it turned out he'd stupidly managed to make himself ineligible for this competition by winning the Kinnaird Cup eleven times in a row and therefore was able to contribute a grand total of zero points to the team's cause. Much entertainment was to be had, however, watching his attempts to make every single match go to 11-11, a mission that was mainly thwarted by his partner Marc Quinn realising what he was up to and finishing a couple of games more quickly himself in order to get a rest.
Remarkably, the Salopians were not the only team fielding an eleven-time Kinnaird winner, with the Citizens challenge led by the evergreen John Reynolds, who, thirty years after his last Kinnaird win and with an artificial hip, still managed to be right up there with the best players in the competition, playing at first pair all day with an assortment of partners and winning a significant number of his matches. With strong support from Chris Lumbard, Ralph Morgan, Saajan Shah, Stephen Kelly, John Robinson and (eventually) Sam Packer, the Citizens were always in the mix for the fourth spot, the most important result of their day - in hindsight - coming in the middle of the competition with a 2-1 win over the dangerous Cholmfrunian side, who were going along well as Cholmeleians Emily Scoones and Jack Ledigo, Wulfrunians David Jones, Andy Husselbee and Dan Mackernan and Westway's "spare" Colin Mayger began to gel nicely as a unit.
The North Oxford second string, under the canny leadership of Andy Bishop, were also in the mix for a while and were unlucky not to have scored more points early on, with Stephen Thatcher & Matt Chinery at first pair in particular producing some inspired Fives without quite being able to convert promising positions into victories, while Harry Asquith & Ian Mitchell at second and Andy & Toby Bush at third also acquitted themselves well. Their challenge was further hampered by injury as the day progressed and as they began to fade, the Cambridge team began to get stronger, producing some excellent performances in the middle rounds after a tricky start. Nick Choustikov & Viral Gudiwala were a competitive first pair all day, captain Dion Huang & George Poole at second pair played some good Fives and newcomer Lewis Drummond impressed plenty of good judges as one to watch for the future alongside Harshal Kalaiya at third pair. The Westway team also had a tough start to the competition, but their rewards came towards the back end, with a strong finish and a couple of excellent (and impressively celebrated!) 12-11 or 12-10 wins to get themselves on the scoreboard. Adam Field provided the leadership at first pair, with youthful exuberance and continued improvement from Theo Santos and Kacper Mikowski as back up and a steadying hand on the tiller from Westway Fives manager Dan Thackeray, while if you were looking for experience, you needed to look no further than the Westway third pair of Cooley & Caplin (John & James...).
As the competition progressed, the narrative boiled down to two main strands - what order would the "big three" finish in and who would manage to claim the fourth qualifying place? The Guy Williams Salopian team looked strong throughout, got themselves in the lead early on and never relinquished it. Will Sissons demonstrated his quality time and again as he and Guy went through the day unbeaten at first pair (the only pair to win all of their matches). With the old firm of Mike Hughes & Grant Williams in the second pair engine room - they lost a couple at the end of the day, but by then the hard work had been done - and Sam Mcloughlin & Jonny Saunders mopping up at third pair, the defending champions from 2019 were once again the class of the field and deservedly claimed the top spot. The Old Ipswichians - Mark Graves, Cam Lyle, Tim Gregory, Charlotta Cooley, Steve Burnell and Peter Forrest - beat North Oxford 2-1 in one of the tightest matches of the day, but lost a pair or two elsewhere, allowing North Oxford to match them on 19 points at the end of the day's play, leaving them behind the Salopians but comfortably ahead of everyone else. North Oxford were expertly led by the impressive Karen Hird, the only player apart from Guy & Will to win eight out of eight matches, and there was more than enough quality in the rest of the line-up - Nathan Turnbull, Phil Roper, Steve Kaaber-Gore, Spencer Chapman and Chris Lloyd - to ensure their semi-final slot.
With North Oxford's second string never quite getting into contention, Cambridge and Westway leaving their charge too late and the Salopians second team unable to overcome the lack of an eligible third pair, the final qualifying spot came down to a straight fight between the Citizens and the Cholmfrunians. Both went into the final round of matches on 11 points; crucially, though, the earlier 2-1 win for the Citizens in the head to head match meant that the Cholmfrunians needed to score more points than their rivals in order to go through. Both were up against Salopian opposition and the Citizens had the additional advantage of a point already in the bag from the ineligible third pair. This proved to be enough as even though neither the Citizen second or first pair (Reynolds finally tiring and beaten by the impressive Digby & Rory) managed to record a win, the Cholmfrunians were unable to score more than one point themselves - a defiant victory for Wulfrunians Jones & Husselbee versus Hughes & Williams - against the might of the Salopian first team and it was the Old Citizens who were able to celebrate qualification for the last four.
The semi-finals and final will take place at Eton on Sunday 20th February and will see the Salopians take on the Citizens and North Oxford play against the Ipswichians.
My thanks go to Eton for hosting the competition, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship, to all of the team captains for rounding up teams and making it such an enjoyable day played in the best Fives spirit and to all those who came and played.
1. Old Salopians (GW) 21 points
2. Old Ipswichians 19 points
3. North Oxford (KH) 19 points
4. Old Citizens 12 points
5. Old Cholmfrunians 12 points
6. Old Salopians (MQ) 9 points
7. North Oxford (AB) 7 points
8. Cambridge University 6 points
9. Westway 3 points
Round One: Old Salopians (GW) beat North Oxford (AB) 3-0; Old Citizens beat Westway 2-1; Old Ipswichians beat Old Salopians (MQ) 3-0; North Oxford (KH) beat Old Cholmfrunians 3-0
Round Two: North Oxford (KH) beat Westway 3-0; Old Cholmfrunians beat North Oxford (AB) 2-1; Old Salopians (MQ) beat Cambridge University 2-1; Old Salopians (GW) beat Old Citizens 3-0
Round Three: Old Salopians (GW) beat Old Salopians (MQ) 3-0; North Oxford (KH) beat North Oxford (AB) 3-0; Old Cholmfrunians beat Cambridge University 2-1; Old Ipswichians beat Westway 3-0
Round Four: Old Ipswichians beat Old Cholmfrunians 2-1; Old Salopians (MQ) beat Westway 2-1; Old Citizens beat North Oxford (AB) 2-1; Old Salopians (GW) beat Cambridge University 3-0
Round Five: Old Citizens beat Cambridge University 3-0; Old Salopians (MQ) beat North Oxford (AB) 2-1; Old Cholmfrunians beat Westway 3-0; Old Ipswichians beat North Oxford (KH) 2-1
Round Six: North Oxford (KH) beat Old Salopians (MQ) 3-0; Old Ipswichians beat Old Citizens 2-1; Old Salopians (GW) beat Westway 3-0; Cambridge University beat North Oxford (AB) 2-1
Round Seven: Old Citizens beat Old Cholmfrunians 2-1; Old Salopians (GW) beat North Oxford (KH) 2-1; Old Ipswichians beat Cambridge University 3-0; North Oxford (AB) beat Westway 3-0
Round Eight: Cambridge University beat Westway 2-1; Old Salopians (GW) beat Old Ipswichians 2-1; North Oxford (KH) beat Old Citizens 2-1; Old Cholmfrunians beat Old Salopians (MQ) 2-1
Round Nine: Old Ipswichians beat North Oxford (AB) 3-0; North Oxford (KH) beat Cambridge University 3-0; Old Salopians (GW) beat Old Cholmfrunians 2-1; Old Salopians (MQ) beat Old Citizens 2-1
Semi-Finals (Eton, Sunday February 20th)
Old Salopians v Old Citizens
Old Ipswichians v North Oxford
Old Salopians (GW) - W.Sissons, G.Williams, M.Hughes, G.Williams, S.Mcloughlin, J.Saunders
Old Ipswichians - M.Graves, C.Lyle, T.Gregory, C.Cooley, S.Burnell, P.Forrest
North Oxford (KH) - P.Roper, N.Turnbull, K.Hird, S.Kaaber-Gore, S.Chapman, C.Lloyd
Old Citizens - J.Reynolds, S.Packer, C.Lumbard, R.Morgan, S.Shah, S.Kelly, J.Robinson
Old Cholmfrunians - D.Jones, E.Scoones, A.Husselbee, J.Ledigo, D.Mackernan, C.Mayger
Old Salopians (MQ) - R.McDonald-O'Brien, D.Taylor-West, C.Jones, B.Jones, M.Quinn, S.Cooley*
North Oxford (AB) - M.Chinery, S.Thatcher, H.Asquith, I.Mitchell, A.Bishop, T.Bush
Cambridge University - N.Choustikov, V.Gudiwala, D.Huang, G.Poole, H.Kalaiya, L.Drummond
Westway - A.Field, T.Santos, K.Mikowski, D.Thackeray, J.Cooley, J.Caplin