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an adventure totally in keeping with the spirit of English eccentricity.

Inaugural Fives MacNab contest tours Rugby, Winchester and Eton

Eton, Rugby, Winchester, 8th December 2011 – A traditional English sport, similar to handball but from an earlier era, inspired an epic challenge which brought together a team of players for a 300 mile charity round trip to the origins of the game.

Fives is an English sport, similar to squash, where gloved or bare hands, instead of a racquet, propel a ball against the walls of a special court. It is played today at only a handful of selective schools. Among these are Eton, Winchester, Warminster and Clifton, all of whom lay claim to a variant of the game, in addition to one, Rugby, which has also given its name to a sport now globally popular.

Sixteen members of the Marlborough Five team, undertook an arduous one-day challenge to visit three of these competing birthplaces of the game, in order to draw attention to the virtues of this peculiarly English version of handball – a game which can trace its origins back to Egyptian times. They took inspiration from the shady characters dreamt up by novelist John Buchan (motto "It's a great life, if you don't weaken") who in the book John MacNab poach a stag, a salmon and a grouse from the Highlands undetected.

After surviving thirteen hours on the road, cream teas and sticky toffee pudding and a traditional English chilli, one of the founders of the ‘MacNab challenge’, Peter Grant, reflected: “This madcap road trip, dreamt up over warm ales in a Marlborough pub and encompassing our finest undergraduate educational establishments, is an adventure totally in keeping with the spirit of English eccentricity. While we are not yet able to attract the TV crowds or sponsorship of Wimbledon, Badminton or Twickenham, we can rival the sore limbs and heads of any English player at the top level.”

Winners on the day included Harvey Bishop, who carried off the trophy and Tony Bethwaite and Bob Davison who won the plate, but the real winner, will be the game of English Fives itself, which inspired the adventure. Planning for next year’s event has begun and the organisers confidently expect a larger field to compete for the 2012 Fives MacNab.


Photography ( and video available on request.


Emma Naylor or Paul Maher
+44 (0) 208 237 1104/ 07900 600013

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