Finding your feet in football

18 October 2007

As another battle begins off the field between tripos and this year’s unsuspecting intake of freshers, interest will also be focussed on what they can bring to our university sports teams. Unlike other football leagues who have weeks to contemplate their latest transfers and dealings, the university system relies somewhat more on chance, teams having to wait until the last minute, or preseason, in order to organize themselves. Spirits high after a positive start to the season by his beloved Newcastle, Steve Quinn talks to me about the ups and downs of his football season last year as captain of the Falcons, and the difficulties of juggling sport and tripos.

Sorry to start with this Steve, but you’re season last year was made pretty difficult from the outset wasn’t it?

I have to admit breaking my arm in the first game was not the best possible start to the season, but I’m going to try not to do it again!

It must have been terribly frustrating, how long were you out for? At least you must have had a good perspective about how the rest of the team were playing?

Yes, it was incredibly frustrating. I had my arm in a cast for six weeks (when I was unable to do any form of sport), and then was ordered by the doctor not to play football for a further six weeks. This meant I was unable to play right up to the beginning of lent term. Whilst this made it easier to get a more balanced view of the teams and individual players’ progress, it also distanced me a little more from the players, and it was very difficult knowing I would not be able to come on and make an impact during the important games.

Did you find it difficult to get back to match fitness after all the time you spent out of training?

The fact that I was unable to properly join in training until lent term, in addition to spending the preceding summer undertaking internships, meant I hadn’t played a great deal of competitive football for a long time. Whilst I kept fit in the gym during this time, I found it very difficult to get back to the level I had been playing at the previous season. Being in charge of the team also meant that I could not give my own game the full focus it needed if I was to truly regain the sharpness and awareness on the ball required at university level.

How difficult is it to get over a loss like you experienced in your varsity match?

For many people, losing any varsity match is disappointing, but losing 8-7 on penalties having been within a minute of winning the game did not make it any easier. I have to say that it will stay with me (and the team) for many years to come. However, you have to look at it from a broader perspective, and realise that it cannot be changed. What is important for the team is to learn as many lessons as possible from it and use the experience to our advantage this year, when I am sure we will win back the Varsity Plate.

Is it fair to say that this is the reason you can have really good and really bad seasons with university sport, because so much depends on the chance, or do you believe it can be down to training and leadership as well?

Like every sport, luck plays a big part in football too. However a good attitude in training and strong leadership can also help get the best out of our players, and aid team cohesion. The advantage of good training sessions is clear to see when it comes to our weekly wednesday game. We are lucky in Cambridge that there is such strong discipline when it comes to training.

How important is preseason training?

There is no doubt that preseason training is incredibly important as the squad has been apart for the summer. Playing football itself is the only real way to prepare yourself for the coming season; being able to run for hours on the treadmill and lift weights is not in itself enough. Also, we are at a disadvantage to our BUSA rivals such as Lincoln and Leicester, who start their term in early September, giving them 3 weeks more to get their players prepared for BUSA and integrate new faces. We have to make up as much of this gap as possible during preseason.

Was it a difficult decision to dedicate so much of your time to a university sports team?

It is never going to be easy balancing playing university sport and the delights of tripos, but it is certainly possible; and if you truly love sport it is never going to be a difficult decision.

There’s more and more speculation in the press about violent incidents in football on and off the pitch, do you feel there is adequate refereeing at university level? Does the ‘over-physical’ ‘desire for violence’ described by Arsene Wenger filter down through our own players and teams?

There is no ‘desire for violence’ in cambridge football whatsoever. Having played college and university sport for three years I can honestly say that I have never seen any violence on or off the pitch in Cambridge. The refereeing at university level is excellent, and the same goes for the vast majority of college referees who are a crucial part of college sport.

Speaking to an ex-captain of the Blues, I know he always felt the university system did not allow enough leeway in the timetable for serious sports players, how much do you have to sacrifice other things in order to take it seriously?

The university is relatively strict on university sport and whilst some supervisors are helpful in allowing you to rearrange supervisions etc, there is no doubt that they will not let it affect your studies. Sometimes missing lectures to make games and training, and nights out with your college mates before games are sacrifices you have to make if you want to play university sports, but that is the same within any important extra-curricular activity.

How do you feel about college allegiances? Do they get in the way of university football, or do you think Blues players should play for college teams, and get others involved and enthusiastic about the sport?

The university teams are important as something the college players can aspire to and the college leagues are an excellent breeding ground for university players. Often however university players will have to sacrifice playing in the college league if they are to ensure they are fit enough and injury free to compete at university level. So in all there is a key balance between the university and college teams; both need each other.

How’s the college league looking this year?

I believe Churchill will be a strong force. St John’s, St Catherine’s and Fitzwilliam have promising young sides. However,I have to say the dark horses will be Anglia Ruskin University who have a much larger base of players to choose from, and don’t quite have the same working pressures as we do. As always though, fresher intake for the colleges will be key in deciding who takes the league title, as it is a lot harder to replace key players at this level.

And finally, on a side note, are you impressed with the success of girls football in Cambridge?

Yes, the standard of girl’s football has increased each year I have been in Cambridge, and it will be interesting to see if the success of the England women’s team will have any knock on effect on the interest in the girls’ college league.