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Saturday 31st October 2009 ko 10.30

Oxford University Middle Common Room League Division One

NUFFIELD COLLEGE 3 (Gallo 16 55 Strang 73)

WOLFSON ST CROSS 1 (Cockfield 22)

Att 7 at Worcester College, Oxford

Free Entry

So with another dose of lockdown, I’m both up-to-date with this blog and at a loose end. So while I can’t watch anything live, I’ll dip back into my photo archive and tell the tales from back when. To start with here’s one that involves a bone fide legend.

Don’t bother trying to look up Andy “Womble” James on Transfermarkt, he never played professionally, but when he died last year he became the only non-player/manager/director to ever receive a minutes’ applause or silence before a game at Oxford United. That’s because there never has been and probably never will be a more committed Oxford United fan than Womble. 

But there was more to him than just Oxford United.  He was a qualified referee, and was a well-known figure on the local Sunday League circuit. That by the way did create an issue when Oxford United fans used to mock referees with the chant, “Sunday League Referee!” During his illness at times I felt that chant became close to being a tribute to him.

But living in Oxford does have a bonus if you’re a referee, and that’s Student Football. There’s games in the undergraduates Junior Common Room League virtually every day of the week with the post-graduate Middle Common Room League fixtures taking place on Saturday mornings- handy if you’ve got another game to go and see. 

I’ll never quite know why Womble invited me to this, my first MCR game, perhaps he felt this one would be interesting, and there was the fact the since the sports facilities at Worcester College are, almost uniquely, part of the main college campus and most of the time the college is closed to visitors. On this occasion I was there because Womble told the porter I was the Referee’s Observer!

The place is well worth our little bit of subterfuge to get me in. The college was founded in 1714 from a bequest from Sir Thomas Cookes of Worcester. The college initially used the buildings of the former Gloucester College on the same site. These days just about all that left of its former use is the medieval cottages on the left of the quadrangle, just about the first thing you see once you’ve negotiated your way past the porter’s office at the entrance at the end of Beaumont Street.

Gloucester College was founded in 1283 and was where Robert Catesby ringleader of the “Gunpowder Plot” was educated mainly it seems due to its Catholic intake. He never actually took his degree, as doing so would have meant taking the Oath of Supremacy (to the monarch, as the head of the Church of England) an unacceptable compromise to his faith. The dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII between 1536 and 1541 saw the end of the existence of Gloucester College.

In 1542 the buildings were sold to Robert King, the first Bishop of Oxford who used it as a palace, before the Gloucester Hall as it was now named became an annexe of St John’s College. The Cookes Bequest was means of finding a new use for a site that by the 18th Century was down on its luck, and rather inconveniently placed on the edge of Oxford. 

That’s certainly not the case now, as Beaumont Street is one of the most exclusive parts of Oxford with the likes of the Randolph Hotel, the Ashmolean Museum all here. It’s the place I take visitors to my home town who want the feel of “Inspector Morse.” No end of episodes of the TV drama were filmed here. 

Worcester College is one of the best endowed, and sought after of the Oxford colleges, with the likes Rupert Murdoch, Alistair Burnet, former Dr Who writer Russell T Davies and actress Emma Watson amongst their alumni. And you can see why when you take the 5 minute walk from the Quadrangle to the Sports Field. 

You pass by the ornamental gardens and lake before the sports ground opens out in front of you. There is an “Other worldly” feel about the place which does take some doing, as you are less than half mile from the centre of Oxford and the main railway station! It is a beautiful short walk to watch a football match. 

You do tend to see more merged college clubs and borrowed grounds in Middle Common Room football than you do in Junior Common Room, simply because there are far fewer post-graduate students, and no I have no idea why Nuffield College were using Worcester College for a game over 11 years ago! I’m just glad Womble knew where to report to, and how to get me in. I’ve no idea how I’d get to see a game there now.

As perhaps you’d expect the game wasn’t of the highest quality but who would expect silky skills in the MCR League? At one point I even ended up coaching one of the club linesmen as he’d never done the job before! But this was about far more than just the match itself, that was little more than a means of rubber-stamping my visit.

The game finished, and the groundsman arrived with half a pint of bitter each for everyone there. That was a first for me, and its not being repeated anywhere else I’ve been. As left I genuinely felt I was leaving another world and re-entering reality as I walked back along Beaumont Street.