It’s not in my nature to denigrate and criticise those who are members of less auspicious universities than ours because in fact they have it better in many ways – they have less work, go out more often and on the whole they seem to be annoyingly more attractive. That being said, we all know Brookes students are scum. And in that spirit, a football fixture was played on Friday night which cemented Oxford’s reputation of a higher level of skill, professionalism and modesty whilst proving that Brookes is essentially just a cesspit with students.
This fixture was the first of its kind in that our teams never meet competitively during the season seeing as Brookes are two divisions lower; however this prior knowledge of superiority was somewhat tarnished by our less than perfect season so far which has left us sitting at the bottom of the league. We were also fully aware that Brookes would attempt to compensate for their lack of ability with a mix of grit and aggression. Nevertheless, these two disparate sides met under the new floodlights of Iffley Rd stadium in front of a (near) capacity crowd of 400 people to decide which truly is the best university in Oxford.
The last few weeks of arctic weather had taken its toll on the Iffley pitch, and coupled with the fact we had played on it just two days this resulted in a scrappy and direct match with little for the purists to appreciate. Right from the outset we soon realised we could utilise the quick feet and speed of wingers Tom Castro and Ejike Onuchukwu (a name which temporary MC Ben May spectacularly garbled during the team announcements) to devastating effect against the Brookes full backs, which resulted in a host of early corners and long throw-ins. It was from one of these of Adam Healy missiles that the first chance was created for captain Julian Austin, as a flick on from Elliot Thomas fell to the head of Austin on the edge of the six yard box but sadly was sent over the bar. However, another of these throws resulted in a clash of heads and wound for Thomas who was sent to the sidelines for treatment. This was unfortunate as the vociferous Brookes fans had chosen to victimise Thomas out of sheer proximity and when he returned to the pitch after receiving medical attention, the dressing around his head resulted in the pithy but surprisingly catchy moniker of ‘Bandage Wanker.’ The irony is that without the hard work of our beloved Sabbatical Officer to organise the event, they wouldn’t have even had the privilege of verbally abusing him.
Even though we were a man short for that small period of time, this is when Oxford found the net; a flick on from Anthony Beddows from yet another Healy throw allowed Austin to redeem his previous error and guide the ball home. The remainder of the first half was relatively mundane with Brookes having very little in the way of inspiration. However, they did have one saving grace in the form of a fairly skilful and tricky midfielder who had one particularly incredible 35 yard effort which cannoned into the bar. Keeper Tom Haigh claims to have got a fingertip to it but the jury is still out. So, after 45 minutes the Blues were looking comfortable and solid but with an always potentially fickle 1-0 lead.
Sadly, the second half proved not much more exciting with Brookes still looking to play the long ball into their strikers despite having almost no physical presence whatsoever against the towering Blues centre backs Beddows and Bassett. In fact, it was a Brookes spectator who spiced things up half way through the second half by shedding his clothes and sprinting onto the field of play with the words ‘Fuck Oxford Uni’ adorned on his back in permanent marker. Whilst this gave infinite delight for his supporters, it was rather odd when the referee failed to stop the game, even when the ball went out of play, and the stewards were static in their response. It was only when the streaker was threatened with the discontinuation of the match that he chose to remove his shrunken, shrivelled ego.
Luckily, the second half did contain one other interesting piece of football-related action as the Blues managed to seal victory by scoring a second goal 20 minutes from time. It came in a similar to the manner to the first; a corner was initially cleared by a Brookes player before Sam Donald headed the ball back across the box where Austin was waiting at the far post to volley it home.
From this point it was vital to the Blues that we kept a clean sheet, something which has been an infrequent occurrence so far this season, so all our substitutions were used and we switched to a slightly more defensive formation in order to see out the 90 minutes. This was achieved successfully, although with roughly 10 minutes remaining as their fitness waned, Brookes clearly realised they weren’t going to win the match and began flying in with more cynical and dangerous tackles. However, this had no real impact and the Blues were able to claim victory and silence the jeers of the Brookes supporters.
Overall, it was a reasonably tedious encounter but one which should provide the Blues with a much needed confidence boost just a few short weeks away from the bona fide varsity against Cambridge in March. Wins have been scarce this season despite the more than respectable performances so it is reassuring to know we can perform on a larger stage and hopefully this win will be the springboard for league survival and a triumphant Varsity.