The car-park camaraderie was in full flow, huddles of historians gathering at the Sports Centre during what was an otherwise low-key Friday evening. The cobbled-together nature of their kit – from an old Charlton Athletic number, to a Francesco Totti number 10 – belied a steely determination to etch their names into the history books alongside one Otto von Bismarck. This, ladies and gentleman, was the Bismarck Cup.
A one-off, winner-takes-all football match to commemorate the imminent retirement of Dr Bill Knox, of the School of History here in St Andrews. The Bismarck Cup was so-named because von Bismarck invented the retirement scheme (really is one for the history buffs, that). The two teams in question were both composed of School of History staff members, a “Bill Knox All Stars” outfit facing up against the snappily-named “The Best of the Rest of The School of History”.
Taking place on a pitch next to St Andrews’ main observatory, it doesn’t seem inapt to say that all lenses were fully focused on the encounter. With a sizeable audience of students and partisan fellow staff, on-pitch proceedings were offset nicely by sprinklings of sideline sass.
Professor Ali Ansari’s strike for The Best of the Rest inside two minutes, a predatory tap-in at the far post, sparked scenes of jubilation and scorn in equal measure, and was quickly followed by a lethal volley to make it 2-0. The All Stars nevertheless kept their cool, Prof Simon MacLean’s calm presence in midfield reminiscent of Barcelona lynchpin Sergio Busquets at times. Fashioning a string of chances late in the first half, the All Stars ended the half 2-0 down, but with the momentum very much in their favour.
The second half saw this momentum tell; parity restored in a flash or two for 2-2. With the stakes raised, the game became that bit more aggressive, Dr Jamie Page of The Best of the Rest was downed by an especially visceral, crunching tackle. Prof Colin Kidd even responded by pulling off a backheeled nutmeg in the face of a sliding challenge, his choice of on-pitch attire (a chequered gilet and running shoes) evidently failing to mask his inner trequartista.
With a slew of chances missed by both sides, Prof MacLean eventually slotted home to give The Best of the Rest a 3-2 advantage – which they promptly ceded straight away, a placed finish levelling the All Stars at 3-3. As both sides searched desperately for a late winner, it seemed somehow inevitable that none would be found. Yet, in a strange way, this seemed the most fitting tribute to Professor Knox. After all, with a name like the ‘Bismarck Cup’, what result could have been more apt than a hugely eventful yet ultimately peace-maintaining 3-3 draw?