PERHAPS Oxford’s least-trumpeted asset is its ability to offer its students almost unparalleled opportunities to become involved in competitive sport whilst at university. Finding your own way through the maze that is Oxford sport can be daunting and difficult, however, so Cherwell has put together a brief, and hopefully informative, guide to explain sport underneath those dreaming spires.
At the top of the Oxford sports pyramid are the university teams (referred to generally as the “Blues”), which compete in a range of sports from the traditional (rugby, netball) to the obscure (real tennis, fives). Blues sport generally requires a level of commitment that can leave little time for much else when work is also taken into account. The rewards, however, are worth it, especially if you are selected to play in a Varsity match against Cambridge. The Tabs, as the Light Blues are known in these parts, are the sworn enemy of every Oxonian, and the experience of defeating them in a Varsity fixture, no matter what the sport or level, is one that you’ll never forget.
Others, however, will tell you that it’s “all about the stash”, which Blues sportsmen and women are particularly fond of showing off everywhere from your 9am lecture to The Bridge. You simply cannot escape stash in Oxford as its students, for some mysterious reason, still really want to show off that Oxford University Trampoline Club hoodie that they “earned” in Michaelmas of their first year.
But Blues sport at its best is more than deserving of all that embroidered nylon. The rugby side draw large crowds as they take on Premiership sides with bold, running rugby. The netball girls will blow you away when you catch them in action and the rowers aren’t too bad either…
For the slightly less gifted and the much less committed, inter-college sport offers a truly fantastic mix of leagues, rivalries and legends. Colleges range from the über-sporty (Teddy Hall, Catz) to places where balls and exercise are practically banned (Merton, Trinity).
The most popular sports have leagues that are keenly contested and reported and all sports have a Cuppers competition – essentially a knock-out tournament between the colleges.
College sport itself also offers many levels of participation – you’ll spend as much time playing alongside a Blue in the first XV as you do frustrated at the dropped catches of the quiet kid from biochemistry you spoke to once in fresher’s week. Most of all, however, you’ll drop to your knees and thank UCAS that you go to university in a town that must have the highest number of picturesque, well-maintained sports grounds in the world per head.
On the stash front, college kit is generally a bit cheaper and less dark blue than its university equivalent. It is still highly prized, however, especially cheap polo shirts from Primark that can be printed by those helpful chaps at Elmer Cotton.
Rowing is an integral part of Oxford life, and you really should experience it in some way at least once if you get the chance. What you get from the Isis will depend on whether you’re an ultra-competitive, tireless monster, or someone who just wants to mess about on the river.
The first option is to jump right in this term, with 6am wake-ups, frostbite and discovering a mythical machine known as the “erg”. Training for college first and second boats is extremely serious, especially at the “Big Three” of Pembroke, Oriel and Magdalen. You’ll certainly make lots of friends very quickly but, unfortunately, they’ll all be rowers.
An alternative is to wait until Trinity term and catch crabs while the sun shines. Afternoon training, silly costumes and copious amounts of Pimm’s are the order of the day, and Summer Eights is an event not to be missed in the Oxford sporting calendar.