AskDefine | Define fives

Dictionary Definition

fives n : a game resembling handball; played on a court with a front wall and two side walls

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. plural of five
  2. mostly British a ball game, somewhat like tennis, played against a wall

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Extensive Definition

Fives is a British sport believed to derive from the same origins as many racquet sports. In fives, a ball is propelled against the walls of a special court using gloved or bare hands as though they were a racquet.


The name may be derived from the slang expression "a bunch of fives" (meaning a fist). The game has also been known as hand-tennis and historically was often played between the buttresses of church buildings in England. There are links between Fives and the Irish and North American handball games and indeed, in recent years, British clubs have begun to establish ties with clubs in those countries.
Fives is not the same as Long Fives, which is played in a real tennis court.

Types of Fives

There are two main types of fives, Rugby Fives and Eton Fives. A variant on Rugby fives is Winchester Fives, although there are only 9 places in the UK where this is still played .

Eton Fives

Eton Fives is played competitively as a doubles game, as opposed to Rugby Fives, which is played as both a singles and a doubles game. In Eton Fives the ball is softer and lighter than in Rugby or Winchester fives, and the gloves are fairly thin.
The Eton Fives court is modelled on part of Eton College's Chapel and is enclosed on three sides and open at the back. A small step splits the court into upper and lower sections, and sloping ledges run horizontally across the walls, one of which forms the "line". There is a large obstruction, known as a buttress, which is known as a pepper or a pepper pot to fives players, on the left-hand side of the court in line with the step. This extends approximately 80cm into the court and is around 2m high. The first courts at Eton were built in 1840 and the rules for Eton Fives were first published in 1931.
Eton Fives has a more complex variation and some specific court features or "hazards".

Rugby Fives

Rugby Fives, developed at Rugby School, is played in a four wall court (quite similar to a squash court). The four walls and floor are uniform and contain no hazards such as in Eton Fives. The front wall has a height of sixteen feet, sloping down about half way along to six feet at the back.
The balls used in rugby and Winchester Fives are fairly hard and hence the gloves worn are thicker than those used in Eton Fives. Rugby Fives has had an official varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge annually since 1925.

Winchester Fives

A further variation is Winchester Fives which differs again by the addition of a buttress (resembling the tambour of a real tennis court) on the left-hand wall - something also found in Eton Fives.

Clifton Fives - and other variants

Some public schools have their own variation on the standard Rugby Fives court - at Clifton College for instance, the court has a half-height back wall. In Clifton Fives if the ball bounces out of the back of the court, a 'let' is played.

Dauntsey's Fives

This variant was co-created by Will Newel and Matthew Young. Dauntsey's has no fives courts as such, so natural locations are used (similar to the games origin at Eton). The courts front wall has many 'planes' to it and therefore the ball if often sent in random directions making it a highly energetic game.
The reigning undefeated champion of Fives is Will Newel with Matthew Young close behind in the rankings! Other players include Head Boy Nick Ratcliffe, Chris Edmonds, Jonnie Broad and Chris Wilson. These make up the elite of this variant.
The game is predominately played by Mercers House.


Fives is a small sport played by enthusiasts numbering perhaps 4,000 active adult players in the United Kingdom. A similar number play in schools.
About forty schools are affiliated to the Eton Fives Association (the governing body of the Eton Fives variation), and there are a number of Old Boys' and university clubs. There are some well-established clubs overseas, such as the Zuoz Fives Club in Switzerland, and the game is also vigorously pursued in northern Nigeria.
The Rugby Fives Association (the governing body of Rugby Fives, founded in 1927) has affiliations from over forty schools and thirty-two clubs, from Edinburgh to Tavistock, and there are also a number of clubs overseas, for example in South Africa and the United States.

Early match

The first match on record between schools was when an Eton pair played at Harrow in 1885 (F. Thomas and C. Barclay of Eton beat E.M. Butler and B. R. Warren of Harrow).


Although the image of Fives has been dominated by the well-known eponymous public schools, courts do exist at state schools, and in recent years many of these have been brought into full use. The advantages of economy of space and low playing costs (ball and gloves) make it an attractive sport for schools. Fives continues to develop in England and has started to attract interest from the wider community . In the United States the only known Fives courts are at Groton School, the St.Mark's School, and the Union Boat Club in Massachusetts.
There are also numerous championships, notably the (doubles) Eton Fives Kinnaird Cup and the Rugby Fives Open Singles championship (The Jesters' Cup) and Open Doubles championship (The Cyriax Cup). There are many other Rugby Fives Tournaments.
Notable players in recent times have included:.


fives in German: Fives
fives in Simple English: Fives
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