The start of the college season can be a difficult time for even the sagest of soccer skippers, as they scramble to assemble their squads to go to war with: battling contact hours, fitness concerns and selection dilemmas, just to get eleven players at the same ground in the same colour kit.
Throw in the fact that the holy grail of the Oxford footballing scene, Cuppers, has been handed an early term start commencing on Monday of 2nd week to allow for the Hassan’s Cup – the task for the captain has become more challenging than ever. Pre-season friendly plans have fallen through, the defence haven’t yet got each others names nailed, the mercurial forward has come down with a mystery virus; can the team stoke the fires within and rouse themselves for a victory that will define the season?
The first-round draw has been made, you can now see who your side will be taking on for a shot at conquering all.
On paper, the Premier Division behemoths have fared well avoiding taking on each other at a time where tactical plans are still embryonic, and scouts have yet to compile their extensive dossiers from hungover visits to the depths of Marston. In fact, four of the seven sides in the highest echelon of the college game have secured fixtures against relative minnows of the Third Division; the opportunity for a giant killing is a very real possibility, and in particular both of last season’s finalists, Worcester and New (facing Univ and Oriel respectively), will be wary of being upset on their travels so early in the tournament.
Another highlight of the draw is a match-up between the two erstwhile First Division sides Balliol and Queen’s. Both were relegated last season despite the former topping the division at the winter break and then registering just a sole point thereafter. They are eager to right their wrongs. Elsewhere in the division, Pembroke and Teddy Hall, historically teams who go deep into Cuppers, have been pitted against each other, but the triumvirate of St Anne’s, Exeter and Christ Church have all been handed the golden ticket of a first round bye. Anne’s – fresh from last year’s triumphant dual Hassan’s Cup campaign and League promotion, will play the red Exeter juggernaut in the second round.
Elsewhere, Lincoln College will take on St Hilda’s as they look to rebuild from a catastrophic slide right through to the bottom of the pyramid, and will do well to look to their Turl Street rivals for inspiration: Brasenose won the competition from a similarly low-lying position in 2016.
Rounding off the fixtures, newly promoted Hertford face off against a strong Somerville outfit in an all-Division-Two clash, Merton/Mansfield host Premier Division Champions St John’s, and Keble take on St Hugh’s.