Jesus’ strike-force broke Balliol hearts last night, putting six past the Broad Street college’s defence to secure the Men’s Cuppers title 6-2. Coming into the game clear underdogs, Balliol had hoped they could nick a result by taking advantage of their star players Caleb Mbanaso and Josh Goldstein, but Jesus’ polished attack of Sam Lewis and Alfie Cicale proved too much.
Cherwell sent two reporters to Iffley Road, one from each college. This may serve to explain this match report’s bipolar jumps between jubilance and despair. An example follows:
An ambulance speeding down Iffley Road was a premonition of things to come, no doubt ready to administer treatment to Balliol’s grievously injured hopes of victory.. (@oxford_affirmations: I will produce a fair and unbiased match report).
The biggest day in Jesus’ recent history loomed as they looked to clinch a first Cuppers title since doing the double in 1997/98; for Balliol, the match represented an opportunity to win the *second oldest trophy in football* twice in 10 years following their 2014 victory.
There was a feeling of occasion around Iffley Road Sports Ground, with both teams arriving in suits, and a max-capacity attendance of 500 creating a febrile atmosphere. Support for both teams was strong, with chants echoing around OX4 before the game had even kicked off. Jesus’ principal Sir Nigel Shadbolt was in attendance, a sure sign of the strong support for the team within the college. Jesus supporters packed the stands, turning their half green in scenes reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz’s Emerald City. The Balliol crowd were joined by supporters from other colleges, no doubt drawn to support the team in response to Jesus’ incredibly irksome but effective social media antics.
Before kickoff, a minute’s silence was observed for the victims of conflict in Ukraine, a poignant reminder that despite the hype, some things will always be more important than football.
From the moment the whistle blew, however, the gulf in quality between the teams was clear; Balliol struggled to get the ball out of their half, with the cutting edge of Jesus’ attack Alfie Cicale (known affectionately as ‘Alfie Blues’ among fans) proving a nuisance for Balliol’s right side.
At 3’, Jesus hearts leapt into mouths as a collision saw Sam Lewis go down in the Balliol box. A hush descended upon a previously raucous crowd; fear and uncertainty made their dominion. And yet moments later the Jesus support roared him back to his feet.
At 6’, a solid save from Joe Fisher denied Sam Lewis the opening goal. He would get another chance, however; only two minutes later, Alessandro proved to be Jesus’ Forte, driving through the middle of the park and slotting it through to Lewis for a first-touch finish to break the deadlock. Cue scenes of jubilation as the team dashed towards the stands to celebrate, players and fans becoming one.
The next 15 minutes saw a brutal attack on Balliol’s defence. Cicale’s bursts of speed and quick changes of direction constantly caught defenders unawares, with an audacious rabona cross only just missing the head of another attacker. At 21’, Cicale ran onto a sumptuous ball from midfield titan Jack Perry, and, in a sight that was to become as certain as death and taxes, bombed down the left wing, cut inside with two defenders on him, slotting home and doubling Jesus’ lead.
Things worsened considerably for Balliol seven minutes later, when a free kick at the edge of the box was sliced under the wall by Cicale, beating the keeper. Our Balliol reporter’s tear-stained match notes only read: ‘number 10 is so good. 3-0.’
Little did he know that the night would only get bleaker. At 41’, Balliol’s right back proved unable to block a searching shot from Lewis, leaving the score 4-0 as the teams headed back to the locker room.
Despite a rough first half, Balliol’s supporters did the team proud, with Xander Angelini-Hurll, the club’s social secretary, even being reprimanded for being too loud by the linesman (who bore a more-than-passing resemblance to Harry Potter villain Voldemort). The game, it appeared, was well and truly gone.
Jesus Principal Sir Nigel Shadbolt, whose sage transfer policy must be credited for the dominant lead at half time, was notably impressed by both team and individual performances. He was gracious as ever regarding hopes of a Baliol comeback. “Never say never,” quoth he.
Shadbolt’s words proved surprisingly prophetic, and as the teams came out for the second half, Balliol supporters maintained hope for a comeback. Their trust was repaid when Jordan Jennings (a member of the legendary 2014 Cuppers-winning squad) slotted home a free kick to bring it to 4-1.
Noah Britten’s half time team talk must have been something strong – Balliol seemed reinvigorated, defending well and playing some dangerous balls into the Jesus box, creating a nervy period for the leaders.
Balliol faces lit up, hearts raced, the unthinkable was thought: was a comeback on? Could the team replicate their gritty performance against Teddy Hall, which saw them recover from being down twice? Could humanity transcend its original sin, and bring a new Kingdom of Heaven on Earth?
No. Like so many tears in rain, this hope was transient, put to rest by Jesus fresher Gonzalo ‘Twosie’ Castellanos to restore Jesus’ 4-goal cushion and make it 5-1.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, Shaffer once more put the ‘sub’ in ‘Jesubite’ with four changes. These made an instant impact, as Feltham returned to finish a move he had started when he pounced on a blocked Cicale shot to hammer home a sixth.
Deep into stoppage time, Flavius Vlasiu conceded a penalty which Josh Goldstein neatly dispatched with the last touch of the game for a final score of 6-2. Jesus supporters’ cries of joy were audible within every square inch of the ring road. A futile pitch invasion by an intrepid trio of Jesus freshers provided the footnote to an evening that was indelibly, gloriously, Jesus’s.
‘Alfie Blues’ played out of his skin in a MOTM performance, narrowly beating a strong contender in Hanley’s green suit, which proved to be a firm fan favourite. In further touchline fashion news, Oli ‘Sniff’ Smith gesticulating and shouting in all black meant one of two things, equally plausible: either emulating managerial idol Mauricio Pochettino; or following the dress code for Balliol’s funeral.
Balliol will look to return stronger and hungrier, chasing promotion in the JCR second division, where they are currently 2nd. The defeat didn’t dampen their spirits, with a lively social in the College’s famous Lindsay Bar closing out a bittersweet, but altogether successful Cuppers run. For Jesus, the #shafferout brigade will have been temporarily placated; the team can revel in their status as champions of Oxford and will look to continue this rich vein of form in retaining the trophy next season. #bleedgreen or #bleedredandblue (depending on the reader’s affiliation).
Image: Jude Gordon