As many involved in University sport will find, an odd quirk of BUCS sport is the prevalence of two St Andrews teams being in the same BUCS league for a season. The men’s cricket 2nd team being in the same league as the men’s cricket 3rd team, or in football, the women’s 2nd team being in the same league as the women’s 3rd team last season. Already this season I have found myself involved in my first of these sorts of fixtures, where for one afternoon friends turn to foes. Whilst for each team intentions rarely change, wanting to go out and have fun and collect a win along the way, it is undeniable there are clear differences in a matchday which involves a fellow St Andrews team. The build-up to such fixtures is always unique. How do you treat such a familiar opponent. If too cold, is it being rude? If too friendly, are you colluding with the enemy? Does anyone truly know the balance when facing a team filled with friends?
In my experience of playing a fellow St Andrews side, the changing rooms were not able to be accessed for a prolonged period of time. This led to both St Andrews teams having to wait awkwardly in the hall outside the changing rooms, no side daring to talk to the other, a 10-metre divide drawn out between the two sides. To an observer, it looked like two groups preparing for a scuffle or a “Pitch Perfect”-style riff off. Whilst most players are up for every match, there is that bit of extra intensity. For the more senior team or the team which is positioned higher in the league, there is that bit of expectation to prove you are better than the opposition. There will undeniably be, in the days building up to the fixture, good-natured (hopefully) “trash talking.” The higher ranked team in the club making claims like, “We have told the referee to give you a 3-goal head start.” That said, anyone can talk the talk, but for matches like this, walking the walk is crucial. No side wants to lose, let alone to a team they will have to train with in the following weeks, and who will inevitably be reminded of the fact they lost. Pre-match team talks by each team’s coaches are the most informed of the season, knowing precisely what the opposition will do, from batting order to team line-ups, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. I have even heard of occasions where the opposition know a team’s starting line up before the actual team does.
For one game, only both sides have levels of insider information that Snowden would be envious of. The opposite of this is true for the lower-ranked team in the club. For any individual player, it is the opportunity to show what they are capable of, to prove to the club that they were wronged to be placed in a lower team. For this team no matter what happens for the rest of the season it allows them to have the bragging rights. Let’s face it, everyone loves an underdog story. The match itself, for the ones I have been involved in or observed, is highly entertaining. There are levels of passion which only a varsity can rival. In football, there are heavy challenges, bold attacks, and heated individual battles, ideally combined with maintaining a nice level of rapport with the opponents. Flatmates fly into challenges against each other. Academic parents educate their children. For the 90 or 80 minutes, four quarters or both halves (or in cricket’s case, probably the day), the duration of the match has a familiar yet passionate atmosphere about it. When the final whistle blows and there is a victor, the opponents suddenly become friends again. Anecdotally the post-match handshakes are a far cry from the usual lacklustre pat of the hand. Laughing and joking is had as the players reflect on the match. This then naturally evolves into a Wednesday social. The idea of facing your own club in BUCS fixtures is a bit of a marmite issue amongst University students.
Obviously the idea of playing your own club can have its negatives; not everyone likes a civil war on a Wednesday. A result for one team in the club can have catastrophic results for the greater good of a club. For example, if one team is top of the league whilst the other is lower down the league, an upset could derail a promotion push. But I would say this is just a part of sport. A team must treat each team with the same level of respect, whether they know them or not. I would argue the nature of these fixtures have a number of benefits.: it would bring a club closer together, through playing a match against each other; it is another opportunity to get to know other players in the club who aren’t your teammates; and it also allows players lower down in the club to show what they are capable of and hopefully aid them moving up the teams. As it stands though most Wednesdays, there will be St Andrews fixtures where a club is divided and members of the same club play each other.