Fives balls 1996
Diameter 4,45 cm
Weight 40 g
To understand fives – a direct descendant of the medieval jue de paume – in which gloved hands, rather than rackets, strike the ball against a wall, we have to play the numbers game.
At the last count, some 30 versions of this kind of handball have been identified in 50 countries. In Britain there are three types, each codified by public schools in the 19th century; Eton Fives, in which two pairs compete in a three-sidded court, and Rugby Fives and Winchester Fives, which both feature four sided courts.
However an earlier from of fives, played in the Weast Country, used only one wall, and usually a church wall at that. Several in Somerset and Dorset still bear the scars.
There are four theories as to how fives got its name, the most likely being that all five digits are called into action. But for history of fives balls we need to look no further than the Graham Turnbull trophy, created in 1996. The three on the left are early 20th century, their cork cores wrapped with felt, tied with twince and covered in hand-sewn kid leather. Their makers are thought to be Malings of London and Gradidge or Slazenger.
Second from the right is a 1970s Rugby Fives ball made by Jabez Cliff of Walsall, its core soaked in liquid rubber and its seams glued.
The fifth example is a modern Eton Fives ball, made from a rubber and cork composite introduced after much experimentation in te 1960s. More durable and rounder all its predecessors, its greater zip has helped fives enjoy a revival. J Price of Bath made the one shown here, while Cliff, and G6 of Devon, continue to manufacture balls for Rugby Fives.
That there should still be three British ball makers supplying such a relatively minor sport is in itself noteworthy. But with around 330 courts between the three fives codes, and rising, the numbers soon add up.