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Play Everywhere: taking fives from private school to public space

All sports can be urban sports, this is the first in a series looking at how different sports have embraced a less standardised, more informal approach to their game to bring it back to people's doortsteps.

in 1877, A.C. Ainger and friends had some time to kill before attending a religious service. Taking a rackets' ball and hitting it against the walls, steps and buttresses of the chapel at English public school Eton. They had invented Eton Fives, but rather than recognise it as a game that could be played anywhere, they standardised it and insisted every court built around the world replicated the same idosyncratic landscape that existed nowhere except Eton. It became inaccessible to the masses.

Of course, that didn't stop people hitting a ball against a wall. In the British Isles alone there are multiple variations on this theme; 'Welsh Handball', 'Gaelic Handball', 'Rugby Fives', 'Winchester Fives', there is even evidence of old courts on the sides of miners pubs in the North East of England - unfortunately now mostly carparks

Versions of the game are found internationally too, especially prevalent in the Spanish speaking world. One version, found across Los Angeles and New York is 'One-Wall' or 'Handball', a simplified and more replicable version for worldwide standardisation, though even this has a competitor in Frontball -- played with a harder ball and ledge -- which featured at the Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires.

However, even in these simplified versions of the game, the height of the wall and space required in front of it won't be found on every street corner.

A couple years back I worked with UK Wallball in their attempt to grow their sport - One Wall - by breaking the need for standardisation of the game at an entry level. 'Anywall, Anyball, Anytime' was their motto. Take a look at their 'Create a court' catelogue and you'll see that before introducing creative ways to build a court from shipping containers or making the most of courts as a placemaking opportunity with public art is a simple suggestion which boils down to: get some tape or chalk and stick it on the wall. Simple, free and accessible.

Taking inspiration from the way that E-sport leagues use 'Twitch' as a vehicle for talent spotting, meaning that anyone can be picked from obscurity to play on the big stage I toyed with the potential for an app that would allow two players to meet on any nearby non-standardised wall. Using a ELO ranking system like those employed by FIFA womens football or chess, people could climb the talent ladder without access to a standardised wall and could be invited or sponsored to attend major tournaments -- 'street to elite'.

We also hoped it might go further supporting players to become placemakers by taking 'ownership' of the courts they create, beautify and hold mini-tournaments and social events.

More recently, I've become aware apps like CityLegends who are doing something similar for skateboarding, bmx, parkour and other 'street artists and athletes' who perform in subjective disciplines of their sports.

Can anybody share a similar approach for objective direct competition sports like wallball, basketball or others?

I'll add to this series after I've visited CityLegends and 3x3Unites in the Netherlands, and an Urban golf course designer in Paris as part of my Churchill Fellowship -- find out more here.

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