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Friday 16th November 2018 ko 19.00

Brookes Varsity 2018

OXFORD UNIVERSITY 4 (Thelen 21p Liew 40 Cantrill 70 Coveney 87)


Att 499 at Iffley Road Stadium, Oxford

Entry £6

Programme FREE

When Robyn moved to Oxford two years ago the slightly schizophrenic nature of the city was something of a surprise to her. I’d shown her around the sites many months previously, and the college buildings are a beautiful must-see for any visitor. But for those of us that both are from, and live in Oxford, we live almost entirely separate lives from the university and those who teach and study there. This evening out though was a chance to sample something from the “Gown” side of Oxford, and a chance to look at another part of Oxford where one side is set against the other. 

You think of the Varsity Game, and you immediately think of Oxford vs Cambridge. This fixture started around 10 years ago as a warm-up for that game, but has taken on a life of it’s own ever since, including the 2010 edition being played behind closed doors after threats of after the discovery of a Facebook group suggesting that large numbers of Brookes fans would inundate the ground!

But why the rivalry? The answer is locality and to a lesser extent thoughts of social class. Brookes are the former Oxford Polytechnic from up the hill in Headington, and believe me the two institutions have little else in common but the fact that they award degrees. Correctly or otherwise when it comes to this fixture Oxford pitch themselves as the traditional and established with Brookes as the young upstarts from the east of the city.

The venue couldn’t be more Oxford University if it tried. Sir Roger Bannister was a medical student at St Mary’s College when he became the first man to break the 4-minute mile, clocking 3’59.4″ in 1954 here. Little wonder the Iffley Road Stadium track now bears the name of the athlete that set the most famous record ever achieved here.

The issue now is that the stadium is now unlicenced after the university decided it was uneconomic to carry out repairs and alterations, so the capacity is now 499, with the back of the stand cordoned off. You can see their point, this is just about the only time each year a gate is charged or there’s any kind of a crowd!

But it was abundantly clear that the fixture has outgrown the venue. The match was all-ticket, the tickets sold out, and with the two sides really not getting with each other, on the practice of placing the Brookes fans on the left and the Oxford fans on the right worked only until the one side had to walk past the other to leave after the final whistle. Scuffles took place, and I questioned then as I do know whether selling cans of beer and cider at the side of the stand was a good idea?

I suspect that eventually the fixture will find a new home, and I’d suggest the Oxford University Rugby Ground next door would be a fine place, and would allow for far more straightforward segregation.

Other the appearance of programme the other change in the event since my last visit six years ago is the addition of the corresponding women’s game. Sadly that kicked off at 5.30pm making it difficult to attend for those of us on the 9-5 slog!

In previous years the Brookes Varsity game has also been a BUCS game. But these days Oxford University play in the British Universities and Colleges League Midlands Division 1A, with Brookes in Midlands 2B. The division’s difference made me wonder just how competitive the game would be? I tried to get the two teams’ line-ups, and failed completely, with neither the referee or PA box in possession of a teamsheet. What you’ve read at the top of this is from the OUAFC website, I assume they got it right!

It was every inch as one-sided as I’d feared. Oxford passed and moved in a way that I’m sure their coach Mickey Lewis (ex Oxford United and Hayes & Yeading manager) would have found pleasing. For all their hard work Brookes found themselves chasing dark blue shadows, and for them and their fans it must have been a fairly excruciating evening, particularly as when it was all over they had to walk past the Oxford fans, who weren’t magnanimous in victory to any extent.

The game finished with Oxford showboating, and once calm had bee restored a phlegmatic Mickey Lewis watched his charges lift the trophy. At that moment I did wonder what was going through his mind. We followed the students out of the stadium, they returned to their part of Oxford, and we to ours.

It was a football match like little or nothing else you’ll see in this country, and at a venue that should resonate with any sports fan. It was also at times, poorly organised and the antics of some plain infantile. It was perhaps, the best of times, and the worst of times.