Adam has been involved in the CUAFC setup for two and a half years, subsequently earning the captaincy at the start of the 2021-22 seasonBen Adam

For Ben Adam, it’s a big year. In six weeks time, he will lead Cambridge University Association Football Club (CUAFC) Blues out onto the Abbey Stadium pitch for the Varsity Match against Oxford. Coming back from the 2-0 defeat of last year’s fixture, it’s his mission as captain to make sure that this time around they are victorious.

When I meet Adam on King’s Parade, he’s smiling, before I have even said hello. I worry that my first question about last year’s disaster will ruin this, but despite the evident pain of reliving the loss he’s upbeat. “It was a Varsity unlike any other,” he laughs. This is certainly true. With Covid restrictions yet to ease, the original March match was rescheduled to June 2021, after the exam season. Given the team had a whole term of preparation, you’d have thought Adam’s side would be well-prepared. However, the matches they’d normally play in the run-up hadn’t happened. For contact-minimising reasons, the first and second teams also weren’t allowed to mix, so morale was altogether low, on top of training not being as intense as in previous years.

“Regardless of how the Varsity match goes, we’ll look back and say what a season”

Despite this, the performance in the game itself was less than ideal, for which Adam thinks his team aren’t totally free of blame for the defeat: “We got dealt a tough hand, but I don’t think we made the most of it either.” The goals that lost Cambridge the match came from defensive lapses, which Adam believes better preparation and more regimented training might have prevented. Oxford were a good team, he explains to me, but not significantly more so than the light blue side which was fielded. “We probably weren’t the best side on the day, we probably weren’t the best side overall, but I think if you play that game ten times we don’t lose ten times.”

I ask what it feels like to lose, what the grieving process is after the final whistle has blown. Adam pauses before he answers: “You go back in the changing room and it sort of hits you that you’ve just prepared eight weeks for a game that you’ve lost.” Nevertheless, he remains characteristically optimistic: “The first hour or so after the match is gutting, but the bus journey back gives the team time to acclimatise and realise the value of the experience. They quickly realise ‘what a great thing it is to be a part of, whatever the result’.”

“If I look back on what I’ve taken out of my first two and a half years at Cambridge, it is football and then everything else”

Looking ahead to March, it will be important not to compare this year and last year too closely. In 2021, Adam reminds me, the team “hadn’t come off a good league season or a bad league season; we hadn’t come off any season”, whereas this year the Blues are on a winning streak. Not only do they currently stand top of their BUCS Midlands Tier 2B table, in line for a promotion, they also remain unbeaten in all of their league games. In fact, they haven’t lost a single game since that fateful Varsity fixture last June. If they can keep this up, it’ll be key to their success.

“Preparation is a repetition thing. Can you do the things in training and on matchdays so often that when it comes to Varsity you’re not fazed by the occasion?” Being relaxed on the day is now the priority for Adam and his team: “I’m just focused on playing that game of football, selecting the best team, and preparing that team in the best possible way to play those ninety minutes.”

In some ways, being part of a Cambridge sports team is the same as being part of any other team; although the eleven boys on the pitch are representing the University in their light blue strip, they are also doing it for themselves and to get the result they know they deserve on account of the hours and energy they have put in. “You get a lot out of it on a personal development level,” Adam says, “but I do it for the other ten players on the pitch.”


Mountain View

CUAFC: “It’s definitely the most united and inclusive atmosphere we’ve had at the club”

Sadly, teams are very often defined by whether or not they are victorious against the Dark Blues, regardless of their BUCS form. This is something Adam is acutely aware of: “A very average team can win Varsity and be remembered as a great team, and a great team can lose Varsity and not be remembered as much.” Nevertheless, he believes there is more to football than winning and losing: “Especially with Varsity, it’s tough to look past a win/lose mindset, but you also get so much off the pitch and in the lead up. If I look back on what I’ve taken out of my first two and a half years at Cambridge, it is football and then everything else.”

This is something we should perhaps all remember as Varsity matches of all kinds get closer and closer. Adam is right: “Regardless of how the Varsity match goes, we’ll look back and say what a season.”

This year’s Varsity Match will take place on Sunday 13th March 2022 at Abbey Stadium, Cambridge. Tickets can be purchased here.