With pre-season for Blues teams well underway even before freshers’ week, college footballers across Oxford will now be turning their attention to the upcoming Cuppers campaign.
For many, their stomachs will also be turning, as the start of a new season comes as a shock to the system after a summer of debauchery befitting the superstar status of each college’s finest players.
The first challenge facing every team captain is how to disseminate their own enthusiasm for a preseason training session throughout a dressing room packed with big names, and even bigger egos. You never lose that natural goalscoring instinct, insists last season’s top scorer, as he neglects to confirm his availability on the Doodle poll. Whether or not that is the case, you can certainly lose your fitness, as demonstrated when another striker suffers a hamstring injury putting out cones for a training exercise.
Something else you can lose, of course, is your best player. This is only natural, given the intense physical demands of both league and Cuppers, which take their toll on the body after three or four years. After this time, having given blood, sweat and tears for their college, players have little reason to remain in Oxford and so tend to move on to the next stage of their lives.
This presents a problem for teams, without the luxury of a transfer window afforded to lesser leagues around the globe, as they are forced to put their faith in the lottery that is the college application process.
A college’s golden generation may have just ‘graduated’ on a high, having achieved promotion by winning the league, but the team they leave behind face a harrowing season if the freshers who replace them are more Alan Hutton than Alan Shearer.
However, as Oscar Wilde said, having captained Magdalen seconds to Cuppers glory in 1876-77, ‘Football is about the team, not the individuals.’ Certainly, college football brings together a diverse group of individuals who would perhaps not otherwise rub shoulders, but once they pull on the college strip, crest above heart, they are united, by a love of the game and an even stronger love for their college.
One of the new lads will score with an overhead kick in the first few minutes of his debut, only to never score again, but that one moment of magic will cement his place in college legend. The key to making or breaking a team’s season could be how well the players channel their college pride, and how fast the new teammates buy into the collective mentality of the team and, of course, the college.
All this and more will be on the minds of Oxford’s college footballers as they eagerly anticipate the kick-off of the new season.