It is a sunny afternoon, in early May, but right now I don’t notice the weather. My ears are filled with the thudding of blood, and my heart pounding in my chest. Adrenaline is coursing through every part of my being.
There is a single word on the lips of everyone around me. They call it a chant, but that could never encapsulate its beauty. This is a symphony, a moment of awless rapture; brought out in a guttural cry, rising from the depths of each individual soul, and swelling to envelop us all in the same cloak of celebration and joy, so much contained in just two syllables. “Keble”.
But what is this moment of such beauty, such joy, such climax you ask? The answer should be clear: it is the winning of the rugby cuppers final.
In this moment, I am sure there has never been a group of people more closely bound than we are now. I am not simply a student at this college, at this sporting event, I am every one of us. Every player, every spectator, every poor soul trapped in the library learning of the game only through sporadic texts. We are each cells of the greater body that is the college, moving, rising and falling together to the beat of a drum only we can hear. In this moment of epiphany, I feel I finally understand the Buddhist concept of Interdependent Co-arising. And every cell sings with the same pride, for the college, for the team, for the self that we all become together. How could anyone claim to be a better college, when we have so clearly proved our infinite worth by being the best at passing balls across a large field?!
If this experience has taught me anything, it is that cuppers must be something fantastic, to bring us together with such force, and to raise college pride between us to such extent. To question it is to question the very fabric of college society as a whole.
To the uninitiated, cuppers seems to offer a non-threat- ening and relaxed introduction to Oxford’s inter-collegiate competition.
You are lured into a false sense of security when you hear that comforting phrase which all enthusiastic (but useless) competitors, such as myself, long for: “it’s the taking part that counts.”
But that’s not what it’s about.
As with everything at Oxford which contains even the remotest hint of competition, those who participate are out to win, and absolutely obliterate their comepetition, without even a shred of mercy.
So much so, that the unsuspecting fresher who signed up, confident in the knowledge that no-one else could sprint either, is suddenly up against quasi-Olympic athletes. And the keen amateur dramatist who thought their cameo appearance in the school’s rendition of We Will Rock You would cut the mustard, finds themselves on stage with those who would have attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, had the Oxford offer failed to come to fruition. Masquerading as an unintimidating way for anyone to enjoy the extra-curriculars on offer, cuppers sets the average Joe Bloggs up for failure and humiliation. So traumatising is this experience that many return to the comforting embrace of the library, never to be seen again.
Peel away the amicable veneer which once enticed you, and the true nature of cuppers is revealed: it is not the golden ticket to stardom and lifelong friendships that it pretends to be. Nor is it the perfect opportunity to hone your sporting acumen in order to score that chirpse.
In fact, the only thing I can say for certain is that it’s just not my cupper tea.