Blazers and old boots

Julie Welch goes from terraces to towpath at the other Varsity encounter
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The Independent Online
BEST sight of the day was an aristocratic old boot on the terraces at Craven Cottage, wielding her walking stick to get a better view of her grandson in the Oxford v Cambridge varsity football match.

This fixture, wonderfully pointless to anyone not connected with either team, was the hors- d'oeuvre to London's big weekend of free sporting spectacles, the Boat Race and the Marathon. This particular event is not free; you pay four quid to stand or six quid to sit among a football crowd like no other, full of men with navy blazers and and Merchant/Ivory vowels, girls wearing sunglasses on their heads like alice bands and ladies stepping gingerly along Craven Cottage's gob-spattered walkways in Harrods sandals. Somebody's father was waving one of those old rattles last seen on Pathe News footage of old Cup finals.

The programme cost £1 but was worth it for the programme notes, which took you into a football world beyond £7m transfer deals, sacked managers and relegation struggles into a rarefied place where the star striker was also a Ballroom Dancing Blue.

The standard of football was hearty and faintly dire. These are not players whose next career move will be to Manchester United, or even Gillingham. For the seventh successive year, Oxford won, this time with a goal volleyed home five mintues after kick-off by Richard Washington. The combatants' skills might have been a touch rudimentary, but they have perfected the art of the celebratory grope. Oxford's outstanding performer was their goalie, Jonathon Novy, an American student who withstood the late Cambridge pressure.

Considering the Corinthian nature of the event, there were a fair old number of wild tackles and bookings. As Oxford's Jens-Peter Hanssen (according to the programme notes the son of a German bratwurst tycoon) was being booked, a spectator moved briskly towards the touchline; it turned out it was to ask a friend how his PhD was going. So that's what Matthew Simmonds wanted to talk to Eric Cantona about.

Helicopters started to whir overhead. It was time to make the short hike from the Riverside Stand to the water's edge, where the eight-deep crowd gathered for the start of the Boat Race. Gilded young men perched in trees, beautiful girls leant precariously over railings and picnics were abandoned as the crews set off from Putney Bridge. There were shouts of "Come on Cambridge" and it was all over at the Putney end, but that was a picnic going on in another garden. On the worn grass of Bishop's Park, four kids in Liverpool shirts played a game of two-a-side, oblivious to it all.

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