You get to University with the promise of sport for everyone. From the elite athlete, competing all over the world, to the social member who never quite makes it to training… or the games. These students are usually the first ones in the SU bar on a Wednesday evening though!
Freshers flock to sexy new sports like lacrosse, cheerleading and even quidditch. Drawn by the rumours of the crazy socials and the novelty element, as a wave of ‘YOLO-minded’ eighteen year olds signs up in mass numbers. However, after all this fresh enthusiasm, the majority end up playing the world’s favourite sport, football! For most, this usually means intra-mural. Why wouldn’t you? University doesn’t suddenly mean football isn’t the best sport. Whether it’s for your halls, your subject, your hobby or the CU, there are so many teams to join. So many socials to go on. So many dirty pints to drink. And so much fun to be had.
Unfortunately, in the midst of all this football fun, there is often a lack of one key ingredient - good-natured but competitive football. Personally, I only played intra-mural football at one university but I constantly hear students from Universities up and down the country moaning about similar problems. My last game of second year at Southampton Uni was a three-way round-robin plate final after a league/cup format that ran through the year. And yes, that inevitably meant that the final was decided on goal-difference as each team got one win each!
So where does it all go wrong?
Firstly, the people running it are often more than useless. It gets put to the back of the queue by the people in charge. The Athletics Union are more interested in organising the Swimming nationals or decided whether Quidditch should be considered a sport (it isn’t… just in case anyone was wondering). By November they have realised that no fixtures have been announced and then make an ill-educated decision to do a Champions League format with 27 teams in! Captains and teams everywhere hold their heads in their hands and just wonder why they didn’t just go for a simple league format instead.
All is forgotten though as the first game approaches and the excitement builds. You’ve managed to recruit a fresher that, despite his slightly chunky appearance now, used to be on the books of Crystal Palace and has met Wilfred Zaha! This could be your season - the kits are ready, the team’s organised and everyone is exclaiming how good it will be to play some ‘friendly football’ again. Unfortunately, there is no referee available for the game, so you have to ref it yourself. Five minutes in there is a heated debate over who's thrown-in it is, people are accusing others of cheating and the game descends into a hacking match! The kind of game that would be abandoned on Fifa after too many players receive red cards, but as it’s self-reffed anything goes. The game turns into nothing more than a brawl with a ball and two goals and this is to be a continuing trend throughout the season.
Above: Standard intra-mural pitch
Despite this, some games manage to maintain a level of fairplay and gamesmanship that allows a good contest to happen. And after a few games, your team has started to gel and are putting a little run together. Unfortunately, something called December comes along and it starts raining and snowing and freezing. The Sunday morning email is sent out cancelling yet another week of football due to a waterlogged AND frozen pitch (which scientifically isn’t possible, but it is intramural football!). This waterlogged and frozen pitch phenomenon will continue until the end of January.
By this time you only have a two months until your football pitches are transformed into cricket or even rounders pitches. With 15 games left to play in 9 weeks, it isn’t only Mathsoc FC that realises that the season may not be completed. These time pressures turn some teams into obsessed autocrats who increase in seriousness! The warm ups get longer, the goal celebrations get more pumped and some teams even attempt training sessions. Unfortunately, at the other end of the spectrum teams, in the realisation they cannot complete their games and the 3rd years have dissertation deadlines, stop making the effort even to turn up. Yet more games get cancelled and students get very fed up.
Above: Taking it a little too seriously. What would have happened if it was a screamer?!
The end of March approaches and in a hurried panic to finish the season the AU make a judgment call on who should be in the latter stages of the cup or who has actually won the leagues. This usually is based on a ‘mathematical calculation’, not because all the games have been completed and the league/cup has come to a natural conclusion. There is a small presentation evening which only a handful of the winning team will attend. Often in bemusement at how they actually managed to win playing in only 8 games all season!
Before you know it, it’s Easter and despite all the times you’ve been hacked down and all the cancellations, you know you’re going to miss it. Not just miss the socials and your teammates but the actual football as well. It is something to talk about on a Monday morning and analyse in great depth after having a few drinks. Plus, it’s something better to put under hobbies on your CV other than drinking tequila and masturbating. Maybe intramural football is like a Vince Vaughn film in that it is so bad, it’s almost good.
So if you’re considering signing up to a football team, do it! Enjoy the socials and meet lots of great people. But don’t expect a huge amount from the football. And prepare yourself for lots of moaning, whining and arguing.