Clash of the campus titans: Varsity for beginners

Leeds student Rosie Collington is beginning to see what the fuss is about

Varsity: ‘Tis the season of sports teams, school colours and which side are you on; of themed club nights and stripes, when posters for fixtures are put up across campus and not just in the Health Sciences block. This is the season of “banter”, and bruises, and of unadulterated, unfounded and wildly optimistic elitism. But it’s all done in the name of friendship and cooperation.

Anyone walking around either the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University last week would be forgiven for thinking that, according to everybody, Varsity is the most important event of the year. Indeed, for many students this day of competitive sports fixtures between the two universities does constitute something of a pinnacle. Sports teams do not take the event lightly, and, as claimed by one lacrosse competitor I spoke to, the pre-season run up to Varsity is the most intense training period of the year.

I, however, did not even know what Varsity was before last Wednesday. But I also did not think I was alone in my ignorance. A fellow comrade of the unfit masses proved this when she asked “why are students from Met here?” after I had dragged her along with me to watch the swimming gala.

After glimpsing one of the many posters for Varsity adorning the university’s walls last week, I decided to investigate what this day is really about. Were the teams competing in it honestly doing so in the spirit of cooperation and friendship? Or was Varsity sports teams’ answer to realpolitik?

A few Internet searches reveal that Varsity really is a pretty big deal. Almost every competitive sport – from Ultimate Frisbee to indoor rowing – is battled out between the University of Leeds and Leeds Metropolitan University during these 24 hours.

Beyond Oxbridge

Varsity has actually been adopted by myriad sets of universities throughout the United Kingdom since Oxford and Cambridge first trialed the competition in 1872. Now, every year, the University of Bristol takes on UWE, Cardiff goes up against Swansea, and Manchester University competes with Manchester Metropolitan University. At every university, the day culminates in a rugby union match between the two rivals.

But, as I discovered during my day as a spectator of Varsity fixtures, the event is not just for sporty people. I expected to be alone gazing in awe at the athletic shapes before me, yet I was constantly surrounded by fans and friends of competitors from both the University of Leeds and from Leeds Metropolitan University (depending on which side I was sitting, of course).

One supporter of the Leeds University netball 1 team I spoke to said she was there because Varsity was “a way to get involved. It makes you feel part of Leeds University”.

The most surprising part of Varsity for me was discovering that the events were actually entertaining. I’ve never particularly enjoyed playing or watching competitive sports, but I got so hooked on the women’s water polo; I couldn’t help but wonder whether physics had stopped working, or if they really were moving that quickly in the water.

Varsity is ultimately a competition, and it came with its fair share of dubious slogans and questionable comments from members of each University about the other. No event I attended was totally free of snobbery-ridden “banter” from a supporter of Leeds University towards the Leeds Met team. Comments from the other side were also frequent, and always crude.

I personally couldn’t bring myself to chant “What’s that coming over the hill, it’s unemployment, it’s unemployment” at the Leeds Met team with the few thousand others from my University during the Rugby Union match at Headingley Carnegie Stadium; graduate employment is a sobering thought for everyone these days, and I’d just spent £4 on a Guinness.

Yes, varsity is supposedly all about who won and who lost. But at Leeds, the result of each event was not obvious from the way the team players treated each other afterwards. No one was sobbing, or rubbing (figurative) salt into an opponent’s spike wound.

University should be about trying new things. I’m not going to start training for next year’s indoor rowing team, and the day hasn’t inspired me to take up cricket or volleyball alongside my studies. Yet I did learn to enjoy sport in a different way, as a spectator.

The battle of Varsity is fierce indeed. But in a world that encourages us to compete at every level, it was nice to see others doing it without too much animosity – at least until changing-room doors are closed.

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Guru Careers: Graduate Account Executive / Digital Account Executive

£20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Graduate Digital Account Exec ...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Resourcer

£20000 - £22500 per annum + OTE £30K: SThree: SThree Group have been well esta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk