The Oxford-Cambridge Varsity to become a double header for the first time
This year marks a big change in the Oxford-Cambridge Varsity football, one of the oldest and most prestigious events in the University sporting calendar.
For the two universities who are very much set in tradition, this year marks a grand change in long-established Varsity football. The fixture’s first double header is set to play out at The Hive Stadium, home to Barnet FC, on Sunday 19th of March.
Varsity football is defying traditions, following the sweeping trend of inclusion and promotion of women’s sport, and will hold both varsity matches as a joint fixture. It follows in the wake of the Varsity rugby and of course, the boat race, which was shown live on television for the first time in 2015.
Despite both clubs wanting the double header, this is the first time since the introduction of the women’s game to the varsity in 1986 that they have combined the fixtures. In previous years, the men’s match has been held at Craven Cottage, attracting a crowd of over 2,000 people. The women’s fixture was a stark contrast to this comparative extravagance, drawing only 60 people, mostly made up of friends and family, to a local Sunday league pitch.
May Martin, president of the Oxford Women’s Football Club said: “There was rampant inequality just because men’s football was more popular and it’s a bit demoralizing for us when they get such a big crowd.”
Yet the road to the double header has not been a straight and narrow one. At one point this year the two committees nearly opted to host the men’s game at Craven Cottage again and have the women’s game at Cambridge United’s ground.
John Dinneen, president of the Oxford men’s club, has been one of the biggest instigators in pushing the joint fixture. But at times even he had his doubts: “I think it’s very easy for people outside the club to say: “wouldn’t you love to play at Craven Cottage again" and, to be honest, even I needed winning over again because at one stage it would have been a lot easier to play the game there and to let the girls play elsewhere, but this is the right thing to do. There are so many different historical pressures that go into that, that levelling it now is the right thing to do.”
As the saying goes, ‘doing what is right is not always easy', and thankfully after having the straightforward option offered up on a plate, the committees have decided against temptation, and went for what will be best for both clubs and the progression of the beautiful game.
For universities entrenched in tradition and dominated by male history it’s refreshing to see that the push for equal fixtures, representing the equal effort put into it by both sexes, is coming from the central part of both universities.
May revealed that there have been people working towards this for probably around five years, and that direction and continued effort has started with the centralised sports body at the university.
The women’s president of Cambridge, Beccie Graves, is in high hopes of what this will mean for the women’s game: “Gone will be the days when we are asked if we play 11 aside, play a full 90 minutes, on a full-sized pitch'. I'm often asked if I slide tackle.
“These can be genuine questions and we need to change people’s doubts they may have in the women's game. I am also proud to be able to give the girls in my team the opportunity to experience and play in an event like this, they deserve a stage as big as the men on which to play their football and feel the buzz around what they have achieved.”
This joint fixture doesn’t just benefit the women’s teams. It benefits all four teams by showing a united front, and also that football is still football no matter who plays it.