An ode to college sport

The best this university has to offer

Cambridge life is an endless, barren grind through despair ridden assignments punctuated by hedonistic booze splurges, serving only as a means for taking work and career anxiety out of our minds, returning full force the next morning with a headache to boot. That's it. There's nothing else. Life at this university is just pain, suffering and deadlines….

That's what you probably took from my first two columns, and at this point are likely imagining me to be some pathetic Schopenhauer fanboy. Understandable. It's fair to say I come across as something of a pessimist, having a tendency to enlarge the bad and pick holes in the good. How cynical, ungrateful and selfish of me, to mope about an experience that over thirteen thousand Durham students could only dream of. Surely there's some good to be had somewhere at this god forsaken institution?

Well, there is. There is literally one good thing that Cambridge has to offer. Not world leading teaching or architecture. Not tradition or the Union. The best, and most truly beautiful thing that Cambridge can offer you, is college sport.

Though a disparate bunch, Cantabs tend to share the experience of being by-and-large top of the class at secondary school. Stereotypes aside, that means that most of us preferred to spend our youth bashing past papers than getting outside and kicking a ball about. It's a common stereotype, but it holds fairly well – we sacrificed sporting ability for UMS, and all together, we're pretty smug about it. My school sporting career basically mirrors this. I was utterly useless at football, and a passable rugby player till age 14, when everyone else started growing and I remained scrawny and short as ever (August birthdays eh?). I never made a school team beyond MUN, and honestly never really cared. Their thing was football, mine was A*s.

Fast forward a year, and I find myself at Pembroke, with every sports team trying to recruit me by virtue of my height. Did they not understand I was shit? Did they not understand that I literally didn't know how to kick a ball? And why would I want to get up at 5am to pull a paddle through water for the sake of nothing whatsoever? It was a weird time, till eventually it clicked: most people were like me. Beyond a few freshers who seemed to live on a diet of lycra, everyone was at best mediocre at sport.

More fun than it looks

Every college has a plethora of sports teams and far too few students to fill them. Half of the vaguely athletic students (and many of the non-athletic students) are indoctrinated into the cult of rowing, leaving a gap in the market for people like me: the mediocres. Before you know it, you're playing for two teams, unprecedented for the vagrant you are. Two matches each weekend, eating up most of Saturday and Sunday. Soon, a strange sensation starts to grip you, one that if you're as bitterly cynical as me, you won't have felt before. You start to care.

Now you spend the week quizzing team mates on their attendance. Every game becomes a must win. This weeks contrived formation and team selection is permanently on your mind. You crave that endorphins rush like a piss-head craves curry. Sports drinks become an event to anticipate, and that time you were knocked out in the Cuppers semi on penalties, or the time you held Magdalene rugby to a half time draw with only eleven men become some of your greatest memories of your Cambridge career. You begin to understand what being part of college really means, the sense of community and solidarity, all working towards the same valueless but not meaningless goal. Eventually, you realised what you missed at secondary school and to an extent you feel regret, but it's overshadowed by the comfort you take from knowing you could still maybe get goal for college.

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All smiles, despite being munched by a Dutch football team

On asked how he survives the lonely and tough experience of fourth year, Tab Sports Editor emeritus Alex Thomas once said: "Become invested in things that don't matter, like College sport." Truer words were never spoken, and apply to all of us. If you're looking to enjoy your time here at Cambridge, then you need something simple and wholesome to keep you going. Nothing serves that purpose better, than college sport.

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