London state school pupils revive Rugby Fives and prepare to take on ‘the poshies’

“There’s only one other state school in the country, up in Derby, that plays Fives,” says Alex Gilbert, the PE teacher overseeing the session. “I’m not sure why so few do it. It is great. We’ve found it works for everyone, both the kids who are good at their sport and those who are a little more reserved.”

He should know. This is a school that takes its sport seriously. Tao Geoghegan Hart, the 2020 Giro d’Italia winner, was a student here, as was Lawrence Okolie, the cruiserweight boxing champion, and Sean Clare, the Charlton Athletic midfielder. And starting in September, they want to get competitive at Fives and take part in games against some of the public schools that have long been associated with the game.

“We can’t wait to see the Poshies play it,” says Ameddzhan. “See if they do it differently.”

And what makes the story of Stoke Newington’s Fives all the more extraordinary is that Tevez, Jack and Ameddzhan only play in the staff room for a chance conversation. Back in 1970, when this was still Clissold School, the headmaster was a former rugby player and had half a dozen outdoor pitches built in the playground. But when he left, the game stopped playing. By the time Clissold merged with Woodbury Down School to form a huge inner-city comprehensive, they had fallen into disrepair. Then, in the mid-1990s, Howard Wiseman, a Rugby Fives coach, heard about them and convinced the then-principal that this could be a game to get students excited. He was right. By 2002, he had had more than 100 of them play regularly, helped them become the first state school to win the national championship, and produced the No. 1 seeded player in the country. Then, to make it a year-round sport, he got a grant from the National Fives Association and built a roof over the courts.

“That was our downfall,” he explains 20 years later. “The school was undergoing major construction work at the time and when the roof came up the yards were confiscated to be used as a store for building materials. They were never really played. And all the momentum of the program was lost.” London state school pupils revive Rugby Fives and prepare to take on ‘the poshies’

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