My (Un)Popular Heroes: Wayne Enstone, Rugby Fives Champion (and my Dad!)

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My parents have always been strong role models- my Mum was a Deputy Head teacher, bossing it in tough, inner city secondary schools, while Dad became the most successful player of the unique British sport, Rugby Fives. As you do!


It’s an understatement to say that my Dad, (Geoffrey) Wayne Enstone, is a keen and successful sportsman- he was a Senior Lecturer of Sports Science and a Sports Psychologist by day, but for the past 50 years, he has spent his spare time mastering the English handball game of Fives, to become the most successful player in the game’s history.

 

 

Fives is named after a term given to a fist- “a bunch of fives”…

 

It’s very likely that you’ve never heard of Fives- it’s a very niche sport, but actually one that dates all the way back to the 17th Century. Fives is named after a term given to a fist- “a bunch of fives”, and basically involves hitting a leather covered cork ball against a wall with a gloved hand. The aim is to hit the ball above a board on the front wall of the court, so that your opponent cannot return the ball before it has bounced more than once. Having had a go, I can say that it’s pretty knackering, with lots of technique to master if you want to get really good, but it’s a lot of fun too!

 

 

There are three variants of Fives named after the prestigious English schools at which they were invented: Rugby, Eton, and Winchester. The game started as schoolboys throwing a ball against the walls of their beautiful school buildings, and when these sports were formalised in the 19th Century with the building of proper courts, the different architectures at each school led to each variant having a slightly different shaped court.

 

 

Rugby Fives is played in a simple three-walled court, similar in shape and size to a squash court (see pic below). Winchester Fives though, has a buttress in the centre as an extra “obstacle”, while Eton Fives goes all-out and has a buttress AND a step within the court, to make it even more challenging.

 

 

Rugby Fives in action

Rugby Fives in action (source: Wikimedia Commons)

Wayne was an unlikely candidate to be a Fives player. He grew up on pretty rough council estates in Wythenshawe and Moss Side in Manchester, and attended his local comprehensive school (i.e. non fee-paying and certainly no buttresses in sight!). He started playing in the less auspicious but equally inspiring surroundings of the courts at his Dad’s gym, the Manchester YMCA, and was mentored by the friendly members of the Rugby Fives Club (namely the legendary Fred Beswick).

 

 

he’s won a total of 56 National Titles…and he was awarded a Guinness World Record…

 

Encouraged to train hard, he became the first player in the history of the game from a comprehensive school to win the National Schoolboys’ Championships, 50 years ago in 1969 at the age of 17.  He went on to win his first adult National Championship at the age of 21 in 1973. Then he simply didn’t stop: in a competitive career spanning over 40 years, he’s won a total of 56 National Titles (Singles and Doubles), 17 of which were consecutive, and he was awarded a Guinness World Record at the time. Nice one, Dad!!



Wayne Enstone

Wayne in the 1980s

My Dad has also given back to the game that he loves. He designed a Fives glove with specific padding to minimise impact on the hand, recorded an instructional training video, and established the annual South West Championships in Exeter in 1984, and continues to run this today (I’ve heard it’s also famous for the excellent quality sandwiches that my Mum puts on!).

 

 

 

This tournament would actually coincide with the weekend of my birth: I was born on a Friday afternoon, and on the Saturday he travelled down to Exeter to run and compete in the tournament, returning soon after to baby-me and my Mum, trophy in hand! The key take-out here being that, yep, my Mum is an AMAZING support!

 

 

 

When I was a kid, we would tour around the country at weekends while he participated in regional competitions (a certain number of wins are required to enter into the National Championships). I loved it! My first trips to London, Edinburgh, and Durham were due to Fives, where my Mum and I would go for fun-filled, spontaneous days out at the zoo and other famous sites. We would then return to the courts and usually greet my grinning Dad and take home a trophy (which he would clean a couple of times a year with stinky polish) and a traditional engraved beer tankard (our loft was absolutely full of them, it was ridiculous!)

 

 

I had no idea how remarkable his achievements were until my Mum took me to a posh dress shop one Saturday, as she needed something fancy to wear to “The Palace”.  We packed up for another trip to London, but this time I stayed with family friends and my parents headed to Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Summer Garden Party. (Seriously, check out my Mum’s awesome dress and hat!! She even had matching purple shoes and handbag- she’s my ultimate style hero!)

Attending a summer garden party at Buckingham Palace

 

My Dad would later return to the Palace for a sports person’s dinner party, alongside athletes including world featherweight boxing champion “Prince” Naseem Hamed. Apparently my Dad spoke to the queen about skiing- imagine that! He also has a Fives court at the Manchester YMCA named after him, and in 2012, he was honoured as a “Sporting Hero” alongside other high-achieving club members, including Paralympian, Josie Cichockyj and England football psychologist, Bill Beswick.

 

 

While his record of wins might make it sound easy, it certainly wasn’t! Fives is a high impact sport, and he’s overcome a great deal of physical challenges; famously timing hip replacement surgery for just after a national tournament! It’s also a non-professional sport, so no monetary incentive for success, just a passion and love for the game.

 

 

he is competitive against himself and not afraid to push his own limits…

 

I’m amazed at the mental strength and focus required to win that many titles. It’s fair to say I don’t have that killer “winner” instinct- growing up, I realised I was happy to miserably lose a tennis match as long as I felt I’d demonstrated good style and technique (yes, dancing and art were to be my thing!).  I wouldn’t say my Dad is the stereotype of a highly competitive person though- he’s not someone that wants others to do poorly so he can win (not a “ass hat” basically!). Instead, he is competitive against himself and not afraid to push his own limits, plus practice the self-belief that he can win each game.

 

 

Later in his career, he has focused on coaching and encouraging the next generation to love the game and adopt a positive mentality. In 2012, he qualified as an accredited Rugby Fives coach with Sport England, and developed a coaching manual outlining the different types of shot and pioneering practices and drills.  He currently coaches at several schools and University clubs around the UK, accredits other coaches, and continues his daily exercise regime- his arm muscle definition consistently intimidates any boys I bring home to this day (thanks, Dad!).

 

 

Most of all, he enjoys working with people and genuinely believes in the positive influence that sport can have, no matter what your background or base level of physical fitness- anyone can get stuck in and experience the psychological and physical benefits of an active lifestyle.

 

 

Yep, definitely one of my (un)popular heroes!- Love you Dad! x

 

 

If you’d like to book Wayne for Fives coaching or speaking (or just chat sport over a pint of Abbot), please use the blog contact form here– I’ll pass it on! If you’d like to find out more and get involved in Fives, check out the Rugby Fives Association website to find a club in your local area.

 

 

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Zoë

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