It is almost criminal that this weekend will be recorded in the history books as merely a ‘York win.’ Future generations looking back will never fully appreciate the magnitude or the comprehensiveness of York’s victory in the Roses tournament of 2009.
The last three days have been remarkable in many ways: the mathematical confirmation of York’s success on Saturday teatime was unprecedented, as was the breadth of clubs reeling in the maximum points available. Furthermore, the gaping 115-point margin of victory stands as a testament to the unwavering dedication and professionalism of those White Rose teams who could quite happily have lowered their standards already knowing the Carter-James Trophy was guaranteed to remain in York.
Many cynics will continue to argue that, unlike many of his predecessors, the legacy of Alex Lacy, the York Sport President, should be judged on more than one weekend in early May. However, few will now dispute that sport at the University of York is progressing in the right direction. After all, the evidence was laid bare for all to see this weekend as teams bedecked in black and gold ravished Lancaster on the courts, the slopes, the astroturf and the grass.
Lacy’s reaction after victory was sealed, by the women’s indoor football team (although others may contest this), said it all. “Oh my God! That’s amazing! It’s absolutely incredible, the coolest thing ever. How did we win it on a Saturday?”
It wasn’t meant to be this way, it wasn’t meant to be so easy. Last year’s two-point triumph, secured at the eleventh hour by Richard de Boltz’s immortal goal, had bred caution, sometimes pessimism.
For Gaz Coleman, the amicable leader of the Red Rose invasion, now begins the post-mortem. The inquiry won’t make pleasant reading regardless of how many excuses are being formulated in Lancaster minds. Under-strength they might well have been, caused by a somewhat inevitable clash with the exam season, but, although a cliche, you can only beat what is put in front of you.
Most refreshingly, the university, and YUSU, demonstrated their capability to bring sparkle and panache to campus, best shown by a glittering, all-action closing ceremony which was universally enjoyed. Cheerleaders, capoeira, somersaults, streamers – this was actually a fitting end to the weekend, something more likely to stick in the memory than laboriously handing out medals in a wet gazebo.
Full marks to the tournament organisers, who overcame a number of headaches to deliver a first class spectacle, which ran to plan and exceeded all expectations. As a result, for many of York’s veteran sportsmen and women, Roses represented an apt finale before graduation.
Tied to this theme is my personal highlight of the weekend, the 4-0 romp for the men’s football firsts on Sunday afternoon, a beautiful swansong for Matt Witherwick, Dom O’Shea and others.
Of course, nothing rested on the game but professional pride and personal grudges as matters were resolved 24 hours earlier. In truth, Lancaster had been waiting for the mathematical coup de grace since sometime on Friday evening as they reflected, shellshocked, on an opening day hammering.
In an organisational masterstroke, the indoor racquet sports were arranged as the opening salvos of the weekend. York’s supremacy on the badminton and squash courts – where numerous whitewash results were recorded – was a bitter psychological blow and something from which the visitors, reeling, never properly recovered.
By mid-afternoon, when York’s rugby sevens teams were willfully picking holes in Lancastrian defences, you sensed something very special was about to unfold. The advantage widened from narrow gap to broad chasm almost invisibly as events staged off campus or in it’s remote corners, yet given equal points weighting alongside the more spectator-friendly events, went in York’s favour.
The equestrian, for instance, at Snainton earned the White Rose six points, yet happened practically under the radar. This event, in which York occupied positions 1-6 in the leaderboard, and the snowsports later in the day at Rossendale, were crucial , yet underappreciated, ingredients in the eventual win.
With the late spring sunshine on Saturday morning came another avalanche of points for the home team. Thrashing were handed out in the tennis, the squash and the lacrosse. Suddenly, York had surpassed 100 points and the traditional highlights of the weekend hadn’t even started. Soon, people were reaching for their calculators, working out the magic number target for the win.
Coast over the line? Not a chance. York thundered down the finishing straight without a moment’s contemplation. The rugby boys, the very epitome of a winning mentality, brushed aside the challenge before them like swotting an injured fly. The netball firsts, in perhaps the clearest indication of the irresistable momentum all York’s teams were experiencing, outplayed a Lancaster opponent who compete two leagues higher.
Derwent Bar was rocking on Saturday night for the pool and darts events, another brilliantly conceived and executed idea. The combination of big screens, MCs and walk-on music made for a formidable atmosphere.
Sunday morning dawned more sedately and soberly with little to play for. Nobody told the mixed lacrosse and volleyball teams, however, who set about dismantling their opponents with relish.
By the afternoon, when the football and basketball fixtures were scheduled, the only question remaining was whether York could surpass the 200-point barrier. Sadly, Lancaster were spared this particular humiliation.
The traditional croquet fixture drew a few expressions of bemusement, although watching the respective AU Presidents, not to mention Vice-Chancellor Brian Cantor, attempting to negotiate an obstacle course wielding a weighty ball and wooden mallet brought further light relief. For the record, Lancaster emerged victorious, a moment of solace in a dire weekend.
All-in-all, a wonderful Roses weekend that appealed to the core essences of sport: pure entertainment, friendly rivalry, a captivated audience and the right result. Of course, Emily Scott, the incoming York Sport President will have to approach next year’s Roses with trepidation, such will be Lancaster’s craving for revenge. It was a tournament that had absolutely everything barring one thing – the opposition.