The Wood Cup
Club Fives was very close to Tom Wood’s heart. As a UCS Old Boy, perennial Jester and long-serving Hon. Sec. of the RFA Club, he probably played against every club and almost every school in the country in the course of his 55 years of active Fives. Tom and Joan became the roving ambassadors of Rugby Fives to such an extent in the 1970s and ’80s that many previously unvisited courts were roused from their slumber and given an injection of the Woods’ enthusiasm to reinvigorate them.
When Tom and Joan heard that Ian Fuller was proposing to organise a ‘Club Knockout Championship’ in 1974, they gave a beautiful silver trophy to be presented to the winners. The Wood Cup has been competed for every year since then and has given every Fives club the incentive to get its best team (sometimes even two or three teams) together and engage in battle. The inaugural competition saw 24 clubs divided into five regional pools, with a semi-finals and final weekend at Oundle School. The winners were the Clove Club (Old Boys of Hackney Downs School), a venerable club founded in 1923, four years before the Rugby Fives Association.
Over the first nine years of the competition, the number of club teams entering fell from a maximum of 26 (in 1975) to a minimum of 12 (in 1981 & 1982) , indicating that some measure of reform was needed. The decision was taken in 1983 to hold one preliminary regional round, or more if the number of clubs entering exceeded 16, followed by a weekend including quarter-finals as well as semis and final. This simplification helped club secretaries to focus on the target of getting to the finals weekend. In addition, only two players per team were to play singles (a decision since revoked), and games were to be played to 11 points. Those who knew Tom Wood can guess his reaction to this last change!
Although almost 50 clubs – most of them bona fide, but the odd one a hastily assembled quartet designed to plug a gap in the draw – have entered at some stage, only 9 have won the Wood Cup in the 38 years of its history. In the early years the RFA Club, with a large pool of players to choose from, was very much to the fore; but before long, the formidable Manchester YMCA established itself as the one to beat, with 16 wins from 27 appearances in the final; from 1997 on, the Alleyn Old Boys provided them and others with a stern challenge, appearing in 12 successive finals and winning 6 of them; and since 2009 the Old Paulines have emerged as a force after many years of competitive success for their School, featuring in the last nine finals and winning five of them, losing twice each to Manchester and Wessex.
The competition owes its existence to Ian Fuller, its first organiser, as well as to his successors Rick Wilson, Steve Davies, Nigel Layton, Nick Austin, Bruce Hanton and Tom Dean. Bruce was by far the longest-serving organiser, noted for his stylish play and his entertainingly detailed and occasionally actionable reports. And let’s not forget the efforts of all the club secretaries and captains who have chivvied their players onto court in the attempt to win the prize. Nor the hospitality of the schools and clubs which have hosted the final stages, among them Oundle, Christ’s Hospital, Merchant Taylors’, Bedford Modern, Alleyn’s, the Bank of England Club and St. Paul’s.
Clubs which have entered the Wood Cup
Alleyn Old Boys
Bank of England
Christ’s Hospital Club
Heath Old Boys
Old Bedford Modernians
Old Merchant Taylors’
RFA Club (North)
UCS Old Boys
West of England