Our new series ‘When Sunday Comes’ collects memoirs of amateur football across the world. Isabel Lütkenherm writes about her experiences playing in an historic match in Barnet
Cambridge vs Oxford
We arrived early for a communal lunch at the “The Hive”, the home of Barnet FC. Everyone was chatty and excited to see each other. For the first time in the history of Oxford vs Cambridge football, the women’s game would occupy the headline slot, kicking-off at 5pm. This meant we got to take in the first sixty minutes of the men’s game. That’s when my nerves started kicking in. I had been fine before, but watching made me realise how many people had come. I don’t come from the U.K., so Oxbridge banter had seemed amusing, if a little odd to me before, but now I really wanted Cambridge to win, my team to be rewarded for all the hours we put into training. This put real pressure on the match.
It was the 26th March 2018 and this was my first experience of playing in the Varsity match, the annual game between Oxford and Cambridge. I was playing centre midfield for Cambridge. Our term had ended a week prior to the match and we’d had one week to train in the formation we wanted to play in.
Our starting formation was a 4-4-2. This is not how we had been playing for most of the season, but we were aiming to press high, to push for early goals and to allow us to play in wide areas. We ran the risks of being greatly outnumbered in the centre and being done by high balls played over the top of our defence.
It seemed to work. We managed to gain an early corner and a shot on target after a beautiful through ball, while also retaining possession for long periods. We got another corner in the 15thminute after some nice combination play. The ball came in from the right, flew over to the far post and our number 10 Jen beautifully headed it into the corner of the goal. 1-0 Cambridge!
Though we were still having more possession and controlling the match, both sides were looking to play forward quickly, so the game was very dynamic and high tempo. This pattern of frantic play, with no team gaining real control of the match, continued until the 40thminute, when Oxford had a good free kick position. From the left corner of the box, their free kick dropped right into the middle. Though we initially cleared it, Oxford regained possession and played the ball over our defensive line, which had pushed up. Their number 10 controlled the ball and shot into the bottom right corner of our goal. It was initially cleared by Laura, but the rebound landed at the 10’s feet and she made no mistake from her second effort. 1-1.
I don’t come from the UK, so Oxbridge banter had seemed amusing, if a little odd to me before, but now I really wanted Cambridge to win, my team to be rewarded for all the hours we put into training. This put real pressure on the match.
Straight from our kick-off , Liz was set down the right wing, was fouled and had a free kick on the edge of the box. From thr resulting set-piece, Li sent the ball sailing to the back post, where Sophia headed it into the goal, just underneath the crossbar.
We carried a well-deserved 2-1 lead into half time.
The first 10 minutes of the second half were hectic, both teams pressing equally hard. In the 50thminute Oxford had 3 consecutive shots on target, warded off by our goalie and our defenders; for the second time, Fiona blocked a shot right on the line.
After a poor goal kick from the Oxford keeper in the 55thminute, Jen gained the ball and dribbled it into the box, was fouled and won a penalty. She took it herself and placed it into the left bottom corner of the goal. 3-1!
We continued to dominate possession, but out of nowhere, Oxford hit back from a cross in the 60thminute. 3-2. In the 65thminute, our coach made the first substitution and I moved up to play as a number 10. The next 10 minutes of the game were once again characterised by quick offensive play on both sides, resulting in lots of corners and shots. After 75 minutes, the energy began to drop significantly, as both teams suffered from the high pace the game had been played at. My coach took me off in the 85th minute and put on a fifth defender for the last 5 minutes of the game to defend our lead.
Alas, after an unfortunate mistake, Oxford capitalised on a moment of confusion and equalised in the 86thminute. With the game drawn after 90 minutes, we went straight to penalties. Our captain Katy gave a rousing speech, our coach named his preferred takers, but the order was ultimately left up to us. It wasn’t to be. After missing two, our goalkeeper Laura had to save their final penalty. The ball hit the cross bar but then rebounded into the goal. We had lost.
After we got our medals, we went over to stands to thank all our friends and fans for coming and to invite them for drinks in the stadium’s bar afterwards. The atmosphere in the changing room was subdued, but supportive. The bar was packed with Oxford and Cambridge players, their friends and families. Our plan was to drink at the stadium and then head into central London for a night out; the men’s and the women’s team would celebrate the end of the season together. Tears were shed on our way to the club, but once we were there everyone had a fun and drunken time.
Even though the Varsity result didn’t feel like the one we deserved, and didn’t feel like a reflection of our season, in which a lot of brilliant football had been played, I did end the season on a positive note, because such a strong team bond was forged between all of us. It was great to see more fans than ever come out to support the women’s varsity match.