Growing Up With The Varsity Match

When I take my seat in the press box, at Twickenham next Thursday, my mind, I’m sure, will momentarily drift back to childhood, when one of the things I most looked forward to, leading up to Christmas, was sitting in front of the fire, on that annual Tuesday afternoon, to watch Oxford and Cambridge battle it out.
The earlier years of this advent treat were broadcast in black and white, on a television  that looked more like a cocktail cabinet, so on a dark damp December day, there were thirty players running around in various shades of grey, not as many as fifty, fortunately.

The Varsity match, and sports review of the year, as it was then called, were the best Xmas present a young sports mad boy could receive, and the BBC provided both, for me, every December.

The match itself always seemed to have an international player or two to make it even more exciting.

My first memories are of 1968 when Cambridge beat Oxford 9-6, my hero    Wales and Lions legend Gerald Davies played centre for The light Blues that day, in a star studded back line that included fellow Wales international Keith Hughes, and Ian Shackleton, Jack Page, John Spencer and Tony Jorden, all of whom went on to play for England.
Oxford, on the other hand, had one of the worlds greatest ever scrum halves in their side, All Blacks legend Chris Laidlaw.

The try, in those days, was worth three points, Oxford outscored Cambridge two tries to one, but lost the game as the result of Shackleton’s dropped goal and McKenzie’s penalty.

What a start, I was hooked.

The following year, 1969, Cambridge fielded the same star studded back line, whilst Oxford were reinforced with the presence of England’s legendary full back Bob Hiller and scrum half Nigel Starmer-Smith, who,went on to play for England, and become even more famous as a television and radio commentator.

The match ended in. 5-5 draw, both teams scoring a converted try.

The first two years of my forty eight Varsity matches.

From 1968 to 2014 this match produced and showcased the great names of rugby, I cannot list them all there are too many to mention, Gavin Hastings, Rob Andrew, Eddie Butler,

Matches have come and gone in sunshine, rain, hail, sleet and snow yet whatever the weather, Twickenham was nearly always packed to the rafters and the festivities enjoyed by all those who attended.

As technology moved on, black and white turned to colour, and the experience became all the more enhanced as a result, particularly in the 1981 match, when the whole of Twickenham was covered in a white blanket, and Oxford and Cambridge supporters united, for once, to pelt Prince Edward with snowballs.

Christmas is nearly here !

2 thoughts on “Growing Up With The Varsity Match

  1. I remember sitting in the East Stand with my dad, as Pete Dawkins, fresh from winning the Heisman Trophy at Army, launched the first torpedo line out throw clear into the middle of the field for Malcolm Phillips to run on to. Line outs were never the same again. Ever.


  2. I remember sitting in the old East Stand with my Dad, watching Pete Dawkins, Heisman Trophy winner at Army, launch a torpedo throw over the back of a lineout to Malcolm Phillips. Lineouts have never been the same since that game.


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