This week Cherwell spoke to OUAFC captains Jess and Finlay in the build-up to the 138th Football Varsity Matches
When did you start playing football?
J: When I was six years old in Australia. It’s been a fantastic journey, as I started playing football when the women’s game was nowhere near as prominent or even acknowledged, and now look at it.
F: I think fairly similar to me, five or six, just playing my local team originally. And then yeah, as it got older, progressed to sort of more serious standards of football.
Have you guys tried any other sports? And if so, what drew you to football specifically?
J: I’ve played most sports my whole life, but football is just so satisfying – there’s something that is quite logical, because you have to think about the game. Plus, it is a team sport and I’ve always found such great friendships and bonds there.
F: Yeah, I’ve done, rugby and athletics, as well. But I think the reason I chose to focus on football was mainly the people as well. That’s the thing that sets it apart for me, and I think for a lot of the team here.
How has this last season gone for each team?
F: Unfortunately, we got relegated. It’s not really a true reflection of the squad that we’ve got this year. I think we’ve struggled a lot with injuries and therefore we’ve sort of struggled to get a level of consistency with the playing squads’ week in week out, which has really sort of hampered us. But we’ve had some really good results, and coming back after Christmas, we were actually in a really good position. In a 10-game season, like it is BUCS, it’s really hard because if players not available even just for a few weeks, it can have a massive, massive effect. We’ll be building for next season to make sure that we bounce straight back up.
J: This season we had a very new team as we lost a lot of players graduating last year, but we’ve had lot of success. We had a great opportunity to build new team bonds and a new playing style, and we finished second in our BUCS League, which was a fantastic result, only narrowly missing out on promotion. We also got to the semi-finals of the Cup, which was quite exciting. It’s been a fantastic season, I think the girls have really gelled, which is promising for the next few years to come.
Is high turnover in a squad difficult to deal with?
J: Having a turnover of players is an integral part of University sport, so it isn’t something you can avoid in any case, but I do think it is quite enjoyable and fruitful process. We had such a strong team of older girls last year, so have these exciting, fresh, new players coming in with a very different mindset has given us an opportunity to build a very different team. They’re both really strong, but different in the ways that we play and the ways that we function in the team dynamic. Having that renewal and change is a key to how OUAFC works, so although it isn’t easy it makes every season exciting.
How did the varsity game cancellation affect you personally?
J: To be honest it was a massive shock. An enormous thank you needs go to our President and Vice Presidents and Finn, as well. They were on the phone with the stadium all night trying to sort it out. It was a hard line to navigate when you’re a captain and also a player experiencing quite a difficult and disappointing situation. And unfortunately, my entire family had flown out from Dubai for the game which obviously was not ideal or immediately rectifiable. But we had to keep the teams calm, focused and focusing on the next game to come because we were always going to be rescheduling it; we were never not going to have a varsity game. Having said this, it did ignite a fire within me and the rest of the team. I am very confident that we’re going to put in a good performance now because all the girls have been working so hard.
F: It was obviously really frustrating. It’s something myself and the whole squad had obviously been working towards for so long and it is just so disheartening when something that has been built up so much just kind of comes crumbling down at like the last minute. But it was one of those things. I mean, at the end of the day, there wasn’t really anything that any of us could have done about it – we all did what we could. We just had to get on with it a bit really, I mean we still had a great night in the hotel which is good. We still made the most of it, but it was disheartening, especially for people whose families travelled over from abroad. In that sense it was just an awful position to be in, but we just had to do what we could.
Have you guys played on the varsity game before? Like, is this your first one?
J: This will be my first time playing; I was there last year but didn’t actually get on the field. It’s great that my first time playing will be in Oxford as well, so hopefully lots of people come to watch!
F: This will be my third Varsity. My first year was actually at Oxford City as well so it will be a fun a repeat of that (where we won).
Both the women’s and men’s teams have won six of their last seven varsity games, which is impressive. Do you find that record intimidating or encouraging, or a bit of both, going into the game?
F: As Jess said, uni football or any sport in general can change so much year on year. However, it’s nice to kind of look back at the record, particularly from the last few years. These past two years in particular, the men’s side have kept quite a core sort of nucleus of the squad, and it’s been quite constant through from my first year to the team we have now. It’s reassuring, in that sense for us to look back. We kind of know what it takes to win in a varsity match. And I know what’s required in the future.
J: I think it is slightly intimidating, especially given the circumstances, you know, as the Varsity game has never necessarily been cancelled and rescheduled before. And it has disrupted a lot of the training and preparation we did. But if anything, I think having it in Oxford will be a great plus as well. Like Finn mentioned a lot of our girls played in the one in Oxford City two years ago, and we will have the home crowd advantage. No matter how our season goes, Varsity is its own event that you prepare for in a certain way, and you sort of treat in a certain way, and then you play the best way that you can that game.
What would you say is your best sporting moment so far?
J: I think our Brooke’s Varsity this year was pretty special. Despite the game actually turning out quite dirty we put in an amazing performance, scored some impressive goals, and played some of the best team football we have all season. I was personally really unwell so was happy to get a good performance despite the flu.
F: I think it just has to be the varsity wins. Since my first year we’ve won both Brookes games, and won our varsity first year, which was really special because it was the year Mickey Lewis sadly passed away. So, it was really nice to win it that year. They’re always so they’re always special in their really great event. This last Brooke’s Varsity was quite the game – with two of our players red-carded we still managed to pull out a win.
Most embarrassing moment on the pitch?
F: Getting sent off against Notts last year. That was just for a bad tackle. it wasn’t even really embarrassing, just not my finest moment.
J: The semi-final of the cup last year was pretty bad. It was raining and I did a slide tackle in the box and gave away a penalty in the 89th minute, we lost because of it. Not ideal.
And what was your worst defeat?
J: I think this year for us it was a tough defeat against Loughborough. We had beaten them earlier in the season and they were our tightest competition in the league. In the cup semi-final they got lucky in the last few minutes and pulled a goal against us and won by that one goal. That was quite frustrating, but we still put in a great performance.
F: Cambridge, at the end of Michaelmas term – we lost our way there. But we kind of didn’t have a full squad. We were missing a number of key players, and so just didn’t end up playing that well and lost. It was obviously very disappointing for the whole team.
What’s the best thing about being captain?
J :I think being able to be so involved in the process of the club, and how it works and sort of support the president or vice president is one great part. Also then having such a strong group of girls around you who respect and build this really strong friendship and team dynamic. I’m very proud to be captain of the blues this year. If anything, else that’s the best thing. It makes me so proud to see how we play and the people that I’m surrounded by are all so talented, clever, hardworking and truly lovely. I’m very grateful.
F: Same I’m just really proud to be part of such a good group of boys. We’ve got such a good team off the field this season, it doesn’t matter what happens on it off the field, we’ve got such like a tight, knit group and all the boys get on so well. If anything, what I’m most proud of is just kind of helping the of group boys’ gel together from when we came in preseason to where we are now.
Are there any key players to watch?
J: We’ve got a strong squad. I could say any of the girls’ names to be perfectly honest, as we have fantastic returning players and really talented freshers that came in as well. There is such a strong core team this year from the top all the way to the bottom.
F: I think everyone in the team is, you know, sort of incredibly talented, and incredibly deserving of their place in the team, across the board, we’ve got an incredibly strong side.
Where can our readers watch you play?
J:At the Varsity game, 1st of May at Oxford City Stadium. 2pm kick off for the women’s game and the men’s kicks off at 5pm. Use it as a May Day hangover cure – there will be delicious food, great vibes and some fantastic football to watch. We are really hoping for a big turnout from the Oxford supporters that puts Cambridge’s to shame. We would really appreciate anybody who gives their time to come and watch us play and we can promise you some entertaining football.