The Game of Fives

Not exactly an accurate depiction, but a lunch time conversation went something like this;

"Me: So have you been to Nigeria?

Partner: Interestingly, I have. Been quite a long time now, over twenty years ago, (pause) for a sport.

Other Partner: What sport?

Partner: Fives!

Me and other Partner: What's that...?"

[Katsina: Image sourced from Reuters]

I'm not sure how many of you are like me and have never heard of the game of Fives until today. But I'm glad the other British partner was as oblivious as I was. What was intended to be a question for small talk ended up being my education about a game largely unknown even in the U.K.

To be honest, I was intrigued; because he went on to say a game of Fives attracted more fans in Nigeria than it did in the UK at the time, which was quite interesting for a game invented in the UK. So the game of Fives is very much like the game of Squash, it involves hitting a ball against a wall, but with your hands and with no back walls.

His experience is twenty five years old, but his memories are so vivid. I literally traveled through those cities as he recounted his experience in Northern Nigeria while playing the game of Fives in Kano, Katsina, Kaduna, Sokoto and some other northern cities. The conversation over lunch became a journey down memory lane for the City Firm Partner who had been privileged to play this rare sport in Nigeria.

Before playing in each city, they were given a huge meal (he amusingly thinks that was to keep them from playing), but that's just the way we eat in Nigeria. Then they had to meet with a monarch in the city before playing and in his words "scrape and bow" and do all sorts in greeting the monarch.

For each game, there were special seats set up for dignitaries and monarchs to observe the game, and then there would be lots of small children and some big ones holding sticks. Because the sport involved lots of running around to hit the ball and because there were no back walls, it turns out the sticks were to chase the little kids from getting in the way of the players as they ran around to hit the ball back. He amusingly remembers hearing the stick swish through the air as they ran around to hit the ball. If those sticks came in contact with the little children, he really could not tell.

So you know how we are in Nigeria and comically so, there was a referee for the game which they did not have in England, but the referee was always getting the scores wrong in favour of the Nigerians. I couldn't help but laugh at this point. So as a remedy, the British would make sure to call out the score right before a next serve, which my fellow Nigerians were not happy with. He also found it interesting that at some point there was a commentator on a microphone. Nigerians can spice up just about anything. You just have to love us.

I'm not even sure I'm capturing the humour in all this accurately, but one time, there was a party in Kaduna, and they let the driver go because they did not want him sitting outside all alone and also because they were sure there would be someone at the party who could drop them off at home. Unfortunately, by 2.A.M, everyone was knackered. The Partner was sure he could remember the way home and thought it would be a good idea to walk. 

Nigeria has always been Nigeria as we know it. Once they stepped onto the street, everywhere was pitch black – you guessed it – no NEPA.  Knowing your way in daylight is obviously not the same as knowing your way in pitch darkness. They got home alright, but there was a curfew in Kaduna which they had no idea about and so they ran into military men with 'very big guns' who 'quite surprisingly' took them home.

While in the UK, you may get a maximum of ten people watching a game of Fives, in Nigeria they usually had about 300 spectators. I think I would love to watch a game of Fives because of this man. He recounted a three-week experience he had 25 years ago with so much precision, amusement and a sparkle in his eyes. He even brought out his phone so he could search Google for a picture of a Fives court to show us.

When I asked the question 'Have you been to Nigeria?' I had expected the standard response on meetings in Lagos and clients in the air, but nothing prepared me for the experience of a British man in Northern Nigeria over a game of Fives. It turned out to be the best and most educative conversation I have ever had over a networking lunch.

If I ever see a game of Fives, all I'll remember will be the wonderful memories Northern Nigeria gave this City Firm Partner.

You can read an interesting description of the game of fives here


  1. A game of FIVES is certainly not the reason I expected for his visit to Nigeria. So glad someone has some great memories to associate with the country

  2. Me neither. But looks like we can finally go see a game of Fives. Yaay!

  3. Richard Tyler of Hogan Lovells - toured with the late Tony Hughes - I last played there in 1981!


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