In 1965, with both institutions still in their infancy, the Vice-Chancellor of York University, Lord James of Rusholme, proposed a boat race against Lancaster, following the example of numerous other universities throughout the country, notably Oxford and Cambridge. However, such was the attraction of the race, students amplified the concept, organising a three-day tournament which also featured table tennis, relay races, mixed field hockey and tug of war. York emerged victorious in this inaugural contest and, such was the success of the weekend, there was no turning back.
The inspiration for the tournament is, of course, the series of bloody civil wars between the feuding houses of York and Lancaster for the throne of England between 1453 and 1487. York adopted the white rose and Lancaster the red rose as emblems in battle, and the symbolism remains to this day.
On the friendlier, but equally competitive, environment of the sports field, the Roses tournament snowballed year after year until it had become Europe’s largest inter-university competition. Additional sports have been added each year, widening participation, although equally important is building and strengthening links between the two universities and generating memories that will last a lifetime for competitors, spectators, alumni and staff alike. Rivalries on the field are cast aside as the two sets of athletes come together for social events on the Friday and Saturday evenings.
With home advantage traditionally an influential factor, the overall score is exceedingly close: York edge the victories 22-21, with one draw in 1974. At no stage has one university really dominated the tournament for a long period and the 45th meeting promises to be as tightly-fought as usual. In 2008, York achieved the first away victory in six years, winning 124-122 in a dramatic finish.
The names and golden moments of the Roses tournament form a rich tapestry down the years but, for all the changes the two universities and the wider world have undergone, there has remained many enduring constants: camaraderie, entertainment, drama and pride. The chance to become a campus hero is here once more, who will accept the call?