Left to right: Mike Atherton, Steve Palmer and Dan Roan Harry Curtis

“Atherton’s first-class ambition” – April 29, 1988

‘The educated cricketer’ they call him. Michael Atherton, famously of Lancashire County Cricket Club and captain of the English national team from 1993 to 1998, the Downing alumnus clearly had the makings of something truly special when he arrived at Cambridge in 1986. Earning a full Blue for the Cambridge University Cricket Club at the age of 18, he made his first appearance for club side Lancashire as early as the start of his second year. Going on to captain the University team before a glittering international career, Atherton had caught the attention of the national press before he’d even graduated with his degree in history. His profile in a 1988 edition of Varsity shows how Cambridge knew exactly what they had on their hands:

“After pre-season trial nets and a trial match at Fenner’s last Sunday, Atherton feels that he now has the best eleven student cricketers under him, the team including Atkinson, Bail and Fenton from Cambridge with Durham, Loughborough, Exeter and Oxford providing the remaining players.”

“Despite any problems he is likely to face as regards his own or the side’s performances, the Light Blues’ leader is a man who most definitely enjoys his cricket and finds it almost inconceivable that anyone else, given such an opportunity, could do otherwise. Perhaps this consideration, above all others, is the one that most justifies the maintaining of first-class cricket at Cambridge.” With the Light Blues having produced an England captain, I think the case for first-class cricket at the University was a good point well made.

“Pro Palmer joins rare breed” – February 10, 1989

Cambridge hasn’t just produced some great sports stars, but it’s also produced some of the finest sports reporters this country has to offer. And sometimes both of those collide. To date, Cambridge has produced only one Premier League footballer – Steve Palmer, who graduated with a degree in software engineering from Christ’s College in 1989. Palmer’s career saw him make over 500 professional appearances in the club game for clubs from Ipswich Town to Watford and Queens Park Rangers. Here he is in profile a term before his graduation:

“Brains and football are frequently, and unfairly, often distanced and with most Football League players leaving school at sixteen to be signed up as apprentices, those who have gone on to do degrees are set apart, Steve Heighway, Tony Galvin (degree in Russian) and Steve Coppell (Economics at Liverpool) among them.

“Palmer has already been watched by Bobby Robson, that much maligned manager, in his role as guest of honour at the Varsity Match. He had many kind words to say about the player, who incidentally models his style on current England captain Bryan Robson, which is possibly the worst kiss of death any player can receive as Glenn Hoddle, Peter Beardsley and others will testify. Hopefully Palmer will avoid Robson’s coaching and make a successful professional career, thus encouraging others not to forget their academic potential and give university football a welcome boost.”

The eagle eyed among you might have spotted the by-line, belonging to a certain Matt Dickinson. That term’s Varsity sport editor is now the Chief Sports Writer at The Times, and this year was honoured by the Sports Journalists Association as the Sports Columnist of The Year 2016.

“Out but not down” – 28th February 1997

Anyone who’s ever seen the BBC’s sports coverage will surely be familiar with the cool, authoritative style of Sport Editor, Dan Roan. One of sports journalism’s finest, the Fitzwilliam alumnus, who graduated with a degree in Social and Political Sciences in 1998, cut his journalistic teeth at Varsity before embarking on a career that’s taken him to the lofty heights of Sky Sports News and the top job at the Beeb. Roan’s biting, unwavering interviewing style helped to make headline news in a famous hour-long interview with disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong in January 2015.

That famous, take-no-prisoners editorial flourish was clear to see as early as this, Roan’s first feature for the Varsity sport section. Talking to newly-appointed England Rugby Union captain, Phil de Glanville, Roan grills him on his omission from that year’s British Lions tour squad, whether he deserves the England captaincy, and even whether the newly-professionalised sport overpays its stars.

“Whatever the reasons for de Glanville’s omission [from the Lions squad],” wrote Roan, “the fact is that his talents have been dealt a startling rejection. He knows, as do we, that the England captain really should be able to command a place in a 60-man British squad. But does his ability warrant selection? Is he as good as Townsend, Bell, Gibbs or Guscott?

“Yes, is the immediately, and slightly defensive answer.” With such a turn of phrase and knack for killer questions, it’s not hard to see why the Cambridge alumnus has done quite so well

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