MICHAEL ALHADEFF previews the glut of Varsity Matches to come this term.
So let’s face it, on a wet afternoon in December, it was a bit of a shambles. Thoroughly outplayed and outmuscled, the Light Blues cut forlorn figures on the Twickenham turf. It was not Varsity as it should be.
This term is set to be a Varsity bonanza with grudge matches coming thick and fast right up to the end of Lent. But why should it matter? Is it another case of Oxbridge arrogance and elitism to single out the Dark Blues as the number one opponents? In many cases, Oxford is not even the number one side Cambridge will face throughout the year. It can be a false measurement of the year’s achievements.
However, I’m not about to suggest the heretical move of dumping the Varsity fixture. Like many things at Cambridge, the Varsity match has become a cherished institution.
Talk to anyone who has been involved in the big game and it is clear what it means to them – their whole season is judged on it. Have a glorious season, but lose that one match then you can forget having anything meaningful to talk about. On the other hand, have a rubbish season, but become the hero at Varsity then all past sins are forgotten. But this fails to consider the other giants of University sport in this country; as the Loughboroughs and Durhams.
The problem is there is not much interest in University sport in this country. I will give a fiver (personally) to anyone who can name which BUCS leagues Cambridge is currently top of. If you look over the pond, the situation tends to be completely different. Due to different infrastructure and attitude, college sport is quite often a big deal, especially American Football which is almost followed as religiously as the real thing. Meanwhile, colleges are often the feeder grounds for the next track and field stars. In the US, college sport matters.
The Boat Race – one of the Varsity calendar’s biggest draws
Now, I’m not suggesting we convert to an American-style sports system. That is never realistically going to happen – the government can barely decide how much P.E five year-olds need. Nor would it necessarily be desirable. This is where the Varsity match steps in, it adds a certain razzmatazz. You may think this only applies to Twickenham and the Boat Race, but go to Twickenham Stoop to watch rugby league or watch the boxing at The Troxy and you will start to gain a sense about how fun these events can be.
And it is this sense of fun which is important as the Varsity match contains something deeper. In a world where sport is highly commercialised with billion-dollar owners and pampered players, the Varsity match reminds us about the amateur side of sport.
Not so long ago, the amateur was an everyday day occurrence, not some rare beast. Amateurism did have it faults, but it also reminds us of some of the values in sport. The Varsity match, in many cases, helps facilitate this.
It may not offer the highest quality, but it offers a different angle on sport. It helps remind us that sport is it about getting involved and giving your best; about playing for passion, not money. And this is why all sports fans should be excited for Varsity season.