It feels like only yesterday that this column was bemoaning the lack of sport in the freezing midwinter, and yet, as winter turns into spring, it’s fair to say things really are heating up. The truth is that BUCS, for all its seeming relentlessness, is disproportionately spread across semesters to compensate for end-of-year exams. The majority of fixtures take place in Semester One, meaning that before the Easter holidays have even begun, the miracles will already have taken place – whether they be heroic league victory, or as if foreshadowing Easter itself, back-from-the-dead league survival.
Oftentimes, though, what happens in sport is not miraculous. Rather, it is simply deserved. The sporting truism ‘the league table doesn’t lie’, although trivially true, is nevertheless usually true in the sense that the team who wins the league usually deserves it. Unlike many other walks of life, if you’re good enough in sport, you will usually reap the rewards. It is no coincidence – well, okay, maybe it’s a convenient coincidence – that the words ‘champion’ and ‘champagne’ sound so similar (the classier purveyors of alcohol among you may feel it all gets wasted on drenching teammates mid-celebration anyway).
Champagne aside, a veritable surfeit of St Andrews sports teams can now legitimately call themselves champions, to the point where this paper can’t hope to acknowledge them all. The men’s football second team in particular deserve recognition, so agonizingly close to promotion for so long, and yet finally securing it this time round. Where the team’s previous incarnations have fallen at the final hurdle, the current crop have sidestepped it entirely, securing the title with a game to spare. It may or may not be of interest to note that the game that secured it involved a certain team just north of the Forth.
The scope of St Andrean success isn’t just limited to regional level, however. The cheerleading team have, as this issue also documents, just been anointed national champions; an achievement that seems to merit a cheerleading troupe all of its own (whether or not the cheerleaders ended up cheerleading their own victory celebrations remains unconfirmed).
One insight to glean from such emphatic success, then, is that the relative smallness of St Andrews need not be any hindrance. In professional sport, there is always a sense in which size decides; a sense that Manchester United will always beat St Andrews United. Yet even the most cursory of glaze-eyed glances at any BUCS league table will, by comparison, make university level seem like some sort of sporting Shangri-La. St Andrews women’s football firsts actually beat their Manchester counterparts 2-0 in Manchester recently; by far the largest university in the UK vanquished by small-town small-fry. It is fitting testament to the sheer quality of both the coaching and facilities in the Auld Grey Toon that such matches aren’t just winnable, but won.
Something yet to be acknowledged, however – something perhaps the one true prerequisite to any true success – is will. Where non-sporting activities can be undertaken with relative lack of conscious effort, sport is something where you simply have to push yourself. After all, if you don’t compete; if you don’t want to win; can you truly claim to be playing sport in the first place? Granted, you may be nominally present on the pitch or on the court, without really caring about impending defeat. But without that desire to win, and hence the desire to push yourself, sport would be more than a mere pretence; a mere game. Which is why truly sporting success, whenever and wherever it occurs, is quite so worthy of recognition. The conscious physical and mental exertion sport involves is not just contingent – it is what makes sport what it is.
As regards the recent St Andrean sporting successes, then, there can only be admiration. The frequency of the training sessions upon which such success is founded is, accordingly, no less admirable. Peaking with the Water Polo Club’s superhuman nine sessions a week, such frequent training requires a sort of meta-effort; an effort to sustain the effort of each individual session over several sessions per week. Chatting to the Water Polo Club president, Eleanor Heywood-Bourne, for an article in this issue, it was hard not to simply ask “why bother?”. It is nice to think her answer would have run along the lines of “so we have the best chance of success” (champions’ champagne notwithstanding). It is even nicer to think, however, that her answer would have run along the lines of “because it’s entertaining”. Yes, for all the glory of the last few days’ successes, the real glory lies in playing sport at all. After all, does anyone really drench their teammates in champagne because they’ve won the league? Of course not. They do it because drenching teammates, and year’s worth of sport that precludes it, are – quite simply – fun.
Enjoy the section.