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Obituaries & Tributes

Peter May – A Sporting Legend

This tribute first appeared in the 2010 Fives Federation Annual Review

 

Peter May in the 1951 Cambridge Eton Fives team and in more familiar batting mode

 

Although Peter May's fame in the 1950s was as a great Captain of England cricket and a world-class batsman, he declared that Eton Fives was the game he loved the most.

 

He and his brother, John, also from Charterhouse, were described by other leading players of the day as unbeatable and that the result was never in doubt. This was clear from their short but dominant reign in winning the Kinnaird Cup in 1951, 52 and 53. Their invincibility was largely from a quickness of reaction that allowed them to take the ball earlier than their opponents, volleying as much as possible, coupled with hard, accurate hitting, particularly with their cuts, which were mostly irretrievable. They also seldom failed to return cuts and on those few occasions, the opposition felt that they were having a close game until they realised that the rallies were mainly when the Mays were 'in' and their achievement was simply cutting the Mays 'down' and the result was just a handful of points.

 

Two exceptions were the Harrovians, David Guilford and Martin Shortland-Jones, who managed to take one game in the Kinnaird final of 1953 and in a Jesters versus Cambridge match, Guilford and the Etonian, Tom Hare, surprisingly took them to five games. One Kinnaird finalist, the Salopian Geoffrey Phillips, was determined to find a shot with which to beat Peter May, but was unable to do so.

 

Another outstanding player, the Olavian, Jimmy Biggs – later four times Kinnaird winner –  has recalled first meeting Peter May by being asked to play in a Jesters match and Peter offered him a lift. Being in awe of Peter, he was, however, somewhat put at his ease by being asked to sit in the back of the car and trace a rattle! Jimmy also remembers asking the Reptonian, Philip Curtis, to partner him in the Kinnaird, but Philip's response was that he had written to Peter May and when he had had his reply he would let him know! Ironically, it was the only time Peter lost in the Kinnaird, to the winners, the Cholmeleians AH Fabian and JKG Webb. Jimmy and Philip did pair up later and won the Kinnaird in 1957.

 

Peter, in particular, was an elegant player and like John played with consummate ease. Although ruthless in demolishing opponents, the Mays were always modest, almost diffident and displayed perfect manners both on and off court. True sportsmanship was another hallmark. A let would be offered before an opponent needed to ask. It was, therefore, with some concern to Peter that when he was refused a let himself in a first pair Varsity match, his response was to ensure that the opponents did not achieve a further single point.

 

Peter was an obvious choice to join the committee for the survival of Cambridge court games and he was also a member of the EFA committee.

 

Cricket commitments limited Peter's availability for Fives and restrictions were placed on him for fear of possible eye injury. Ill health and an early death at 64 deprived everyone and especially Eton Fives of a name that will be revered for all time.

 

Gordon Stringer

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