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The 2014 Ipswich Tournament took place at the weekend, with the usual assortment of Ipswichians past and present plus guests taking part in a splendid weekend of Fives. Seb Cooley and Charlie Blackmore emerged from the wreckage of the Saturday night dinner to take the title, defeating Will Gibbons and Karen Hird in the final.
The traditional wet and windy January weather didn't deter a large 16 pair entry from making the annual pilgrimage to Ipswich to compete for the 2014 Graves Cup. The field this year featured both of the winners of the inaugural event in 1979 (Peter Boughton and John Levick) as well as two reigning national champions in Seb Cooley and Karen Hird, possibly a first for the Graves Cup.
A glance at the Saturday pairings confirmed the impression that this was going to be a tough tournament to win, with a formidable array of Ipswichian talent of all ages lined up to do battle, all with an eye on the trophy. The group stage results certainly reflected this with a series of close matches including an unusually high number of sudden death thrillers. Seb Cooley and his young partner Charlie Blackmore won Group A and Will Gibbons and Karen Hird came through to top Group B, but the overall standard can be seen by the fact that both pairs won matches 15-14 against pairs (Pete Scholey & Piers Prior and Steve Burnell & Annabel Griffiths respectively) who didn't even qualify for the quarter-finals. Group C was equally tight with tournament organiser and Ipswich Fives legend Peter Boughton rolling back the years alongside James Gray to claim top spot.
As usual, complicated mathematical formulae were involved, with a certain amount of Scholey ale to grease the wheels, in working out who should play who in the quarter-finals; years of Graves Cup experience meant that Cooley, with one eye on the evening's events and on some Sunday morning downtime, took the radical step of playing his quarter-final on the Saturday evening before the dinner and he had his reward as he and Blackmore saw off the challenge of Simon Woolfries and Singaporean Number One Oli Watts to sneak into the last four whilst all the other competitors were in the pub.
Cooley soon made up for lost time at the Saturday evening dinner in the pavilion, where the players were joined as always by Anne Shortland-Jones, whose late husband Martin was instrumental in reviving the game at Ipswich in the 1950s and also by Nigel and Jeff Cox, who just happened to be passing on their way back to Winchester from Grillon. Those of you who have attended the dinner over the years will have a rough idea of how things went, although this will be remembered as the year of the great port crisis, with every bottle drunk before midnight. An emergency trip to the local supermarket was unsuccesful and it took the raiding of the personal Boughton cellars and the discovery of some more bottles of wine to avoid potentially ugly scenes. With the crisis averted, things returned to normal - a prominent member of the Suffolk constabulary instigated a food riot, Singapore's finest Fives player ended up with hair full of stilton and Cooley took on all comers (although no one can remember exactly who) on the Fives court at about 2am. The assembled throng also toasted OI Fives club founder
Mike Fenn’s absence Mike Fenn in his absence and we hope to see him back next year.
After a restorative Full English at the Greyhound on Sunday morning, it was time for the quarter-finals with Cooley's decision to play the night before looking like a tactical masterstroke as he slept soundly on three chairs lined up next to each other in the pavilion. Nick Bunyan, fortified by the Williamsesque feat of consuming two dinners the night before (plus the Greyhound breakfast) had enough in the tank to partner Pete Baxter to victory in a topsy turvy match against Alex Yusaf and Steve Bland. The tournament's answer to Statler and Waldorf then had the misfortune to come up against Cooley and Blackmore in the first semi-final and although they got close, ultimately came up short.
In the other half of the draw, the evergreen Boughton was at it again, as he and Gray took on Alex Williams and Isaac Wagland in one of the matches of the weekend. A 12-8 final game win took them through to face Gibbons and Hird, comfortable winners over the off colour Ralph Morgan and Tony Stubbs, out of his usual plate-winning comfort zone. Gibbons was defying convention by making it this far; tradition has it that his tournament partners fall by the wayside quicker than Spinal Tap drummers but this time he not only failed to break any of Karen's bones, he also played a fine hand in the second semi-final to edge out Boughton and Gray in another thriller.
The final threw up a number of interesting questions - would Cooley's tactics backfire after a day spent mainly off court, waiting and getting cold? Would Gibbons and Hird have enough in the tank to keep going? Could Karen make history and avoid being maimed by Will? How would Charlie Blackmore handle the pressure of a first final?
As Will and Karen raced to a 9-4 first game lead it looked as though they might just catch Seb and Charlie cold. They couldn't quite find the ruthless killer touch, though, and with Charlie coming increasingly to the fore the Cooley/Blackmore pairing turned the tide, came back to win the first game 14-11 and then went on comfortably to win the second and claim the trophy. The cup was presented by Pete Scholey, who due to an unfortunate accident the previous day, was in the happy position of being able to present half of the trophy to each of the winning pair.
Scholey had earlier partnered Dom Barker to victory in the plate, with a 15-12 win over Woolfries and Watts in the final. The two Ws had qualified from a remarkable group which also featured Gareth Hoskins & Jake Davey, Joe Hunt & Alfred Jackson and Tim Gregory & Robert Scholey in which every single match finished 12-11 apart from a 12-10 win by Woolfries and Watts over Hunt and Jackson, which was enough to put them into the final.
Thanks as always go to Peter Boughton for his organisation of both tournament and dinner, to Peter Scholey for bringing the beer and to all of the guests who came along to join the OIs in their annual Fives jamboree. Same time next year, everyone!
S.Cooley & C.Blackmore beat S.Woolfries & O.Watts 15-10
N.Bunyan & P.Baxter beat A.Yusaf & S.Bland 2-1 (15-0, 10-15, 15-9)
P.Boughton & J.Gray beat I.Wagland & A.Williams 2-1 (12-9, 6-12, 12-8)
W.Gibbons & K.Hird beat T.Stubbs & R.Morgan 2-0 (12-5, 12-6)
S.Cooley & C.Blackmore beat N.Bunyan & P.Baxter 2-0 (12-9, 12-9)
W.Gibbons & K.Hird beat P.Boughton & J.Gray 2-1 (8-12, 14-11, 14-11)
S.Cooley & C.Blackmore beat W.Gibbons & K.Hird 2-0 (14-11, 12-4)
P.Scholey & D.Barker beat S.Woolfries & O.Watts 15-12