Sport Across The Divide: Playing With The Locals

CHRIS McKEON leaves the Bubble in search of teams of normal people, and thinks you should too.

Cambridge Cambridge Lions Cambridge RUFC Exiles MMA Rosi Sexton town v gown Townies UFC

“Townies? Ew” was pretty much my girlfriend’s reaction when I told her I was going to be helping out at the newly-founded Cambridge Lions rugby league club.

Townies, as depicted by Cambridge students

It’s similar to the attitude of quite a few people here, but there are a few of us who do choose to venture beyond the Bubble to train and compete with the people who actually live in Cambridge.

Indeed, for clubs like Cambridge University Mixed Martial Arts (MMA, better known as cage fighting) it has even been a necessity.

Cambridge may not be known for MMA, but the club, founded in 2011, is not the University’s first contact with the sport.

Rosi Sexton, who graduated from Trinity in the late 1990s with a first in maths, is now less than a month away from making her debut in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world’s premier MMA competition, having been a professional for over a decade.

Mark Liu she is not.

Pictured: Not your average Trinity mathmo

Still, as club president David Firth told me, her successors at Cambridge had to get round a lack of University funding and equipment by teaming up with local MMA outfit Tsunami Gym, who provide them with coaching, mat space and enough kit for them to get off the ground.

It’s a great deal for the club, as Tsunami boasts two professional fighters (including Cambridge’s first coach, Luke Barnett) and Firth describes it as “one of the best MMA gyms in the country.”

On the other hand, Tsunami get 30 or so extra fighters and the prestige and novelty factor associated with University’s name.

The rugby league relationship works the other way, with the local club getting the experience of three university players on a team that is mostly new to the game while the Uni boys get to carry on playing the game they love.

That’s the same reason a couple of PhD students have joined the city rugby union club’s 3rd team, the Exiles. As fourth year Engineering PhD John McGill explained to me, being in Cambridge all year round meant he was keen to find more opportunities to play than he could get at college level.

He also enthused about the social side: “I’ve really valued playing for the city side as a way of making friends outside the University bubble, it has been great having a social group away from work.

Just ordinary people, believe it or not

This is something everyone involved in local clubs mentions – the chance to meet non-University and, dare we say it, normal people. It makes a refreshing change from one’s daily life and rather than being hostile to students (as some fear locals are), everyone involved has found them welcoming.

Nothing, it seems, brings people together like playing on the same team.

Still, at least Cambridge students are more positive about making links with local clubs than our counterparts at the Other Place. Firth is frustrated that Oxford students have still failed to make contact with their local MMA club and train for a varsity match.

It’s a dream that will have to wait until they’re willing to step outside their own Bubble. But until then, those of us who do choose to will find a refreshing link to reality, and maybe a few opportunities that the University alone can’t give us.