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 Christmas 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 playing 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.
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.
These days we also get the added bonus of the women’s varsity match played before the men’s
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.
So as another rugby year comes to a close, the varsity match for me sees out the old and brings in the new and Christmas is nearly here !