On Friday of fourth week, the latest installment of JCR Football Cuppers – one of the oldest knock-out football tournaments in the world – kicked off in earnest. For 90 minutes college footballers across Oxford were able to escape their humdrum lives of lectures, labs and libraries with one shared aspiration: a place in the final and in the history books.
At the end of Hilary term the finalists will battle it out on the carpet of Iffley Road in front of hundreds of spectators. This is an alluring prospect for players normally watched by an old man and his dog. The final of Cuppers is the pinnacle of an college football career, and as such all teams will strive to emulate the achievements of Worcester and New from last season.
Cuppers is a great leveller. Like the FA Cup it can pit the lowliest third division side against Premier League big dogs. The Havant and Waterloovilles of college sport, used to competing on pitches more resemblant of marshland, who play a form of the game closer to a combination of pinball and tennis, and for whom kicking the shins of their opposition is a legitimate tackle, can line up against the Manchester Uniteds of this collegiate system. If the favoured side don’t fancy it, the underdog will exploit this.
Worcester are overwhelming favourites for this year, having experienced glory last year and with a team consisting of about nine Blues. They also received a suspicious bye through to the second round. Look out for the likes of last season’s beaten finalists New and other Premier League contenders such as Teddy Hall too.
Worcester should not pop the champagne corks just yet however. Knock-out football can still produce some magic. A lesser team can park the proverbial bus in front of their goal and nick a cheeky winner in injury time. They can hang on for the lottery of the penalty shootout. In the first round Balliol, of the third tier, mauled a Merton-Mansfield side supposedly two leagues above them. For JCR teams who are better than their league position suggests, Cuppers is an opportunity to make a statement.
The teams left in the competition can dare to dream. Win the next round and it’s quarter-final time. A few more and you’re in the final with hundreds of adoring fans chanting your name. A scrappy final with few chances ensues. It’s 0-0 and you step up to take the decisive penalty…
College footballers can dream of this, but lets face it, Worcester will probably win it again.