We’ve all been there before, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying.
Go to bed early the night before, wake up with the cockerel, and have a nutritionally stellar breakfast, before spending mid-morning getting pumped up (admittedly I don’t think I’ve ever managed any of these, but folk myths are what they are) only to receive the dreaded email from your captain at around 11, invariably beginning, “Sorry gents…”The match is cancelled: you’re deprived of your weekly game of whatever – plus, to pile woe on top of woe, you’ve probably been landed with an extra training session – great!
Cancellations are a blight upon the college game, and they seem to be getting more common. In rugby, at least, more games than I can remember are being called off at the moment, and what’s really surprising is that there have been at least three in three weeks of Division 1 competition. Admittedly, at the other end of the college rugby ladder, cancellations have always been rife. When you prepare to face Wadham, or the (now dearly departed) Graduate Barbarians, you half expect not to end up playing them. But doyens of the top league Christ Church, to name but one of the recent offenders, are not your common or garden forfeiter.
But it’s a bit too easy simply to condemn the colleges that can’t get a side out. The heart of the matter is that sometimes getting a side out just isn’t likely. Possibly it’s the captain’s fault – you’ve skimped on raising awareness of the game, or you’ve forgotten, or you can’t play this week so the wheels have come off the whole affair. This is pretty rare though: most captains know their onions otherwise they wouldn’t be in that post in the first place. Much more common is the perfect storm of commitments. I’m not sure what strange alchemy it is but there are certain Tuesdays or Thursdays where nine regular players’ tutes have been moved to the least helpful time, and three of the others had an over-eventful night out the evening before, and have spent the morning getting familiar with the inside of their toilet bowl.
In times like these there’s not a lot you can do but accept that discretion’s the better part of valour. Borrowing a few players is one thing, but you can hardly borrow fourteen.I will, however, criticise some of the regulations. There is, for example, absolutely no reason why a side who have had a game against them cancelled should receive a bonus point. This leads to a situation where luck rather than talent decides the league, and a team who have run into a few forfeitures get it in the neck for their bad fortune. Shoddy.
A special word should be reserved for the old and ignoble game known as Cancellation Chicken. Common in lower league competitions it’s when a captain, in the knowledge that neither side is likely to have a full team, attempts to lure the other captain into conceding, either by stony silence or (in a riskier form of the game) by outwardly lying about the strength of his side. It can go well – certain Division 4 sides would still be languishing in Division 5 without it – but it doesn’t half make you feel dirty.So cancellations are no good thing in anyone’s book, but they are understandable and sometimes even useful.
College sport’s a rickety old beast at the best of times, and you can get spoilt by a clean run of fixtures into thinking that it’s a well-oiled machine, rather than a thoroughly chaotic pursuit which relies on a base of cajoling, blackmailing and dragooning. I’m still holding out hope for a game next week though, so fingers crossed that this cajoling is successful.