at Kolej Melayu Kuala Kangsar, Perak
[Eton Fives Association Annual Report 1994-1995]
and Krystyna Vargas
Kangsar is the royal town of the state of Perak, idyllically situated
on the River Perak, home of the Sultan and one of the most splendid
mosques in a country well endowed with such buildings.
Malay College is a government maintained, all Malay (i.e. Muslim)
boarding school for some 600 boys aged 13-18. There is a selective
entry and the five top boys from each state win places each year.
The school, dating from 1905, has a 'royal' foundation and the Guest
of Honour at Speech Day each year is one of the nine Sultans or four
Governors of the thirteen states of Malaysia. The Queen and Prince
Philip visited the college in October 1989.
There is general enthusiasm for organised sport and twelve games are
on offer: rugby, soccer, cricket, hockey, tennis, squash, basketball,
badminton, athletics, swimming, Eton Fives and Sepak Takraw, a sort
of 'kick volley ball' which is popular in Malaysia.
The main playing field lies in front of the impressive colonial-style
building, which is now the boarding house. It is used for rugby, soccer
and hockey as well as cricket. The wicket is matting on earth and
the outfield rough. They claim to have five boys currently in the
representative Perak Schools Cricket team. Rugby seems popular and
the boys play in a tournament every year, alternately at Kuala Kangsar
We were received by the Principal, Tn. Haji Hassan Hashim, in his
office. After a short chat and the presentation of some local food
as is the custom, we were taken on a tour of the school by one of
the Assistant Masters, Tn. Noor Zaidi Mohammed Noor. Mr Mohammed had
been a pupil at the school himself, had also spent six years in the
UK and is a graduate of the University of Kent. He is in charge of
We were shown the Exhibition Room, which contains College memorabilia
and many records of academic and sporting achievement as well as the
successes of former pupils.
The Eton Fives Courts are two in number and are free standing in an
area behind the boarding house and next the basketball courts. They
are the only courts I have seen where the cutter's partner, jumping
for a wayward cut, might end up picking a banana!
The dimensions of the court are more or less standard. The only abnormality
is the roof of the buttress which is rather too steeply angled to
the wall. The floors are cement in good condition, the walls cement/plaster
likewise. There is plant growth in the corners of each court and in
the floor of one, but removal would take a matter of minutes. There
is a crack in the right-hand wall of the right-hand court that would
not affect play; in general the conditions are excellent.
A notice in front of the courts in Malay, states: "These courts were
built in 1928 under Principal C. Bazell. The game is played with a
rubber ball by four players wearing gloves. The team that first collects
12 points will be the winner for each set."
The climate is not really ideal for Eton Fives - although considerably
better than for rugby! Daily temperatures are between 25º and 32º
C with high humidity all year round. Rain comes in afternoon storms.
The courts have neither roofs nor lights, needless to say.
The courts are not used. The problem is the age old one which we have
met in schools in the UK from Chigwell to Rydal: there is no teacher
with any interest, no reason for any boy to want to play, no prospect
of competition outside and the game has no status, national or international.
So what of the future? The College is proud of its position as one
of the leading schools in Malaysia. They welcome interest and visits
from abroad, especially the UK. (The first nine Headmasters were British).
They would be pleased to entertain and accommodate visiting teams
but would not be able to produce an Eton Fives pair. A demonstration
match would be appreciated. Perhaps a school cricket tour might include
some Eton Fives players who could arrange something, and who knows?
. . .
Realistically, the Eton Fives courts at Malay College, Kuala Kangsar,
will remain as a quaint relic of the colonial days - perhaps of passing
interest to tourists who have admired the Sultan's Palace and the
Mosque. There is a report of two ladies, quite recently, travelling
through the country and stopping off and playing in the courts. I
was unable to identify them from the description.
Lastly a question for the archivist or amateur historian: why are
the courts there? Was C Bazell (H M from 1923-1938) an Etonian or
had he taught at an Eton Fives playing school? Or was there another
Edward Gordon-Spencer (of Zuoz fame) at large in Malaysia?