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Fives, Handball and other games

Handball is the name given to a large family of games in which a ball is hit with the hand and Fives refers to the UK versions of these games. Handball games are played all over the world and include the same basic skills and rules but with very different court architectures. They all derive from 'street games' in which the outside walls and features of particular buildings are incorporated into the game - these are then replicated in specially built courts.

The following videos illustrate the four versions of fives that we play:

Firstly, Rugby Fives which is what we play in Derby - note the four plain walls: Rugby Fives Promotional Video

This video demontrates "doubles" being played with four people on court - this is what we play most of the time and is very sociable. The doubles-partners are arranged to cover the left and right hand sides of the court: Rugby Fives Doubles Video

This next video is "singles" which is more physically demanding: Rugby Fives Singles Video

The second version is Winchester Fives which is what we play at some away matches and competitions. There is a buttress on the left wall which projects into the court at a 45 degree angle for about 10 inches and runs from the floor to the ceiling. This buttress makes it impossible to play singles because each player cannot be both in the front of the court if the ball hits the buttress and at the back if it misses. In doubles, the player covering the right-hand-side of the court tends to position himself further forward than in Rugby fives in case the ball hits the buttress: Winchester Fives Video

The third version is Eton Fives which is a three wall version of he game as it lacks a back-wall. We play this in nearby Repton - note the buttress, step, ledges and general craziness: Eton Fives Video

Eton fives can only be played as doubles with two people on the step and two off the step. The detailed geometry is based upon the chapel at Eton College.

Fourthly, Wallball which we play occasionally and would play more if we could build a court in Derby - it is sometimes referred to as One-Wall or just Handball. This version is very popular in the United States, particularly New York where they have free access to over 2000 courts in municipal parks. Note the single wall and floor markings and the fact that the whole height of the front wall is "in":

Wallball Video - Promo
Wallball Video in New York

Wallball can be played as both singles and doubles and has the advantage that the courts are relatively inexpensive to build. In fact, if you have an existing plain wall and adjacent flat surface within a sports-hall or in a playground then all you need is some markings and you have a new sports facility.

Other Handball Games:

Gaelic or Irish handball is played in Ireland in a large 60 by 30 foot court or "alley". This video shows mainly the four-wall version but there is some three-wall and some courts have one-wall lines painted so that it can also be played in the same court:

Irish Handball (60 by 30)

In the United States there are three versions being one-wall (wallball, which we also play in the UK), three-wall and four-wall. Singles and doubles are played in all three games with most players sticking to the more sociable doubles. The four-wall game is often referred to as American Handball:

Three-Wall Handball in California
American (Four-Wall) Handball Singles Final

In Argentina they have a four wall version with the twist that there are buttresses in the front-left and front-right corners which project into the court at 45 degrees for about 6 inches from floor to ceiling. These buttresses force the doubles-partners to take up positions at the front and rear of the court rather than left and right:

Pelota a Mano - Argentina

In Spain and France there are various Pelota or Frontón games which are also played in other parts of the world. There are one, two and three-wall versions of these games (front, left-hand or right-hand and sometimes back-wall):

Paume Artignoscaise against a church wall in Provençal, France
One-Wall Frontón a Mano (Frontball) in Mexico City
Frontball in Palestine
Two-Wall Frontón a Mano
Basque Pelota Frontón (Mur à Gauche)
Galotxa played in artificial street

This version has four walls and includes a gallery with sloping roof running along the left hand side from which spectators can view the action:

Trinquete Basque, Mano - Singles

These versions are played in Valencia in Spain:

Valencian Trinquete - Escala i Corda
Valencian Trinquete - Raspall
Llargues played in the street

This version is very similar but played in Ecuador:

Pelota a Mano in an Ecuadorian street

France also has a version played over a net called "Jeu de Paume" (Palm Game). Originally, as the name suggests, this was played with the hand but it got subverted with the introduction of rackets which led to "real tennis" and then to "lawn tennis" or what we commonly call "tennis". What a waste!

In Italy there are many variations in which the ball is hit with a bandaged fist or wooden cylinder over the forearm. They are field type games but often have one wall, roofs or nets. Examples include pallapugno, pantalera, pallonetto and tamburello - although the last one is played by hitting the ball with a drum so probably does not count as a handball game:


This is a handball that is played in the Flemish world, particularly Friesland. There are no walls or net and the rules are complicated. There is a similar game played in Belgium called 'jeu de pelote'. They appear to be related to the Italian and Valencian games, not least because they are played in the street:

Kaatsen (Frisian Handball)
Jeu de Pelote

In Australia, New Zealand and North America a playground handball game is very popular. The aim is to get promoted to a higher ranking square from the lower ones - being Ace, King, Queen or Jack with the lowest ranking square sometimes called Toilet, Rubbish Bin or Dunce! Mostly, there are 4 squares with one person in each but there are lots of variations depending on the playground. When played with a tennis sized ball, it is hit with only one hand but when played with a large diameter ball it often requires two and so becomes more of a variation on basket ball called four square:

Handball in Australian schools
Four Square

In North America the variation of hitting the ball at the ground before it hits a wall results in the game being called Chinese Handball - probably for no better reason than that the ball is being hit in the direction of China. In the UK it tends to be called Pat Ball. Young children just hit the ball onto the ground as this is easier than trying to hit the wall first but older children and adults tend to make the ball bounce through their legs and take it in turns rather than having teams:

Adult Chinese Handball

If you know of any other versions then please do let us know and we will include them here. A YouTube or Vimeo Video would be perfect!

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