The recent snow has inconvenienced many Oxford residents in the last week, but the impact on sports teams has been particularly harsh. In a week in which even Oxford United’s scheduled fixture against Rotherham at the Kassam stadium had to be postponed on safety grounds, both university and college level sport have suffered severe disruption.
Amongst the countless postponements and cancellations, some of the more high-profile included Wednesday’s scheduled clashes between Oxford University’s Rugby Blues and the RAF, and the pre-Varsity ladies’ hockey versus Cambridge. Oxford University football club’s Varsity game against Oxford Brookes, scheduled to take place at Iffley Road tonight, has also been postponed.
This has left many of Oxford University’s sportsmen and women feeling frustrated. The University Rugby league club has suffered the cancellation of several training sessions, as well as the first game of the new year, due to take place last Sunday. Their captain, Liam Loftus, expressed his disappointment: “Fresh from our pre-term training camp in Portugal over the vacation, we were keen to hit the ground running this term, and build upon the success we had in Michaelmas.”
His sentiment will be familiar to anyone currently involved in Oxford sport at any level. In the slightly less glamorous ranks of college football, Exeter have been denied the chance to extend their lead at the top of the Premier Division, with two consecutive games called off due to snow. Captain James West was philosophical about the disturbance, saying, “After the long Christmas break we were all looking forward to playing again.” He added, “Obviously there is nothing we can do about it, we’ll just make sure we’re ready for when the games start again.”
In what has been a difficult week for him and his colleagues, Oxford University’s acting head groundsman, Chris Sutton, explained the scale of disruption: “We look after 12 football pitches, six rugby pitches and three lacrosse pitches as well as training areas and summer sports facilities, over seven sites. During the period from 6th January to 27th January we will have had 34 football, 15 rugby and 5 lacrosse games cancelled because of the weather. As well as virtually all training sessions.”
Though many outdoor sports teams have been forced to replace their usual practices with ‘classroom sessions’, gym work and snow runs, for some hardy clubs it’s been business as usual.
The Oxford University Cross Country Club’s scheduled race against Thames Hare & Hounds on Wimbledon Common last Saturday went ahead as planned despite the weather conditions. Naomi Webber, women’s Captain, commented, “we didn’t really think twice about the race going ahead. Cross-country races don’t get cancelled for minor meteorological issues such as snow. It just added to the fun!”
The snow did present some novel difficulties, however. Henry Mitchell, OUCCC Men’s Captain, explained, “in the men’s race, Oxford featured strongly at the front with four dark blues tracking a Thames athlete over the first three miles as this was the only way not to get lost. “The course was only sporadically marked with indistinguishable white flags, some of which had been stolen by locals, and was pretty confusing.” The men’s team had navigational issues, adding 300m to their course through missing a turn. Mitchell and Liam Mulroy were the only athletes to finish the race with times of 43.54 and 44.40 respectively.
Likewise, Oxford’s rowers have kept busy. Last weekend, they took to the Isis for the IWLC races in Arctic conditions, described by one first year as “a boat race in a blizzard.”
The only real survivors of the past couple of weeks have been those sports lucky enough to find their natural home indoors. The Oxford University swimming club’s weekend meet was one of the few sporting fixtures to take place, though even then one of the two days was lost to the snow. In what was the last opportunity to fine-tune their racing skills before Varsity, OUSC lined up against the top clubs in Oxfordshire. Hertford fresher Naomi Vides was particularly impressive, setting new club records in the 200 breaststroke (2:40.39) and the 400 IM (5:12.50).
Meanwhile, many indoor sports teams have been able to continue training for their respective Varsity games later this term undisturbed. Boxing captain Mikey Davis explained, “The boxing club has just got back from our pre-season training camp in Tenerife and everyone is currently training hard for our two big competitions of the year, Town vs Gown on 5th February and the Varsity match on 9th March.”
With conditions still far from perfect by midweek, one college rugby player remarked that “we really don’t have a clue when the next match will be”, words that seem symptomatic of the uncertainty surrounding Oxford sport.