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Going Higher: Spice up skills with sporty choices

Universities in the North may not all be renowned for their sporting prowess but they do have some fine facilities. Lottery money has provided a recent boost, writes Maureen O'Connor
There's sport you watch and sport you take part in, and while the north of England can more than hold its own on the first count, its universities lag just a tad when it comes to success on their own fields and tracks. Top honours in terms of team game fixture results for men and women go to Midlands universities. But Leeds and Sheffield came equal fifth last year and Durham and Northumbria were not far behind, at eighth and tenth respectively.

If you add in the consistently successful teams at Manchester, the region is not outclassed.

And when it comes to facilities, some of the northern Universities can hardly be beaten. As the Virgin Alternative Guide puts it, sport is big news at Leeds, and there are facilities to match. There are two sports halls, one with capacity for 1,500 spectators, and campus facilities for badminton, basketball and volleyball. There is a gym, a weights room, a rifle range, a fitness room, squash courts, table tennis and a climbing wall - and the rock faces and potholes of the Pennines are within an hour for those who want to go further afield.

Playing fields are five miles away. And just down the road, Leeds Met has just secured a pounds 1m lottery grant for floodlit synthetic turf pitches and an upgrade of its athletics stadium to international standard.

Sheffield keeps its place in the league tables by pursuing a policy of "sport for all" and its Goodwin sports centre is currently undergoing a pounds 14m refit. There are 60 sports clubs and no one sneers at aerobics, frisbee, step and skipping.

Durham, with its high intake of independent school students, is another highly successful sporting university. The men took third place in the Busa championship last year, although the women did not do so well. Intercollegiate rivalry probably raises standards, with Castle and Hatfield vying for top rugby honours and Castle and Hill Bede rivals in rowing. Sixty acres of playing fields cater for most team sports.

But less fashionable universities are also investing major sums in student sporting facilities. In the Red Mole survey of student views, Lancaster and Bradford came fourth and fifth for students' esteem for their sporting facilities, with Manchester, Central Lancashire, Liverpool and Newcastle not far behind.

Bradford, on a central city site where it began life as a technical college, saw its women's basketball team make the Busa finals last year. It has crammed in a 25-metre swimming-pool and sports centre on campus and has two sets of playing-fields on two sites further afield.

Central Lancashire also has the lottery to thank for an pounds 8m grant which will be spent on an outdoor "multisport" complex, to include an athletics track, pitches, cricket nets, tennis courts and a closed-circuit cycle track. It will not be completed until 2000, and even then only if the work is on time, but some facilities should come on stream in time to tempt enthusiasts amongst the 1998 entry.

Liverpool University also does well in the Busa team sports, but as befits a university in a great maritime city, also caters for water sports and other outdoor activities.

It has water sports facilities at Albert Dock on the regenerated River Mersey, sailing centres at West Kirby and Hoylake, and a base in Snowdonia for climbing, walking, canoeing and field studies.

As relatively small campus universities, Lancaster and York have the advantage of space, and both come out well in Red Mole's survey of student esteem. York has 40 acres of playing fields and uses its own, highly ornamental lake for fishing, canoeing, sailing, rowing and wind-surfing, with additional sailing and rowing on the river Ouse.

Sport plays a big part in life at collegiate Lancaster too, where facilities include a 25-metre pool and a huge range of pitches and courts, and the Lake District and Morecambe Bay are within easy reach for the more adventurous. Cross-Pennine rivalry with York University culminates in the Roses Weekend of competition and fun. And of course Manchester, with its huge student population of four universities which share many facilities, can hardly be beaten for sporting facilities. Manchester, Umist and Manchester Met all come in the top 30 universities in the view of the Red Mole student survey, and Salford is not that far behind.

It is probably fair to say that there is hardly a sport that cannot be accommodated somewhere within the Manchester student community.

Manchester University has 31 acres close to its student village at Fallowfield and a further 19 acres 10 miles to the south at its Wythenshaw sports ground. On the campus itself, close to the city centre, is the McDougal Centre, with swimming pool, indoor games hall, gym, squash and much more. Umist has five more acres of pitches, Salford has its own extensive facilities and Manchester Met has sports facilities spread from Didsbury to its campuses at Crewe and Alsager. One highlight of the year is the Northern Boat Race between Salford and Manchester Uni on May Day.