The Women's fixture is set to kick off at 12:15 (BST) this afternoon (26/06)CUAFC

Ahead of this afternoon’s (26/06) Varsity Football Matches at Court Place Farm in Oxford, Varsity speaks to members of the Men’s and Women’s teams at Cambridge University Association Football Club (CUAFC) as the Light Blues seek to emulate their double header of victories from 2019, where they won the Women’s Match 3-1 and the Men’s Match 5-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw.

Men’s Captain Alex Bull first of all addressed the unparalleled nature of preparing for this year’s Varsity fixture. Following on from the cancellation of last year’s match, Cambridge’s squad has experienced the usual flurry of ins and outs, but in combination with the experience of an unusual exam term the team’s spirit would surely have been tested. However, Alex dismisses such difficulties in favour of praising the “really good characters in the camp this year”, noticing the abnormal “pressure of exams and training for Varsity in the middle of doing 24-hour exams”: “we’re not professionals at the end of the day, we’re doing this because we love football.”

Tatiana Kasujja, in the Women’s team, additionally noted the difficulty of “balancing trying to come back and giving a hundred percent and at the same time making sure that we’re not picking up any injuries along the way”, although she drew on the team’s “high standard of fitness”. Ailie Rennie, the Women’s Captain, added: “I can’t fault anybody for their commitment during this time [...] we’ve always had the mentality that you’re students first and foremost, but [...] the amount of sessions that people have made whilst trying to juggle being a student at Cambridge [...] is incredible.”

“the amount of sessions that people have made whilst trying to juggle being a student at Cambridge [...] is incredible”

Another factor to add to this potential list of complications is the artificial Third Generation (3G) pitch of Oxford’s Marsh Lane stadium. When asked about the detail of Cambridge’s preparation with this in mind, Alex commended the fortune of having Homerton’s newly-built AstroTurf pitches at the team’s disposal: “we’ve moved all of our training to that pitch, so hopefully Oxford won’t have too much of an edge over us in that respect”. Unlike a grass surface, artificial terrain allows for slick ball movement given its flatness, which is a component that Alex believes will benefit his side: “when you have really good ball players in the middle of the park, as we do, it allows you to play nice, high-tempo football, which is something that I think will favour us.” Meanwhile Rennie dismissed concerns over playing on a 3G pitch, with the Women’s team training on one once a week in preparation for the fixture.

Travelling to Marsh Lane also means that the Light Blues will have the opportunity to play in front of a crowd - a seemingly distant memory that is only just beginning to resurface in competitive sport. Marsh Lane, home to National League South outfit Oxford City, boasts a modest 529 seats, plus room for standing, relative to the 6,500 capacity of the fixture’s usual location, The Hive in Barnet. Although this “close atmosphere” will play host to “some abuse by the big Oxford contingent”, Alex claims that “these are the moments that you live for, when you have people watching you and the pressure is a little heightened.”

But perhaps this pressure can be eased by their recent run of form, notably earning a 2-2 draw in a recent friendly against the University of Reading. Unwilling to give too much away (and understandably so), Alex explains that the team’s attitude has been characterised by “dividing the game into different segments, treating each twenty-minute stage very differently.” This pragmatic approach is then complemented by the side’s youthful “firepower”, as Alex applauds the growth of Cambridge’s “unbelievable freshers”: “it’s been noticeable their development throughout the season, becoming wiser and a little bit nastier, which you need as a team.”

Ryan Hoffmann: "being away in Oxford will make beating them even sweeter"CUAFC

Channelling this nastiness into upholding the fixture’s long-standing rivalry, Jason Cotsapas’s dissertation has reportedly become a “complete side note”, with the match being “the only thing that counts.” Meanwhile, Ryan Hoffmann notes the “lethal left foot” of fellow teammate Nick Gallagher, adding that “being away in Oxford will make beating them even sweeter.”

While Rennie admitted that the Women’s side have not been able to play too many fixtures in preparation for the Varsity Match, she said that “despite not really knowing what [Oxford] are going to be like this year and not really having played many games, I feel like we feel well prepared for this game”. She added: “we’ve got a good squad as well [...] we’re really lucky with the players who have come in and people who have never played in a Varsity before feel well-prepared to know what the atmosphere is going to be like and are ready to take it on.”

“[Lewis] was well known for his brilliant coaching, but more than that we loved him for his kind, generous, and funny character”

This year’s fixtures have a notable poignancy to them, with Court Place Farm chosen as the venue in honour of former Dark Blues coach Mickey Lewis, who sadly passed away in March this year after coaching at Oxford University Association Football Club (OUAFC) for eighteen years. Bull and Rennie both paid tribute to Lewis, with Oxford Men’s Captain Ben Putland telling Varsity that his passing “rocked not just the current club and alumni, but also the wider footballing community.”

Putland continued: “[Lewis] was well known for his brilliant coaching, but more than that we loved him for his kind, generous, and funny character that made spending time with him the highlight of our week [...] I speak for everyone who has helped plan this weekend’s Varsity event when I say that Cambridge have been incredibly supportive and have ultimately allowed this weekend to go ahead and for us to remember Mickey in a way that he deserves.”

To commemorate him, there will be a minute’s applause, and his wife and son will also be presented with a framed Blues blazer. With OUAFC internally raising £15,000, a wider fundraising effort between OUAFC, Oxford City Football Club (OCFC), Oxford United and Stonesfield has thus far raised over £22,000 (as of 26/06). Rivalry and shared remembrance are set to sit side-by-side in what promises to be an emotive day of football.

You can follow the action minute-by-minute with Varsity’s matchday blog coverage starting at approximately midday (BST) as the Women’s fixture kicks off at 12:15, followed by the Men’s at 15:15.

Expected Squads


Cambridge: 1) Jen Atherton, 3) Anna O’Leary, 5) Arden Dierker Viik, 6) Ailie Rennie (C), 17) Tati Kasujja, 4) Fran Steele, 8) Belle Roston, 23) Temi Adeyemi, 11) Nia Hall, 7) Izzy Boothroyd, 9) Laura Mitchell. Subs: 14) Cara Drumgoole, 2) Molly Woods, 10) Bronte Evans-Rayward, Tamara Creswell-Wells, Polly Hipkiss, Neve Mayes, Heather Muir

Oxford: 1) Emilia Halfpenny, 2) Isabella Wordsworth, 4) Cadie Higginson, 5) Alice Nichols (C), 7) Alessandra David, 8) Taiye Lawal, 10) Rani Wermes, 11) Erin Robinson, 12) Ellana Slade, 13) Roza Bailey, 14) Grace Molloy, 15) Francisca Vasconcelos, 16) Daisy Connolly, 17) Hannah Bruce, 21) Iona Ffrench-Adam, 22) Madeleine Kowalenko


Cambridge: 1) Tim Wallace, 2) Max Stacey, 3) Nick Gallagher, 4) Patrick Mortimer, 5) Ben Adam, 6) Alex Bull (C), 7) Brody Wooding, 8) Callum Thomson, 9) Lumi Kanwei, 10) Louie Roberts, 11) Ryan Hoffmann, 12) Ellis Birch, 14) Fortina Oshasha, 15) Ujjal Sunuwar, 16) Jason Cotsapas, 17) George Pugh

Oxford: 1) Harry Way, 2) Kaiyang Song, 3) Alex Rickett, 4) Ben Putland (C), 5) Daniel Clifford, 6) Charlie Peters, 8) Ryan Clark, 9) Jake Duxbury, 10) Fidan Suljik, 11) Alfie Cicale, 12) Jeremy Ratcliff, 14) Finlay Ryan-Phillips, 16) Joseph Hickey, 17) Oscar Guy, 23) Luke Smith, 28) Chris Coveney