Click on the thumbnail to see the photos from the tour
As legacies of empire go, some of the odder examples are the handful of Eton Fives courts scattered around the world in places like Geelong, Darjeeling and Malaysia. The one place outside of the UK where the game has really spread successfully beyond one or two isolated locations is in Northern Nigeria, where the game was introduced by Old Cholmeleian J.S.Hogben in the late 1920s. In 1965, Old Citizen Gordon Stringer was part of an official Eton Fives Association tour to Northern Nigeria, and Gordon has kindly passed on some photographs of that historic tour as well as the tour report - written by then EFA Secretary David Guilford - which was published in the 1966 EFA Annual Review.
The team which represented the Association in
One of the more curious legacies of empire is the game of Eton Fives in
It was introduced by Mr J.S. Hogben when teaching at the
In January, the Eton Fives Association was invited by the Northern Nigerian Sports Commission to send a team to tour the Northern Region, and so it was that two school masters, a director of one well-known business and an employee of another, a chartered accountant, a salesman, and a young man who had just left Eton, found themselves transported by VC10 from the worst of the English winter to a temperature that ranged around 90 and 100 degrees and into a major political crisis that threatened to tear apart the carefully woven fabric of the Nigerian Federation.
The interest in the game is such that the players appeared twice on television in the Nigerian version of “Sportsview”. The first occasion, live and unrehearsed, showed three of the touring team and one of their opponents being questioned by the very able sports commentator, whose training had been supplemented by a spell with the
A small bus put at the disposal of the touring team took them to
Two incidents stand out. At Sokoto, the native Provincial Commissioner invited the two teams to dinner and had no difficulty in making the visitors feel at home, even though aided by a power cut during the meal. Afterwards, he took his guests to a specially arranged and unforgettable evening of African dancing, snake-charming and hyena-baiting: it is disappointing to discover that even here, not many miles south of the desert, ancient customs are giving way to new, and the Commissioner complained that it was difficult to persuade the women to dance in the traditional style, as more modern dances, African variations of the twist, no doubt, were taking over. The fives match earlier in the day had provided a pageant of colour; it was played in the presence of some 300 Nigerians and to the accompaniment of the police band, which opened the proceedings with the Nigerian National Anthem and “God Save the Queen”. The local population takes its fives seriously, and the announcement that the Sokoto side were ahead led to excited chattering, any reverse being greeted by a stony silence broken only by yelled instructions to the players to do better.
If the EFA players found the heat oppressive, the courts and buttress somewhat different and the tennis ball a challenge, their opponents were handicapped by the feast of Ramadan, which meant that their last meal had been eaten before sunrise some twelve hours previously. For the tourists returning from a one day match Ramadan would mean a halt in the warm evening air for the driver to place his prayer mat on the side of the road before eating, the fives players in white shorts and sweaters using the stop to wander off ghostlike into the nearby native quarters an stand incongruously watching the villagers dance and sup by candlelight.
Old customs prevail in this predominantly Moslem country, but the new and the modern are being grafted onto them. The touring team were put up in
For the statistical record, the EFA team travelled some 1,200 miles by road, played nine matches, was received by one Premier, one Sultan and six Emirs, amassed some eighty presents, and was escorted into Birnin Kebbi in a motorcade of ten vehicles. The members between them achieved three minor bouts of dysentery, one sprained ankle, one mild attack of gout and innumerable mosquito bites. To have been ill in Sokoto, where the large native population is tended by one Pakistani and one woman doctor, might well have caused a delay, but all went well and no member of the fives team will ever forget a fortnight of colour and variety made possible by the hospitality of the Northern Nigerian Sports Commission and admirably organised by the Nigerians themselves, who could not do enough for their British visitors.
The Nigerian Fives Association has accepted an invitation to tour