A Cavalier Attitude: Mud Bowls and Pleasuredomes
From a previous club President
I had a been a fan of American Football from my mid-teens, recording the late night Channel 5 games on VHS, and spending hours on Madden as the 2001 Rams. In my last year at school, I played for the Norwich Devils, hoping to play Youth football but being called up into the Senior squad for a bruising rookie season. Although not my primary reason for attending Oxford, I had definitely done my research and ensured there was a university team before I confirmed my place.
When I arrived in Oxford in 2004, we played as the Combined Cavaliers together with Brookes. The team that had recently been to two consecutive College Bowls, and like many a storied NFL franchise suffered something of a fallow period in the aftermath. That said, there were many fine performances, dedicated coaches and all the highs and lows that create such an indelible bond between teammates. In my second year I was the Oxford University Club President, complemented by my opposite number from Oxford Brookes, Ali Kemal (AK) Sarper – who of course wore jersey number 47. I was incredibly happy to be offered the Presidency, both due to the fancy sounding title, and the fact that it was far less hard work that gameday manager, one of the toughest and most thankless jobs in existence.
Given the number of Oxford University players in our cohort, it would have been inconceivable to us to field a Uni-only team. We reached out once or twice to the Cambridge teams but were unable to tempt them to a Varsity-style clash. But the one huge advantage of a combined team was the opportunity to form friendships with the Brookes boys and get an insight into a more normal university experience. In addition, we would have, at least termly, a team social at their infamous student venue, the Pleasuredome.
Pitches, as ever, were an issue. Being the bastard offspring of two universities meant constantly being pawned off onto the other uni for space. We practiced on a grassy area behind St Cats, and games were played up at Harcourt Hill – known to us as Hardcore Hill, due to its unforgiving exposure to the chill winter winds. But other teams struggled too – we played an infamous mud-bowl away game where a member of the defence recorded a 20 yard slide. As QB, trying to throw a slippery mud-caked four-year-old ball in those conditions was nigh on impossible, but I dimly recall a five yard throw turning into a 55 yard TD as the defence struggled to find their footing and the receiver slogged upfield like a WW1 soldier crossing no-man’s land. The lowpoint of our pitch management was purchasing ten bags of Tesco’s value flour to mark the field before a scrimmage. Eco and wallet-friendly, but also invisible by the end of the first quarter.
Despite billing ourselves as a 3rd-quarter football team, the team also played hard in the 5th and 6th quarters in the bar after the game. Team initiations were typically done after the Aberystwyth game, and initiates typically faced a tortuously twisty coach trip back through the Welsh hills and valleys with bellies full of pints of larger and cold spaghetti hoops. Fundraising nights were held in Filth nightclub above the old Westgate Centre – with more fun being had than funds being raised.
It is amazing how much joy the experience of being a Cavalier has provided me over the years. Throwing a ball with teammates while watching the Varsity game and it seemed like only weeks, not over a decade, had passed since we were all together. The sensations of the game are still fresh many years later – crisp winter practices, pregame nerves, seeing a receiver downfield break clear with the ball. An American friend and teammate, who had played at the highest US collegiate level, once remarked that playing at Oxford was ‘the most fun [he]’d had playing football since Pee Wee league’. We may not (yet) have a hundred thousand seat stadium, but on that more important metric, the pleasure of playing the game, we more than hold our own.
A quick appeal – I am eager to support the excellent work being done by Stewart and his team, and have volunteered as this year’s Alumni Liaison. Alumni, please reach ou to me, either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on LinkedIn. In particular, I need help to fill in the gaps on teamsheets and work out who we can reach out to and add to the official email list.
To stay connected, please join our: