Right of passage: sporting initiations

Sport is full of irony. In the same way that the player with the best boots is usually the worst at football, the most enjoyable part of sport is the bit that’s worst for you: the social. Whilst the days of kicking lumps out of each other and then having a warm bath together after the game may be consigned – unfortunately, some might say – to the annals of history, the post match celebration lives on in Oxford in the form of rubbish curries and club ties in Park End.

As I write this, teams across Oxford are not only gearing up for their first match of the season, but also for the yearly ritual of initiating their new freshers. This arrangement is given extra gravitas by the fact that getting in to your college team of choice is such a momentous achievement that it is almost inconceivable that there would not be some sort of ceremony to accompany it.

Naturally there is some variance in initiations. With a decanal summons and even, in some ‘memorable’ instances, the national press waiting in the wings if things get out of hand, the more extreme examples have been toned down in recent years. Nevertheless, initiations do persist and, at their most ebullient, throw up enough stories that require the use of the words ‘lad’, ‘chat’ and ‘banter’ to make you think you were at Teddy Hall for dinner. Although having said that, if you were at Teddy Hall, there would be no way you could get a copy of this, or indeed any other, newspaper to find that out. A brief scratch at the surface of initiations reveal a tale of challenges, casual nudity (with bonus points if it occurs in public) and drinking which can – naturally – lead to chunder, usually after a failed if enthusiastic attempt to ‘see off’ that pint Guiness and Baileys.

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Most captains recognise this kind of ceremony isn’t for everyone, and react to this either by replacing initiations with a team dinner or, more usually, by providing for a guilt free opt out, leaving only those who desire ritual humiliation to be subject to it. So if you’ve found yourself a week into Oxford without the suitable notoriety to stand out from the crowd of ubiquitous freshers, then perhaps initiations can be the format to achieve your goals. After all, there is no surer way for people to know your name than for them to associate it with a funny and slightly degrading story.