Cambridge upstage Oxford to win Varsity football thriller

Felix de Grey 30 March 2013

Oxford 2 – Cambridge 3

Cambridge’s footballers overcame snow and stubborn opposition to win a tumultuous and engrossing Varsity match. While the weather played a hand in dampening the quality, the game more than compensated with abundant drama. The protagonist in the 129th edition of this grand and prestigious performance was undoubtedly Rick Totten, who rose above both peers and opponents with a splendid hat-trick.

For the second consecutive year, the Light Blues toyed with the emotions of their devoted contingent of fans, who braved an arctic Selhurst Park to witness the encounter. Indeed, for all Cambridge’s domination, it looked for long spells like they might leave without reward. However, Totten emerged as the saviour. Last year, he redeemed a cruel own goal by scoring the winning penalty in a tense shoot out. This time around, his contribution was all together more spectacular. Three times he rescued Cambridge when they needed him most, twice to restore parity, and once to finally end Oxford’s stubborn resistance.

So bound was Totten to Cambridge’s success that as he came inside to curl home his third – a beautifully refined twenty yard effort – the victory became almost an inevitability. It seemed impossible that fate could conspire to deny such a match-winning effort, though that is not to say that it was an easy ride.

In truth, the majority of the first half was hardly thrilling. Cambridge, like the snow, found it difficult to settle, and their Varsity debutants were showing discernible signs of nerves. Clearances were sliced and passes over-hit on a few too many occasions for comfort. Simon Court and Solomon Elliot, the Light Blues full backs, seemed particularly stricken by rash decision making. Oxford, in contrast, appeared compact and confident without ever being adventurous. The Dark Blues’ game plan appeared geared towards plundering from set pieces. Early notice of this threat was served as early as the sixth minute, as Oxford captain Sam Donald’s in-swinging corner had to be headed off the line by a watchful Elliot.

Twenty minutes and little incident later, another Donald delivery was headed home by Julian Austin to break the deadlock. Cue Totten’s intervention. Cambridge, at last coming out of their shells, began to dominate territorially and got reward for their renewed effort just five minutes later. Simon Court stabbed a hurried clearance, which fell to Ben Tsuda. Combining with Captain Ross Broadway, Totten was put through to slip the ball between the hesitant Oxford keeper’s legs from a narrow angle. Although Oxford’s defending was atrocious, there was little doubt that parity was deserved.

The game was now promising to fulfil its weighty billing, with both sides hitting full stride. Frenetic and unpredictable, Oxford once again took the lead in spite of Cambridge’s apparent comfort. Indeed, Elliot might be accused of relaxing too much, as he carried the ball almost to the halfway line before being disposed by Oxford’s midfield enforcer Anthony Beddows. The Cambridge midfield, caught on their heels, were unable to exert pressure and Beddows drove forward unopposed. Timing his decision perfectly, he then slipped the ball into the space now vacated by Elliott to Ezra Rubenstein, who angled the ball across Fergus Kent and into the bottom left corner.

The second half was a different story all together, with Cambridge dominating from the off. The Light Blues pressed perpetually, as if refusing to leave the opposition half. At last the talented playmaker Ben Tsuda, peripheral in the first half, was showing his ability on the ball. It was his gorgeous reverse pass that brought about the Blues’ second. Finding Totten ten yards from goal, there was little doubt as to the outcome. Thereafter, Cambridge seemed unaffected by panic or overconfidence, and it fell to Totten to complete his hat-trick and provide the game with its defining moment.

Before the game, Broadway reasoned that victory in this Varsity game would make legends of this crop of Light Blues. While that might be premature for a number of these players, some of whom were Varsity debutants, history should not forget Totten. Speaking after the game, he intimated that this is likely to be his Blues swansong, “I’m leaving next year, so it’s probably going to be my last game. Especially after my own goal last year, I felt like I had to win this for the boys.”

His captain too, will surely go down in the annals, as this victory rounds off a stellar year for the Blues. After missing out with injury last year, Broadway will be delighted to have been in charge of a season that has seen a virtually flawless league victory, and a run to the final of the BUCS trophy, which has yet to be played. Attention will soon turn to that small matter, but for now the Light Blues can bask in another much-deserved Varsity win.

Felix de Grey