Concern historic sport could be lost with closure of courts

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The fight is on to preserve Calderdale’s last two courts for the historic sport of fives.

They are at the former Heath School at Free School Lane, Halifax, a site which now members of White Rose Rugby Fives Club fear may be sold off for development by Calderdale Council.

The club has 30 members and they use the two courts on Tuesday and Thursday evenings to play a game which is often likened to squash, but with gloved hands used to hit the ball rather than a racquet.

Fives, which it is believed gets its name from the slang expression “a bunch of fives” meaning a fist, was historically played between the buttresses of church buildings in England.

There are different versions of the sport and Rugby Fives, developed at Rugby School, is played in a four wall court with a bar on the front wall which the ball must be hit above.

Matches are mainly doubles contests but singles can also be played and there has been an official varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge annually since 1925.

Graham McIntyre, fixture secretary of the White Rose club, said fives had been played at what is now the Heath Training and Development Centre for more than 60 years.

A couple of courts a mile or so up the road at Crossley Heath School had disappeared a few years ago to make way for a new gymnasium and the only fives facilities left in Yorkshire were at Leeds University and Giggleswick School.

“Fives isn’t a dying sport,” said McIntyre. “It has had a resurrection in the south and we are trying to do the same in the north but there are very few facilities left.”

He added: “We are trying a recruitment drive through the schools to get some younger members.”

McIntyre fears the 400-year Heath building, which is also used for music tuition, a youth theatre group and council courses, may be sold off to help fund a controversial new library in Halifax town centre.

He said a 20-year agreement for Calderdale Council to adminster the campus was up for renewal next year and he feared that might be seen as an opportunity to sell a site left by former House of Commons speaker J H Whitley to the people of Calderdale in perpetuity.

Some of the users of the Heath complex met to discuss the situation on Tuesday and Halifax MP Linda Riordan is expected to pay a visit on Saturday to a site which McIntyre said had benefited from investment in recent years.