“But can they do it on a windy night in Stoke?” The perennial question is asked of Europe’s most luxurious of players. However, given that many of them ply their trade in our college football leagues, a more pertinent question might be whether they can do it on a grim afternoon in Oxford? Though it may not share Stoke’s renown for miserable weather, Oxford can occasionally conjure up a bad spell,which can present a whole different challenge for college footballers on top of the game itself. With little protection from the elements on open playing fields, players have no choice but to battle through the adversity. To borrow from theatrical terminology, the show must go on, and college football being the greatest show on earth, there isn’t a lot that can stop it.
This being Britain, sometimes it rains. Most of the time, the pitches can take it, but on the odd occasion we get a shower of biblical proportions, which even the obsessively manicured playing surfaces of the Premier League would struggle to withstand. Indeed, so-called professionals might call off the match in such circumstances, but college footballers are made of decidedly sterner stuff: Ryan Shawcross, eat your heart out. It’ll clear up in a minute, someone declares as you squint through the haze, trying to figure out which sodden silhouette is which. Spare a thought for the keeper, who has one hell of a job on his hands trying to see the ball, let alone catch it. The wisdom holds that wet conditions favour the attacker, but it’s difficult to string passes together when the ball, and the players, are skidding all over the place. As for defenders, slide tackles become more slide and less tackle when the surface is positively soaking.
When the final whistle has blown and you’ve trudged back into the changing rooms, the weather can really dampen the atmosphere, even if you managed to get a result. The captain’s joke about not needing to wash the kit this week falls on deaf ears as their teammates peel off their saturated shirts. The post-match beer doesn’t quite taste the same when infused with the rainwater dripping off your face. It hardly seems worth changing back into something dry, only for you to get drenched all over again on the walk home.
But same time next week? Oh, and the Cuppers game this weekend? Of course, rain or shine. These are no fair-weather footballers. This is college football. The only thing worse than having to play in abhorrent conditions is having to not play.
Players crave their weekly fix of football, and though they may end up getting beaten by their opponents, they certainly won’t countenance being beaten by the elements. College football can sometimes push players to the limits of human endurance, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.