A balmy, blue-skied Saturday last weekend saw a hotly-contested Oxbridge encounter take place on a playing field in Summertown; however, in this instance, the atmosphere was not that of watching elite rowers race down the Thames, or the fierce rivalry bordering on animosity found at many such Varsity occasions.
Fifty of Clare College, Cambridge’s finest sportspeople had made the journey down the motorway to visit St Hugh’s for the inaugural sports day between the two sister colleges, and the prospect of a day of relaxing, socialising, barbecuing and relaxed sporting competition. With no formal prize for the outcome of the day, this was an opportunity for two colleges from the UK’s oldest universities to engage in competition over four sports: football, lacrosse, netball and cricket.
So what is to be gained from these low-level Varsity clashes? Big events such as the rugby match at Twickenham and the iconic boat race on the Thames are often thought of when the Oxford-Cambridge rivalry is cited, but this sort of friendly competition seems more quintessential of the relationship the two universities hold. While competitive, the day had the ultimate aim of improving relationships between St Hughs’ and their sister college all whilst enjoying both sport and sunshine. Other colleges host similar events each year: Worcester, for example, holds an annual sports day with St Catharine’s College, Cambridge.
However, this appears to be a concept that more colleges could make the most of. Most students at Oxford will never compete in a blues-level fixture against Cambridge, and bringing the mantra of ‘shoeing the tabs’ a little closer to home gives some reality to the fabled historical battle of intellect and athleticism that exists between the two universities.
The day kicked off, quite literally, with a football match held at Cutteslowe Park. The competitiveness of both teams was intense, and some important calls had to be made, but with two members of Clare acting as referees, the decision-making was in good hands. The visitors managed to net two goals, while Hugh’s finalist Nick Kelly managed to score twice in his last match before graduation. The match ended at 2-2, meaning the result eventually came down to penalties, much to the delight of the spectators, and although finalist Paddy Byfield managed to emulate Paul Pogba in his technique for the first successful Hugh’s penalty, the home side ultimately lost 4-3.
Mixed lacrosse was up next – a sport most aren’t as familiar with as football. This was an opportunity for some novice players to try their hand at the game, but resulted in a no less enthusiastically fought match. Clare ultimately came out victorious with a 4-0 win, but the match was well contested and maximum effort was exerted by both sides.
A similar series of events unfolded on the netball court in the early afternoon, as the whole contingent now relocated to the Hugh’s-Keble sports grounds on Woodstock Road. The Clare team were ultimately too strong for the Hugh’s side, and they came away with another victory.
While the barbecue, appropriate for the unusually sunny day, heated up, the final event of the day – the cricket – began. Hugh’s batting got off to a slow start, but picked up over the course of the two innings. As the afternoon wore on, and the sun drew lower in the sky, it was a scene of idyllic sporting bliss.
Hugh’s firmly established their lead in the cricket while the spectators enjoyed the glorious weather and Clare’s generosity in providing Domino’s pizza for everyone. The local Co-op was drained of all its alcohol supplies, and an ice cream van even turned up to provide more refreshment to the assembling crowds.
As the cricket came to a conclusion, with the Oxford side finally gaining a win to finish the day, everyone, home crowds and visitors alike, started to walk back to college, connected now by the bond only a shared Domino’s pizza can bring. The visitors from Clare, a college founded in 1326, looked around the grounds of Hugh’s and its mixture of Victorian elegance and brutalist modern architecture, before ending up in the JCR to finish the final tinnies of the day with their hosts.
Overall, although a veil of supposed enmity exists between Oxford and Cambridge, at a basic level we as students have plenty in common with our East Anglian counterparts, and events such as this serve both to affirm the gentle rivalry between us and share mutual respect over an enjoyable day of sport. Although Hugh’s didn’t come out on top this time, the results only provided, as commented by Matt Daloisio on the college’s JCR Facebook page, “more of an incentive to get revenge on Clare’s home turf next year.” The sunburn may fade (eventually), but the bonds formed between the colleges will last many years to come.