After a two year absence from the University sports calendar, this weekend sees the return of the Varsity contest with York St. John.
Revamped and expanded, the competition, which was cancelled twelve months ago because of a BUCS fixture pile-up, is being staged over a Saturday and Sunday for the first time, allowing around 850 athletes to compete across twelve sports.
The Saturday sees the rowing take centre stage in the early afternoon down on the 1km River Ouse course, with the swimming races at Archbishop Holgate School later on. There’s also planned exhibition events involving the respective universities’ climbing and boxing clubs.
There’s wall-to-wall sport on the Sunday, starting with the men’s and women’s badminton matches at 9am and encompassing tennis, hockey, netball, volleyball, football and rugby union, until the feast concludes with the men’s basketball at 4pm.
Since its inception in 2005, York University have never lost a Varsity competition, with their most comprehensive victory coming on its last staging, in 2007, when the final score was 55-16.
For Emily Scott, York Sport President, Varsity presents an opportunity not only to continue this winning record but fulfil a key election campaign pledge to resurrect the tournament and earn some money for the coffers.
“I’m really excited about the Varsity weekend,” she said. “I’m already dreaming of about lifting the trophy. The new weekend format allows more people to participate and, importantly, means there’s no clashes with BUCS fixtures.
“We are hoping the Varsity events will be a big success, allowing the weekend to actually raise a bit of money for York Sport, rather than becoming another drain on our financial resources.”
Friday night sees the Varsity Warm-up event in The Courtyard while, after the presentation ceremony on Sunday evening, both sides will descend on the city centre in the Varsity Invasion, an event similar to the termly Viking Raid.
Despite their poor track record in Varsity and the generally higher position of York University teams in the BUCS League system, St. John are bullish about their chances.
“York St. John has done very well at field sports this year as well as mixed results indoors and with racket sports,” Gary Milner, Vice President of Student Activities, said.
“It would be unfair to single out any sports in particular as we believe this year we will pick up points across all sections of the competition, with a strong unity and focus on passion coming from St. Johns this year, which will hopefully be evident at Varsity.”
One area St. John’s will be hoping to win a few points will be on the astroturf in the hockey matches which are set to be a highlight of the weekend. Earlier in the season, the men’s teams tied 2-2 and are currently locked together just above the relegation zone in BUCS League 2B, with the return fixture on March 17 looking set to determine who stays up.
St. John’s women’s team play their trade at a division higher than York, but were eliminated from the BUCS Cup in last month’s derby, goals from Frankie Hall and Rachael Faustino earning a comfortable 2-0 win.
Despite the teams’ similarities, Sophie Hossack, Hockey Club Female President, is confident of a clean sweep for York.
“Varsity is a exciting prospect for UYHC because each derby match is always incredibly competitive,” she said. “From this season’s results so far, the bookie would back York. York St. John’s are only too aware of this and no doubt feel they have something to prove, but it’s up to us to ensure they step off the JLD empty-handed and humbled.”
This year’s Varsity includes Barbarians teams in the football and netball, allowing the cream of College Sport talent to get involved in the action.
A football 5th XI, captained by Dave Coupland, will take on St. John’s fifths and Greg Gardner, UYAFC President, believes it will merely provide another opportunity for York to underline their superiority.
“Following the season we’ve had, I cannot wait for Varsity! And in particular I can’t wait to see all five St. John’s teams trudge home across the city without anything to show for their trip to ‘Fortress 22’.
“As Shankly said “a lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are”. We believe we’re the best and we’re going to make sure St John KNOW we are.”
Buy your tickets for the Varsity events here
Nouse will be offering live updates on Sunday’s Varsity action with our rolling blog, plus the best match reports and photographs each evening at www.nouse.co.uk/sport. There will also be live updates on Twitter on the Nouse Sport page.