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Like squash without a racquet: revival of the ancient sport of Fives

The ancient sport of Rugby Fives is having a revival. Photo: ITV News Anglia

It's called Rugby Fives but has little to do with odd-shaped balls. A game invented in the 17th century is making a comeback.

It's played on a court not a pitch, and mainly in public schools like Eton. But a club in Cambridge is trying to change all that and take Fives back to where it began.

It's inviting people to try their hand in three new courts in the city.

There are three Rugby Fives courts in Cambridge. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Victory in this sport… is in your hands. No racquets, No bats.

This is Fives or hand tennis, though it has more in common with squash.

"It's a completely different game. All you've got to do is make the ball hit your hand. Yet you can do all the running you want. You can hit the ball wherever you like. It's a really good fun thing to do."

– Jacob Brubert, Captain, Cambridge University "Rugby Fives" Club

You may not have heard of it but Fives is nothing new:

  • It's thought it originated in the 17th Century. And was named after the fingers on each hand … a 'bunch of fives'.
  • Medieval peasants began playing it against their local churches
  • Then the schoolboys of Eton college got in on the act, building the first courts in 1840.
  • By 1877 the rules had been drawn up and courts were built at schools and colleges across the country.
  • Fast-forward to today and there's been a recent resurgence of the game. 177 courts in England.
  • And Fives is played in 15 countries worldwide.

Click below to watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Claire McGlasson

Each point starts with a serve.

If you are right handed you want to be in the front right hand corner of the court. You want to throw the ball against the front wall so that it hits the side wall and then bounces and then you want to hit it back in the same direction.

After that it's all about making your opponent run for every return. With games lasting for up to an hour and a half, it's a game of stamina.

From a game of privilege to a sport that anyone can have a hand in. Credit: ITV News Anglia

And that's the long-term game plan?

To change its reputation, from a game of privilege to a sport that anyone can have a hand in.