You may have had the fortune of being in Balliol bar on a Tuesday night, supping on a nice pint of their signature Balliol Blue and stood watching a bunch of slightly worse-for-wear freshers gathered around the pool table moments before they brave the Hawaiian wilds of Lola Lo. You may have stood bemused as you watched them try to harness their inner Ronnie O’Sullivan, measuring angles and owning the perimeter of the table with the same swagger as “the greatest player ever to have picked up a cue”. Not that I mean to conflate Snooker and Pool – there is a significant difference, believe me – but, in truth, the only overlap between their game and Ronnie’s is the alcohol.
However, some men and women in our midst have mastered this art that eludes the intrepid punters of the college bars and JCRs across university: the Oxford University Pool and Snooker Club (OUPSC). Armed with just a cue and the clothes on their back, these troopers stepped behind enemy lines at the end of 2nd Week for their varsity showdown. Smarting from a 16 frames to nine defeat in the annual Town vs Gown match, the pool contingent of OUPSC were looking to equal their snooker counterparts who had already demolished the Tabs and their questionable Light Blue waistcoats 27 frames to 5 in Cowley back in March, in the first such clash since 2003.
By contrast the pool varsity has been a more regular fixture in the OUPSC calendar, with a contest having taken place every year since 1987. The format is a familiar one; a total of 90 frames are fiercely battled in both singles and doubles matches over two days. Historically, the Oxford side has dominated, leaving their Cantab counterparts in their wake with a staggering 16 victories between 1987 and 2005, dominance rarely seen in any varsity match across all sports. However, the last 10 years have seen an increased period of Light Blue dominance, in which Cambridge scored six convincing victories, including in the 2013 and 2014 editions of this vaunted varsity.
Hot off the heels of finishing top of their league, OUPSC were in good spirits as they arrived at the Cambridge Snooker Centre, itself a stone’s throw away from the famous Abbey Stadium, where minnows Cambridge United held Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney & Co to a scoreless draw in the FA Cup 3rd Round back in February, before being defeated handily in Manchester. Was this to be a dark omen for the Tabs?
After scraping victory in the first set of singles, 19 frames to 17, the Dark Blues followed up with victory in the day’s doubles portion 10-8. Rapidly, the pool varsity showdown had begun to closely resemble that fabled cup-tie, as the two sides were almost at deadlock following the first day’s proceedings, as Oxford held a slender lead of just 4 frames at the close of play.
The second day was a different story altogether as Oxford’s class began to show. Oxford’s men began to notch victory after victory, quickly racking up an unassailable lead from what had initially seemed a closely matched contest. Clinical performances from Chris Yates, who notched a powerful 3-0 victory in his second singles match and Ben Green, who sank the winning black, were at the heart of this second day dominance as the Dark Blues clinched a 52-38, their first varsity victory since 2012. The performer of the weekend, however, was Alex Gregory-Allen who was nearly flawless, coming away with eight wins from nine.