Ahead of the 129th football Varsity Match on 30 March, we caught up with Oxford University Association Football Club captain Sam Donald to find out how his team are preparing for the big game.
t's easy to forget that the varsity match is just one game for the team out of a whole season. How's the year gone so far?
We’ve had a great season – we’ve remained unbeaten in the league all year, and comfortably won the division. That was always the aim after a disappointing relegation last season, but it was great to do so with such professionalism and without suffering a defeat.
For rowers and the rugby team, the varsity competition is the culmination of an entire year's work. Does it feel like the biggest game of the season in football too?
Our British Universities & Colleges Sport (BUCS) league campaign is a big part of the season, as the fixtures make up the vast majority of the competitive games we play — but there’s no doubt that the Varsity Match is the biggest occasion of the year. It’s an historic fixture, this year being the 129th Varsity Match, and it’s what all of the players look forward to and want to be a part of.
Such a big game requires you all to be on top form. What's the training regime like throughout the year?
We train or play games about four or five days per week, trying to get the right mix of working hard and giving our bodies enough rest. We try and build fitness work into all of our sessions, and the aim is to have every session played at match intensity. Our coach, Mickey Lewis, is Oxford United’s Assistant Manager and is absolutely crucial to our success. We learn and improve a lot through him, but he always makes the sessions enjoyable.
And what's the schedule looking like between now and the game?
We’re having a week long break from football just to fully rest and recuperate after a long season, but then we’ll be training for two and a half weeks in the build up to Varsity on the 30th. We’ve also got a few games, including one against Oxford City, to give players a chance to stake a claim for a spot in the squad and starting line up.
What's the mood like within the team now, and how will it change on the build up to the big day?
Everyone’s really happy after such a successful league season, and raring to go for Varsity! There’s also a lot of competition for places so people will be on their toes in training and games between now and the game. I’m sure on the day a few nerves will creep in, but we’ve got a very experienced squad this year with a lot of returning Blues, so they’ll be able to focus on the game and help some of the younger lads through the experience.
Who should we keep an eye out for on the field? Are there any stars in the making playing for Oxford at the moment?
This will be Ant Beddows and Julian Austin’s third Varsity Match, and it’s hard to look beyond them — they’ve been great servants to the cause and can really make a difference at both ends of the pitch. Our keeper Tom Haigh is also consistently outstanding – he somehow manages to keep on surprising us in training with the quality of the saves he keeps making! As for youngsters, Michael Moneke is a fresher on a 6-year medicine degree, so this year could be the first of many Varsity Match appearances from him.
Finally, what are Oxford's chances this year?
Cambridge have also had an excellent season and are currently top of their division, so both teams are very strong. I couldn’t be more confident about the quality and application of our players, and the spirit in the camp — but I’m sure the Cambridge captain would say the same. Both sides will be very well prepared, and so the victory will go to whoever holds their nerve and takes their chances. I’m confident we can get a win to ensure Cambridge don’t level up the all-time score at 50 all!
The 129th Varsity Match between OUAFC and CUAFC will be played at Selhurst Park, London, on Saturday 30th March. Kickoff is at 5:30pm. Tickets can be purchased online.