The history behind the UK’s most famous varsities

I’d rather be a poly than a

The varsity season looms on the calendar and some of the most notorious sporting rivalries that earns each University bragging rights over their inferior opponents for the rest of the year.

Oxford vs Cambridge

Undoubtedly the most well-known and prestigious sporting rivalry in the whole country, the battle between the oldest and most revered of English universities.

Each year, thousands of red chino wearing, port swilling alumni of the two most famous universities descend on Twickenham to see who of their chums will triumph in the annual varsity rugby match.


With a rivalry dating back centuries, with lineage being a sore point for the modern Cambridge, this rivalry is one of the countries fiercest and finest to behold. Oxford have won several of the most recent ties, and one of the players used to date Emma Watson.

Highlights including the yearly boat race and the rugby match held annually at Twickenham as well as the large collection of men named Bertie and girls called Annabelle.


The rivalry between the two London universities has existed since KCL’s inception three years after the creation of UCL.

The friction between the two manifests itself yearly during the varsity series with the longest suffering participants being the university mascots (Phineas and Reggie) who were frequently abducted and abandoned in places as far away as Inverness.

The sporting highlights include the London varsity football game as well as the annual rugby match with bragging rights firmly in favour of UCL.

ucl kcl varsity

KCL vs University of Bradford

It appears that KCL love a good rivalry even over trivial matters.

The annual Tolstoy cup is the product of a spiteful rivalry between the war studies department at KCL and the peace studies department at Bradford.

The peace department traditionally don shirts bearing the names of famous peaceful figures.

With Martin Luther King a rock at centre back and the powerful left foot of the Dalia Lama upfront the peace department hold the advantage winning seven of the previous eight fixtures.

But, as you can see, the standard isn’t very good.

Swansea vs Cardiff

In the battle for top Welsh university, the rivalry between these two is as good as it gets. Despite their fun loving reputations these two universities foster an immense rivalry, and they battle it out every April at the Liberty stadium.

With Cardiff often being touted as the lesser of two evils, Swansea have battling back in recent years to get one up on their snooty rivals.

Last year the annual rugby varsity was attended by 30,000 students and broadcast live on Sky Sports. This is about as exciting it gets in Wales.

University of Nottingham vs Nottingham Trent

Every university wants to get one up over their snobbish/polytechnic attending rivals and Nottingham is no exception.

With their close proximity and infrequent BUCS games adding fuel to the fire, this rivalry is among the countries finest.


The rivalry is escalated by Nottingham’s supposed superiority over Trent and Trent’s hate for Nottingham’s bank balance. Highlights include the ice hockey varsity, the largest of its kind outside of North America.

The rugby fixture returns this year after a one year hiatus because a fresher took a poo in the sink and the SU decided to ruin it for everyone by cancelling varsity.

University of Leeds vs Leeds Beckett

Despite an expensive rebranding to hide their shameful name, Leeds vs Leeds Beckett is still a question over whether the jumped up polytechnic can bring down their high flying neighbours.



The annual highlight of rugby union at Headingly stadium usually attracts 12,000 of the countries edgiest and waviest students.

University of Essex vs University of East Anglia

Despite their similarities the two universities annually hold their famous ‘Derby day’ with each university alternatively hosting the other.

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Despite the 60 mile journey between the two, this fixture is one of the most eagerly awaited.

Look out for the American football match between the Essex Blades and East Anglia’s pirates and the confused spectators trying to work out whose winning.