In anticipation of the upcoming Varsity Football Match, the OxStu has been fortunate enough to interview the captains of the men’s and women’s Blues teams, Laurence Wroe and Caroline Ward.
Laurence, addressed exclusively by his teammates as ‘Loz’, is a third-year Physicist at Pembroke.
Caroline, or ‘Caz’ to her teammates, is studying for her Finals in Chemistry at Balliol.
Adam: I know we’ve already written about the ‘double header’ in a previous issue, but could you sum up what it means to you for both the women’s and the men’s teams to be playing at the same time and in the same venue?
Loz: Since my involvement with OUAFC in my first year, we have viewed the double header as the logical progression of football Varsity into modern times. The men’s and women’s teams are becoming closer each year and so it will be fantastic to watch their Varsity and play ours straight afterwards.
Caz: I’m just so happy that it’s finally happened. It’s such a massive step for equality, and it’s so nice to see so much work pay off. I feel so incredibly lucky to be a captain in it and absolutely honoured to be part of the transformation and progress I have seen in the women’s game. Some young girls will go to the game and hopefully be inspired by it – it’s wonderful to be involved in that.
A: Obviously the Varsity Match is a one-off occasion and any team can win on the day, but what kind of form are the Blues in at the moment? Have you had a successful season?
L: The Men’s Blues have had one of their best teams in recent years and have put in some very strong performances. However, after cruelly losing on penalties in the BUCS [British Universities and Colleges Sport] Cup quarter-final and looking likely to just finish second in the league, we are desperate for the silverware that will do our performances this season justice. So getting our hands on the C. B. Fry trophy [awarded to the winner of the Varsity Match] is an absolute must for us.
C: The Blues are certainly in good form at the moment. Having had a shaky start to the season, we’ve learnt so much as a team together and have massively improved. Our recent results are 5 wins and 2 draws from 8 games, including beating second-placed Nottingham Trent.
“For a lot of us, playing this fixture will be the pinnacle of our footballing careers”
A: This will be the 133rd Varsity Football Match between Oxford and Cambridge. Does the history of the fixture put any extra pressure on you?
L: With the fact that the results are so close, with 51 Oxford wins to Cambridge’s 49, there is of course some pressure on us to retain our winning margin. For a lot of us, however, playing this fixture will be the pinnacle of our footballing careers and that excitement definitely counteracts a lot of the pressure.
C: I think history and a sense of occasion does add to the nerves, but mostly in the form that this is the first ever double header Varsity game – this will always be a milestone and something that people look back to. I want them to look it up in future years and see an Oxford victory.
A: With so much resting on the game, tensions will no doubt run high. How do you make sure that you and your team are up for the contest without getting too nervous or losing your discipline?
L: This year especially, team spirit has been really strong both on and off the pitch as we spend a lot of time together. This means that the focus has very much been on the team rather than any individuals. Everyone knows their roles and responsibilities, and confidence is running high. As we are such a close-knit team, no one will let their teammates down through bad discipline – perhaps in contrast to Cambridge, who picked up 6 yellow cards in a league game against us this season!
C: Having faith in recent results and performances, as well as emphasising that whilst the stadium is bigger and the crowd is bigger, when you are on that pitch it could be any pitch, anywhere. As soon as you step onto that turf you are doing the same thing you do every Wednesday and you are the same player.
A: Where else do you think the game will be won and lost?
L: So many varsities come down to very fine margins, and it is not always the case that the better team wins! With it being such an intense occasion, the fitter team will no doubt have an advantage, but other than that I’m not sure. Earlier in the season, we beat Cambridge 4-2 in a free-flowing game with both teams counter-attacking well, before drawing 0-0 away at Cambridge in a much tenser, cagier game.
C: Physicality and concentration. Having the sheer aggression to win. And it can be hard when you’re putting so much into a game to not get tired mentally – last-minute set pieces and things like that could decide the game.
A: Both of you have been unfortunate enough to suffer serious ligament injuries which have kept you out of important matches – Loz, you tore your ACL in the final warm-up game for Varsity last season, and Caz, you ruptured your MCL at the beginning of Michaelmas 2015. What has the experience taught you? And what have you made of being a captain from the sidelines?
L: Yeah, I was absolutely gutted to miss out with the timing of the injury (not to mention its severity!) – the fact that it was the game before Varsity made it particularly frustrating. However, I had played in pretty much every minute up until the Varsity and still felt very much a part of the team when we won 2-0. As it was my first major injury, it did teach me to enjoy my football a lot more when I’m playing. But, more importantly, the experience gained watching games on the sidelines alongside our coach Mickey Lewis massively helped me see the tactical and game-management side of football matches that is not so obvious when you are playing. I feel like I am a much more effective communicator and captain on the pitch because of this.
C: Patience. Although actually I’m not sure I’m very patient still. It certainly made me a stronger person. Captaining from the sidelines taught me how much playing means – I think I value time on the pitch and I value the position I have as a member of the team and captain so much more because not doing that for so long was so hard. Any time that I feel like I just can’t be bothered with training on a cold night or whatever, just remembering how much I fought to get back to it makes me try harder. But I think it also taught me how much more there was to being captain, and how to love and look after my teammates and do the things that they needed me to do.
A: Bearing this in mind, and the fact that you are now captain, are you approaching the Varsity Match in a different way this time around?
L: Yes and no – I am aiming for my own personal performance to be as high as it can be, and that is the same goal as last year. However, I am obviously responsible for my whole team and want everyone to be performing to the best of their ability. This means setting the right standards for everyone to follow (for example, setting a high intensity in training sessions) and making sure everyone is mentally and physically fit and ready for the next few weeks.
“It’s particularly good for women because it bucks the stereotype that girls can’t be aggressive or not look beautiful and composed”
A: Caroline, I understand you picked up playing football because your brother loved to play the sport. For the girls who don’t have a male sibling, how else can we inspire more women to play football? And why do you think it is a good thing for women to play the sport?
C: Ha! Yes – I used to play a lot with my brother in the garden, but he now oddly hates football! What’s been great has been the increased coverage of women’s football, which has come with the growth in profile and professionality of the women’s game, and seeing other women’s footballers and athletes at a young age tells girls: they can do that too. The increase in girls’ teams has also been massive in my lifetime – women’s football is now the second most popular sport in the UK [behind men’s football]. Sport is fabulous. I have learnt so much through sport! I think it’s particularly good for women because it bucks the stereotype that girls can’t be aggressive or not look beautiful and composed – it teaches you that aggression is good and that you don’t need to conform to this idea of being “ladylike”. It taught me how to be a team player and gave me determination and a passion in life.
A: We know that playing sport for the University can often be quite time-consuming. How do you balance football alongside your studies at Oxford?
L: I’ve always played a lot of sport and done other extra-curriculars that I have had to balance my studying around. Here it’s no different – the Blues train three times a week, and I don’t find that too time-consuming as it’s in the evening or on weekends. The main issue is having to catch up on lectures that are missed when we play on Wednesday and fitting this time into my schedule. And then a lot of the work involved with being a captain is quite fun procrastination!
C: Well, it remains to be seen whether I have actually managed that. But, I think getting up earlier is a good start, and just keeping yourself organised.
A: And finally, what is the best and the worst thing about being Blues captain?
L: The best thing is seeing hard work from training paying off and winning us games! As for the worst thing… (Being pestered for interviews…?) Nah… this isn’t really Blues-captain-related, but I have had to drive the minibus everywhere this year!
C: The best thing is winning, particularly when there’s a trophy involved. The worst thing was the Tuesday before a BUCS game! Trying to choose a team with our coach and coordinate people, kit, and having a driver.
A: Cheers, and best of luck in the big game!
The 133rd Varsity Match will be taking place on Sunday 19 March at The Hive (HA8 6AG). The women will kick off at 1pm, and the men at 4pm. Head down to Barnet for what promises to be a historic, high-powered, and high-quality football contest between Oxford and Cambridge.