Every year unbeknownst to the outside world there is a colossal clash of great engineering minds. It features Cambridge University Engineering Department trading blows with the Oxford University Department of Engineering Science and, over the course of a day, one great establishment overcomes another across a range of sporting events - golf, softball, punting, cricket and tennis.
In recent years there have also been unofficial events played alongside those recognised. This year the spare places on the Cambridge coach are taken up by football-crazy engineers hell-bent on humiliating their Oxford rivals despite the lack of a trophy to recognise the feat. I am one of those determined few.
Oxford is hosting this year’s event and we arrive in their fair city on the stroke of noon. A connecting bus is caught to the Brasenose Sports Ground following lunch and we find our opponents already in full kit warming up – an ominous sight.
There’s only time for a quick warm-up and team-talk and then suddenly we’re off. Oxford start brightly with quick passing and some intricate dribbling, but Cambridge defend strongly and find space down the wings for the strikers to attack. It’s a real game of cat-and-mouse until disaster strikes. Our defensive midfielder, Chris Cassidy, goes in for a tackle and comes away with a badly twisted knee and has to go off. Oxford very sportingly loan us one of their substitutes, but as our lynchpin limps off the game opens up for Oxford.
Within ten minutes Oxford go 2-0 up as their striker proves too speedy for our ageing defence. He beats the offside trap and runs clear to round Cambridge’s otherwise excellent goalkeeper before slotting his second in off the left-hand post. Unbowed, we continue to raid down their weaker left side and get a well-earned free kick around the edge of the penalty area. The defence pour into the box and, as the kick curls in, yours truly manages to get a glancing header on target to reduce the arrears. Game on.
As half-time approaches, the older Cambridge legs start to creak and Oxford goes for the jugular. Two raids through the middle and one killer counter-attack lead to three easy goals and as the whistle sounds for the break it’s a miserable 5-1 score line.
Drinks are taken and soothing ointments are applied to sore areas. A quick change of formation leads to our striker being redeployed in defence and in the first few minutes this seems to blunt Oxford’s attacking prowess. Although, in hindsight, it may the fact that it had started raining, making the ball more difficult to control, may have had more to do with it.
Then, lo and behold, Cambridge start to dictate the play and pepper the Oxford keeper with shots. Goal-line scrambles and some clever defending at corners keeps the Cambridge side out but they are not to be denied. A foul on the edge of the area follows and Cambridge front man, Meshal Almane steps up and hammers it low past the wall and through the keeper’s outstretched arms to reduce the arrears.
From here both defences stand firm with both goalkeepers excelling with fine saves. As the minutes tick away, and with the rain now bucketing down, both sides become more conservative. Dribbling skills fall away as legs tire and the passes begin to shorten. The final whistle sounds with the score at 5-2 to Oxford.
Hands are shaken and cheers for each side are chanted vigorously. There are even beers waiting for both winning and losing sides in the changing rooms. Cambridge Captain, Tim Nichols, praises the Oxford team before thanking his players. “I was chuffed with the work rate, team spirit and ‘never say die’ attitude of my players. We kept battling and challenging for every ball right up to the final whistle”. All agreed it was a thoroughly enjoyable game and that next year the football should be repeated and become an official event in the Sports Day programme.
The coach arrives soon after and we’re all transported back to the University Club for the presentation of trophies where we learn that Oxford have won all the events save the tennis. They therefore take the Wroth Trophy as overall winners and are roundly applauded before all those present tuck into the delightful buffet that Oxford have laid on. A thoroughly successful and enjoyable day is had by all.
Click here to see my review in the Local Secrets online magazine...