Cherwell spoke to the new Blues captains at OUAFC, Iona Bennett and Roza Bailey who co-captain the women, and Harry Way who captains the Men’s team.
When did you start playing football?
R: I think I was five and I joined the local boys team.
I: I was probably the same age and I played for grassroots tea with my sister for a bit and then for some centers of excellence.
H: Yeah, pretty much from as young as I can remember, playing for my local team at five or six.
What drew you to football specifically?
R: Teamwork – I loved how it was always winning as a team, sharing moments, and making friendships.
I: I mean it is the most played sport in the country, so everyone plays it. You can play it anywhere and at any time. And yeah, it’s a really good team sport.
H: Yeah, I think the main difference to other sports is how easy it is to just pick up with your mates. You can just go down to the park with mates, and use jumpers for goalposts, whereas other sports tend to need a lot more equipment. It’s also one of the most enjoyable.
How did last season go for your respective teams?
I: We did well, finishing second in the league and reaching the semi-final in the cup. But there’s always more to build on. That’s what we’re doing looking to do as we start the season.
H: Last year was very up and down for the men. We had a few good results in the league but had quite a bad run towards the end, which meant we were relegated, but we did win both of our Varsities against Brookes and Cambridge.Overall a mixed season – some good results and some we hope to improve on.
Do you find high turnover in a University squad a difficult thing to deal with? Losing and gaining players each year
R: I think it’s a good thing. I mean, it’s annoying to lose stability but with new players you bring new playing styles and it’s a really good socially too, as you meet new people and form new friendships. The Women’s Blues are lucky to have retained most of our squad this year though, so not too much to deal with.
H: I think it’s kind of a bit of both; it’s obviously very difficult when you’re trying to establish your playing style and you are reliant on a system of players coming in and out. Also, on a personal level you’re obviously friends with a lot of the guys going, so its sad to say goodbye. But on the flip side of that there’s the opportunity for new friendships and you can keep it fresh. We have had a lot of turnover this year, only having kept around nine Blues from last season. We are going to have a lot of new faces from either 2s and 3s, or new freshers.
Reflections on last year’s Varsity; how did it go? Did the cancellation affect you or the team’s performance?
H: I think it’s a weird one. It definitely impacted the team in the sense that our starting 11 for the actual varsity was quite different to the one we had planned for the original date. Obviously we were able to win the game in the end, so we can’t complain too much. But yeah, it was definitely a strange one.
I: The cancelation was really frustrating, and it threw the work that we had put in throughout the season off kilter a bit. It did effect the result, and it was a difficult loss to take, but hopefully this year we’ll build on our last performance.
Have you guys played last year beforeand are you returning Blues?
R: This is my fourth year and I have played the last three Varsities, winning 2 of 3.
I: This will be my Third Varsity, and I am a returning Blue.
H: This will be my fourth year on the blues. We’ve been lucky enough to win the last three that I’ve been here. So,fingers crossed we can get over the line and get the fourth one.
The men’s team has won seven of their last eight Varsities, and the women six, which is a very impressive record. Is this encouraging, intimidating, or going to effect the team’s mentality going into the game?
R: I think we saw last year as a minor blip, and something to build on. We don’t want that to happen again. So we’re going to flip it and get the trophy back on Oxford soil.
H: We just think of it as any other game in the season, and we want to approach all the games with the same mentality. If we win our games this season, then Varsity will just be a continuation of that.
I: Yeah, I think the success we’ve had in the past doesn’t actually play that much of a factor mentally. Teams are so different year on year, so you can’t really look at it and say we’d been playing the exact same team – it’s a different group of players, different managers. So we just have to take each Varsity on its own merit and prepare the same way we prepare any other year.
Any specific goals for this season?
R: We’ve entered the County Cup for the first time so we’re looking forward to playing some women’s football outside of the University. It’d be great to advance into the final of this.
I: We’d love to win the league and get promoted because it’s something we’ve come quite close to the past few seasons. We are also looking to advance pretty far in the Cup.
H: Yeah, I think for us, it’s pretty clear given them you got relegated last year the goal is simple just to go back up when you get promoted. Obviously when lastly, as well.
What was the team’s best win so far?
I: I think the Varsity two seasons ago. It was a really great game. Our coach’s wife gave birth in the middle of it, so when he turned up at halftime unexpectedly it really made it a great celebration all around. Always big to win on penalties.
H: Yeah, I think it would have to be one of the varsity matches. Probably the Brookes Varsity match last year because we went down to nine men and managed to somehow win. I think that probably has stuck with me as the most exciting game I’ve played.
And the worst defeat?
R: Last season we drove three hours to Lincoln’s pitch in the middle of nowhere and lost five nil. They were the bottom of the league and that loss meant we didn’t get promoted.
I: I would say unfortunately it was the last Varsity because it was just a difficult one to take and the circumstances were far from ideal.
H: It would have to be when we lost a way to Cambridge in the league last year. It was the first time we lost to them in quite a long time so that one hurt.
What’s the best thing about being captain, or co-captain?
R: I really like being a co captain. It’s really nice to be leading and working as a team at the same time.
I: Yeah, we’ve definitely been enjoying it. I also think being a bigger part of the club and being able to sort of understand what goes into building a team. It’s been fun to give motivational speeches and work with the team on and off the pitch.
H: I think for me, it would be the people and the friendships you make with your teammates. I feel like as Captain you engage with people on a different level that you wouldn’t when you’re just a player. It’s a bit of a deeper level that relationship.
Ones to watch on the team?
I: We’ve made some exciting new signings that will be playing for us this season from other universities. We also have Maddie Kowalenko and Bells Wordsworth returning from their years abroad, who are both former Blues. Our team also has got four captains in it, with Maddie and Jess Cullen, so that’s pretty strong.
H: Similarly, we’ve got quite a few freshers coming into the squad. We also have two returning captains, Finlay Ryan-Phillips and Luke Smith. And then a few blues players have looked really sharp in preseason, like Noah Fletcher and Tom Deighton.
Where can our readers watch you play?
R: We play every Wednesday, and if it’s home it’s at Iffley road. If you check the Instagram that week, you can find out where we are playing.
H: Yeah, definitely. I think we’ve got six home games starting on the 18th of October, so pretty much every Wednesday there’ll be games.
I: Yep, and Varsity dates are yet to be confirmed but both Brookes and Cambridge will be next season, alongside a big Alumni day celebrating 150 years since we won the FA cup.