Institutions don’t come much more oddly traditional than Oxford University. From subfusc to collections, crew dates to bops, we do things a bit differently round here, and that’s how we like it. We know this place simply wouldn’t be the same if we lost our silly outfits, our silly jargon and our silly social activities. The past is everywhere round here and I, for one, react fairly angrily when I sense that this is coming under threat. And this week I am angry.
This weekend showed the magic of the FA Cup at its very best. With Luton beating Norwich, Oldham beating Liverpool, MK Dons beating QPR and Leeds beating Spurs, there were upsets all across the draw. It is with this sense of hope that Hertford went into the 2nd round of Cuppers on Tuesday, only to be cruelly defeated on penalties. I won’t dwell on that. It’ll all get a bit emotional.
You might think I’ve just segued completely between two random points, but I promise you I’m about to link them in an extremely clever, journalistic style. The thing is, I actually made a factual error in that last paragraph. Hertford didn’t get knocked out of ‘Cuppers’, but rather ‘Xchanging Cuppers’. A new sponsorship deal has been reached which sees both the football and cricket Cuppers tournaments supported by the company Xchanging. I wanted to know what they did, but I’ve read their description on their website over and over and I still don’t quite understand. In the company’s own words, Xchanging “provides business, processing, technology and procurement services internationally for customers across multiple industries.” Clear as mud.
On this issue, I, for once in my life, stand with Liverpool fans. A banner they prepared to take into the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday declared that they were ‘against modern football’, and if we add ‘and cricket’ to the end of that, I couldn’t agree more. Such commercialisation at a grassroots level seems fairly unnecessary and it is, to me at least, saddening. The term ‘Cuppers’ has been used since 1882 at both Cambridge and Oxford, and the first football Cuppers tournament was contested here in the 1882/3 season, and was won by Magdalen College. The competition has a rich history, and is in fact the second oldest cup competition in the entire world. Its new title almost completely dissolves such a rich history, and instead makes it seem like some sort of game in which teams swap mugs.
Oxford University Blues footballer Edd Hermes agrees: “It seems like Cuppers is starting to lose its traditional charm. Perhaps it’s going the same way as the League Cup which has lost a bit of its magic ever since the likes of Worthington, Carling and now Capital One became involved.” One can’t help but feel that the heart is being ripped out of this famous old tournament.
It sometimes seems like everything in Oxford is merely a sponsorship opportunity for graduate employers. Not only do Xchanging now have their name attached to the tournament, but it seems like both OUAFC and OUCC are being asked to promote them at every possible opportunity. And for what in return? The winners of OUCC’s ‘MVP’ award will now receive a luxury prize, most probably branded champagne, on behalf of the sponsors. I’m thoroughly underwhelmed.
Blues cricket captain Sam Agarwal has a different view: “No, I don’t think the Xchanging sponsorship of OUCC’s Cuppers competition sees college sport moving into a more corporate world. It adds an extra spice to the competition, giving winning sides the prospect of toasting their victories in style with a case of champagne.”
Agarwal argues that “it also gives Xchanging access to a broad range of students who may be interested in pursuing a graduate career with the company – significantly different to big corporate sponsorships which pay large sums of money just to see their name attached to a team or competition.”
This is an interesting point of view, but not one I can agree with. Arguably, Xchanging are sponsoring Cuppers for the same reason as Carling sponsored the League Cup and Wonga now sponsor a number of professional football clubs: to exploit their target market. I know sport can be a fairly soulless beast, but I’ve always looked at college sport, and Cuppers in particular, as a bastion of a better time, when batsmen would face 90mph bowlers without a helmet and a physical assault wouldn’t even get you a free kick.
Unfortunately, this new deal reveals something rather depressing: Oxford sport will sell its soul for a few bottles of booze.