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Thursday 11th April 2019 ko 19.30

Cambridge University Association Football League- Cuppers Final

FITZWILLIAM 3 (Saunders 40 Ellis 103 Burrows 110)

PEMBROKE 1 (Ireland 69)

After extra time of 10 minutes each way

Att c300 at Grange Road (Cambridge University RUFC)

Entry & Programme FREE

If you haven’t scrolled passed this, and headed straight for the pictures you may be wondering what the appeal was here? You might assume that since I’m from Oxford that I was looking at this through some sense of rivalry but unless you’re involved at either city’s university there is no rivalry at all. As I blasted along the M11 the sense was far more about this being a “Cradle of the game” job.

Cambridge University have claimed to be the world’s oldest football club, and certainly were the first to start to codify the laws of the game, the Cambridge Rules dating from as early as 1838. Further sets of rules followed in 1848, 1856 and 1863 and the influence on today’s Laws of the game is still there. The Offside Law is a version of the Cambridge Rules, as is the change of ends at half time and the rules legislated for a tape on top of the two goalposts-  now the crossbar.

The rules also forbade catching the ball and ‘hacking’ or kicking an opponents. These ‘Cambridge Rules’ became the defining influence on the 1863 Football Association rules, and in time the split away by clubs who wanted a more physical game. They formed the Rugby Football Union, or RFU in 1871

Those early rules came from games played on Parker’s Piece in Cambridge, and I sure I’m not the only person who’d love to see a significant game played there! But Grange Road has its own history, it’s the home of Cambridge University’s Rugby Union Club, and has been since the 19th Century, and even for an an Association Rules fan like myself the sense of history is obvious. This, after all is where Rob Andrew plied his early trade.

Cambridge University Football Club tends to split it’s games between the University Cricket Ground, Fenners  (that also comes highly recommended), and here with Grange Road tending to be used later on in the season. Certainly Grange Road has the location, with the Cambridge University Library clearly visible in one corner. The brick built building with its huge tower, erroneously rumoured to store pornography, was designed by Giles Gilbert Scott who also designed Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral and Battersea Power Station. He is of course best known for designing the iconic K2 red telephone box!

The final I was watching was the final of the university’s college cup competition. As a university as a whole the institution plays in the BUSA League but beneath that there is a healthy inter-collegiate league, in much the same way there is at Oxford University. At Junior Common Room, or undergraduate level there are no less than 6 divisions in the men’s section, whilst there is also sections for women and Middle Common Room, or post-graduates. There is no lack of football to get involved with.!

This game saw Premier Division, and regular cup winners Fitzwilliam take on second tier Pembroke. In student football the turnover of players on 3 year degrees is important, so a division’s difference between the two sides may not be as significant as in club football.

But at least at first it was the differences that I saw first. Some of it was little things, the referee using a lower-pitched rugby whistle than the usual Acme Thunderer, and the use of last season’s captains as linesmen. The game, just like the Oxford University vs Oxford Brookes annual Varsity game is notable for having younger, more well-to-do clientele than you’d expect from a normal game. The supporters made for quite an atmosphere; they made quite a noise under the pitched roof of the main stand. In the end though, such was the quality of both surroundings and game that those differences soon became quirks.

It was by anyone’s standards an excellent game to watch, with both sides contributing to the entertainment. Fitzwilliam shaded it, just about deservedly on the balance of play, and they celebrations afterwards reflected the battle they’d had. For the groundhoppers present, the chance to visit a truly wonderful ground was a real treat.

Just one question though, why are university knock-out competitions always referred to as “Cuppers?”