Rugby League: Breaking down the ancient barriers: Paul Hayward reports from Crystal Palace on a Varsity match without a trace of snobbery
Wednesday 10 March 1993
And yet it was true. Fisherman's jumpers were hauled on and striped college scarves were thrown round young necks as the league game made further inroads into snobbery at the two ancient universities. It was a typical Varsity audience for a distinctly untypical Varsity game, a game still popularly associated with the North and its most iron- souled pastimes. Who said the class system lingers on?
Think of it as Twickers without the City slickers. No tailgating, no corporate hospitality, just a collection of simultaneously bookish and brawny converts to rugby league crashing into each other on the pitch at Crystal Palace with IQ-lowering fervour. Whatever the problems of the professional game - and the hardness of this pitch showed what summer rugby might entail for players' legs - the student version is thriving at colleges as far apart as Exeter and Newcastle.
The organisers of yesterday's game - which ended in an easy 50-18 win for the Light Blues - are the first to acknowledge the irony of a league Varsity match prospering amid the supposed social elitism of Oxbridge. They say that people assume two things about the players: either they must be middle-class kids slumming it in search of street credibility, or else they are all products of northern comprehensive schools who have fought their way through the system and are attempting to preserve a connection with their origins.
Neither image is accurate. In both sides yesterday were pupils from comprehensives, grammar schools and leading fee-paying institutions like St Paul's, Radley and Millfield. Adam Walliker, one of the Cambridge substitutes, listed his Alma Mater as the 'Arthur Daley Grammar School', which may have been appropriate in view of the fact that Oxford were thoroughly fleeced by Cambridge here.
'The first image we had to dispel was the cloth cap and whippets one,' Neil Tunnicliffe, of the student rugby league body, said. Nor was it easy, in the late 1970s, to persuade the sour guardians of rugby union at Oxbridge to allow a rival code to emerge, because in its early manifestations the league game was actually banned at Oxford. Simon Roberts, a union Blue, was forced to play as Robert Simons in the 1984 league Varsity match to circumvent the many barriers placed in his way by authority.
Now, there are 45 student teams and four national sides playing under league rules, so the development that the union administrators sought to stem is beyond the reach of such selfishness. David Oxley, the chairman of the Student Rugby League, said of the 13th Oxford- Cambridge encounter: 'To beat, or, heaven forbid, be beaten by the Other Place is all.'
Doubtless this was another sentiment recited to irate tutors.
OXFORD UNIVERSITY: M Sandys; I Onyejiaka, C Edmunds, P Simpson, A Dormandy; J Davies, J Masters; P Naudi, N Wood (capt), P Dixon, P Harrison, R Bradburn, B Bailey.
CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY: G Bird; J Marchant, A Arentsen, G Curran, R King (capt); A Spencer, D Maslen; J Duckworth, D Downham, A McDonald, A McCarken, P Cheveley, I O'Dwyer.
Latest in Sport
WrestleMania 31: What time does it start? Full match card and preview ahead of WWE event
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
Gareth Bale to Chelsea: Real Madrid to be 'tempted by £75m offer' this summer
Manchester United transfer news: Chris Smalling and Phil Jones face uncertain future with contract renewal talks on hold
Malaysia Grand Prix 2015 LIVE: Sebastian Vettel wins in just his second race with Ferrari with Lewis Hamilton second and Nico Rosberg third
- 1 Is this bridge haunted by the ghost of nu rave?
- 2 Woman filmed launching racist tirade against men on the Tube for speaking in 'own lingo'
- 3 The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
- 4 Scientists have discovered a simple way to cook rice that dramatically cuts the calories
- 5 Noel Gallagher: I lost sh*tloads of money, a few million, didn’t tell my wife
Ukip supporters are 55 or older, white and socially conservative, finds British Social Attitudes Report
JK Rowling responds to fan tweeting she 'can't see' Dumbledore being gay
Jeremy Clarkson sacked live: Alan Yentob 'wouldn't rule out' ex Top Gear host's BBC return
David Cameron calls Labour 'hopeless, sneering socialists' while announcing 7-day NHS plans
Revealed: Putin's army of pro-Kremlin bloggers
The West has it totally wrong on Lee Kuan Yew
£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...
£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...
£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...