Feature: The History of Varsity

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On the 18th March we were treated to the 9th edition of our very own Varsity matchup between Southampton and Portsmouth, colloquially known as Soton v. Pompey. Reading this, you will know the result, which I hope will have been another impressive victory for the Stags. Here, I will enlighten you as to the birth of this fierce rivalry, a history which is surprising poorly documented. 

Varsity originated way back in 1827, when Oxford took on Cambridge in a cricket match which would spark a sporting rivalry like none other. The two universities now compete against each other in whole range of sport (including blind wine tasting… only at Oxbridge) This has grown into a yearly event which has even been broadcasted on national television. Other universities soon took up the torch, with St Andrews and Edinburgh having an annual rugby game at Scotland’s home of rugby, Murrayfield, ever since the 1860s. Now any two universities close to each other can’t resist locking horns, with places such as King’s College v. UCL and Bristol v. UWE being typical matchups.

Strangely, despite the ferocity of the contest, Pompey wasn’t our first opponent in Southampton’s history of Varsity. At an undocumented time before 2009, the University of Southampton would play Solent University for the local trophy. However, Solent weren’t really a tough enough opponent, summed up perfectly by this quote from the AU President of the time, writing this in his report in December 2008:

“We have sacked off Solent for our Varsity day (because they are rubbish) and are playing Portsmouth this year.”

And hence, a rivalry, dating back to the 1800s over fishing, and which continues into the modern over football, was strengthened.

The first four years of this new, revamped Varsity would see Southampton crowned as the victors on all four occasions, all on home ground. Come 2013, the decision was made to have the location alternate between Southampton and Portsmouth to split the costs and to increase participation for both universities. However, the decision to have the day in Portsmouth along with having it at the start of the Easter Holidays was one met with a certain amount of opposition. Concerns were raised over the worry that our best athletes would be unavailable on the day to make the trip to Portsmouth. Whether this was a factor or not, the fact stands that this is the first and only Varsity that Team Soton have lost (Touch wood, hopefully we didn’t lose on the 18th, really sorry if we did!).

Since that loss in 2013, the Stags have gotten themselves back on track with another four more successive wins, two home and two away. Since then, the victories have become fairly comfortable, with a fair margin in 2015. The feat was repeated in 2016 where Southampton ramped up a score of 214-54, with another 52 points to be counted. Once again, the reporting of the finer details were omitted, but one can only assume that Southampton cleaned up like they did for most of the day.

Who knows, maybe by March next year Southampton will have sailed to yet another impressive win. Or maybe Portsmouth will have pulled something out the bag and reignited the spark in the old rivalry.

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