Both Cambridge and Oxford held a press conference at Wilberforce Road Sports Ground yesterday evening (12/3)Cambridge University Association Football Club

The Varsity Football Match is a serious affair; 150 years of history is no laughing matter. This year’s pre-match press conference at Wilberforce Road Sports Ground signalled that the importance of the matches to Oxbridge sport was as clear as it would have been in that first Varsity match in 1874.

The full squads from both teams were in attendance and dressed for the occasion – some returning Blues in their blue blazers, others eager to collect them after the matches later today (13/3). The captain and coach from all four teams fielded questions from three student journalists, doing their best impressions of their media-trained Premier League counterparts. 

On the top floor of the Sports Ground facilities, facing the imposing Cambridge University crest and preparing for the first Varsity match to be played in Cambridge in seven years, there was a distinct home feeling for the Blues. “[It’s an] amazing stadium,” Cambridge Women’s captain said, “It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere with loads of fans, so hopefully that will give us a boost.” 

Playing at the Abbey Stadium, the home of League One’s Cambridge United, with an expected crowd of over 2,000, this will be a once in a lifetime chance for many of the players. “It’ll be a good opportunity for our players to play some decent football in front of a good crowd,” Oxford Men’s coach Ben Sadler explained, but he was insistent that “it doesn’t matter whether it’s home or away.”

Both Women’s captains were confident. Oxford’s Maddie Kowalenko is happy with how her team’s season has gone, but she’s wary of Cambridge’s strength. “We’ve been able to play some tough opposition and play some tough matches, so we’re quite confident in the squad that we’ve got, but we’re treating this as the toughest match of our season.” She added: “We’re going to be ready to go.”

Likewise, Steele was full of praise for her team: “As the season went on, we just got better and better each game.” Her coach, Mohammad Ghamari agreed: “[We’ve had] a very good season.”

Unsurprisingly, mind games were on the agenda for the men. Both teams were eager to present themselves as the underdogs, Oxford because of their poor season – getting relegated from the BUCS Midlands Tier 1 division  – and Cambridge because of playing inferior opposition in the league below, albeit winning it and gaining promotion.

Oxford Men’s captain Luke Smith wouldn’t bite when asked whether last season’s 2-0 victory gave his team a confidence boost going into today’s match. “I think every Varsity is different,” Smith explained, “every year you gain players and you lose players.” He’s correct; the Varsity matches are always extremely hard to predict. This year, Cambridge Men’s team has only a handful of players who have previously started a Varsity match, with coach Tom Blatch opting for a more youthful squad. “The squad is full of fresh faces,” captain Ben Adam said, “people who have something to prove.”

“I don’t think what has happened this season can really reflect how Varsity is played,” added Blatch, “It’s very much [about] who wants it on the day.”

That line - ‘it’s going to be about who wants it on the day’ - seemed to be the line that everyone had prepared. Based on the determination in the eyes of the captains, it will be very hard to pick between the sides. Ben Adam seemed particularly set on Varsity glory, winning the league having only heightened his taste for victory: “A team that wins the league is a good team, but you’ve got to be a great team to win the league and Varsity double.”

Leaving the press conference, you’d be forgiven for thinking Cambridge vs. Oxford was the biggest match in world football, which is testament to the passion and drive that was evident in everyone behind the microphone last night (12/3). The Varsity match is historic. It’s going to be a good one. 

Cambridge Women’s Blues will be in action from 1:30pm at the Abbey Stadium, while the Men will kick off at 4:30pm.