2nds-5ths 2004: Believing the Hype

(by Andy Bell)

11am. Saturday 27th November. Wilberforce Road Athletics Track.

The skies darken and thunder rumbles overhead, a sinister herald to the malevolent force approaching. A nervous whisper echoes softly through the ranks. The Dark Ones are coming... they can feel it. The training, the focus, the preparation: it has all been leading up to this point, this excrutiating moment of anticipation. As the cold steel of their swords glints in the half-light and raindrops slide silently over their helmets, with only the faint clanking of armour and sighing of wind to break the calm, they know that the time has come. The eye of the storm envelops them.

"Do not be afraid!" The strong, gruff voice of Commander Hope fills the air. "Let us welcome Oxford to a fiery cauldron of destruction. They want to beat us on our own territory..."

A murmur issues from the assembled masses.

"But Wandlebury is our home, our fortress and we will NOT let them do that!!"

The murmur erupts into a cheer, a roar of angry pride. Lieutenant Brady bangs his shield on his breastplate, instigating a slow, steady rhythm. The clashing of metal on metal picks up across the rallied army, each menacing impact louder than the last, until Adams Road itself is reverberating with the beat.

And then, in a sudden flash of lightning, the nemesis is glimpsed. An evil Leviathan warship cruises past the CMS, gun turrets swivelling on the amassed batallions. The wind whips up to a shrill whistle, and some of the Fifth Legion fall to their knees in terror. But Commander Hope shows no fear. He knows no fear. Leaping astride his battlecat, Ulrich, the hardened warrior rides grimly into the heart of the maelstrom, halting just yards from the smouldering titan.

A growling scream rips through the dusky dark, followed by a sizzle and a blinding explosion of light. Creaking precariously, the craft sinks heavily to the ground, plunging a gargantuan crater into the rocky earth below.

"Aaiiiiggh!!" Wizard Hewitt shrieks in triumph as his spell brings down the battleship. Sergeant Offord shoots him a reproachful glance, whereupon the conjurer recomposes himself and steps out before the crowd.

"Have you all got your chequebooks?"


Euuuurrgh... what a strange dream! Boy, do I feel groggy. Oh - wha?!! Aaaah!! It's 12:05!! Andy, you muppet: you've slept through your alarms again!!

A short, panic-stricken taxi ride later and I'm at Wandlebury, the real Wandlebury, ready to do it for the Hare & Hounds. Apparently Oxford had arrived that morning on a coach, rather than a warship, and there hadn't been much armour around... but otherwise I reckon I was pretty close with the description above.

Anyway, we're at Wandlebury squaring up to the Oxford dudes; everyone's psyched up by this cool motivational tape on the coach, and the ladies are just finishing their warm-up. Claire Willer is dashing around with blue warpaint, smearing it on every bit of Cambridge flesh she can find. And there's plenty of it about, because the Light Blues have broken attendance records AGAIN this year, with 116 Haries in a total field of 172. Bosh!

It's not long before Alexia's booming voice breaks the nervous quiet, and the female fleet is summoned to the start line (indicated, quite beautifully, by the presence of a shiny new "Start" banner*). The Cheetahs and Gazelles - our defiant 2nd and 3rd teams - outnumber their adversaries 2 to 1, and the place is practically awash with light blue vests... but can this overwhelming verve be translated into silverware? With the timeless words of Apples & Pears ringing in our ears, we (the humble "embodiments of the Corinthian ideal") realise that the sun truly HAS risen over Wandlebury, and the battle is one gunshot away from commencing.


And there it is. The lasses blaze off into the distance, vying for pole position. Just after the pack has disappeared out of sight, a horrified cry of "Sheep! Aaaarggh!" floats up on the breeze, as Matt Robinson is challenged in his marshalling duties by a rogue flock of ruminants. Much amusement ensues, and several of the male athletes forsake their warm-ups in eager pursuit of the rabid creatures. Purely to shepherd them out of harm's way, of course... Rowan applies himself to the task with vigour.

Perhaps startled by the woolly presence, Laura Frost has a bit of an issue going up one of the hills and actually passes out on the incline. Luckily for her, the next Cambridge** runner revives her with a slap on the cheek (hehe) and, clinging desperately to thoughts of Justin Bronder, she is able to continue on her merry way. Unfortunately, such thoughts cannot sustain all the Light Blue ladies, and Helen Mort is forced to leave the course after one lap due to "pressing commitments elsewhere". Mysterious.

After approximately 24 minutes and 23 seconds, the race leaders return from their gruelling 2-lap tour of the Park. And, in spite of gutsy performances by the likes of Claire Day, Catherine Hanna and Sarah Kummerfeld (not forgetting Ospreys pin-up Charley Charley Joyce), all of the leaders seem to be Oxonians. All credit to Oxford (the *?##!* **#?&!##**s!!) - a very strong Dark Blue squad achieved comprehensive victories in both the Ladies' 2nd and 3rd team events. No doubt OUCCC Captain Miss Beverly will be chuckling to herself in delight... until, of course, she realises that the final showdown - the titanic Blues clash of the year - is next weekend. Then revenge will be had, and those chuckles will turn to tears of RAGE.

No hard feelings.

Anyhow, where was I? Ah yes... let's move on to the Men's races. First up we have the Spartans, our handsome band of second-team runners, flying the flag of Cambridge with pride and passion. Captained by Oli "Shaggy" May, these chaps are the creme de la creme of Cantab cream, and seem capable of anything this year, not least a shot at the Varsity title. Roaring off at the start, their positioning is delectable and everything seems poised for a Light Blue victory. But then... Ouch!! Edd Collins, running at the front of the pack, pulls up with a shooting pain in his leg. One of the most outstanding and consistent performers this term, he is carried back to the finish line with a torn Soleus muscle, while his comrades try to make up the loss.

And boy do they try!! John Solly and Nick Casini both have terrific races, digging deep in the final stages to overhaul Oxford's Graham Grant and claim 3rd and 4th places respectively. Solly is proclaimed King Spartan and 'Animal Of The Week' as a result of his huuuuaaaaoooowwwge sprint finish, while Diarmuid O'Seaghdha (sic), Oli May and James Sheehan pack in tightly, clawing with their fingernails for that elusive inch. But alas, alack - it is not quite enough. After a few tantalising moments (during which Mathmos suddenly become uncharacteristically popular), we realise that the Other Place has edged ahead, 40 points to 38.

Enough of this: let's sort it out right now!! Infuriated by the audacity of their opponents, Cambridge are pushed (dare I say it) to the point of RAGE. In the next head-to-head, a romping effort by the Barbarians sees Oxford's 3rd team beaten to a pulp. Ulrich Paquet leads home the dominant Light Blues, tailed by Tom "4th team runner" Coats and Rob Morris, with only one Oxonian splitting the scorers. Meanwhile, justin front of Justin "built like a bull" Bronder, we see a familiar face... or do we? Surely that's not Richard Hewitt running under the enemy's colours?!! Maybe it's just the endorphins. Hmmmm.

Talking of endorphins, if that race hasn't hit the spot this next one certainly will. Cambridge supporters, prepare for an orgy of pleasure: we present the Men's 4ths & 5ths race... Now last year this particular event was very well attended, with 28 Haries taking part. This year, well, errr... 56!! And the Evil Foe have similarly doubled their team size. Not that size is everything... But as Jeff will tell you, his enormous suggestive camera swinging slowly between his legs, it does matter!

Certainly dominant in quantity, the Cambridge men are swift to show a great depth in quality, securing all six medal positions in the two events. Alex McIntosh and Aidan Brown pick up the respective 4th and 5th team golds, paving the way for a swathe of fervent mud-lovers to trample triumphantly down the home straight. The 4ths win 22-83 (bish), the 5ths win 67-170 (bash) and Josh West is seriously tall (bosh).

So at the end of the day, after all the sweat and blood (which seemed to be gushing quite excessively from one chap's leg in the 5ths event), after the tears of joy and anguish, as the snow and sheep fade into the distance... it's 3-3.

We're level-pegging, Oxford. But next weekend all that changes... Saturday 4th December, Wimbledon Common: The Blues Match.

Success is our only m*********ing option.


PS The After-Party: Due to legal reasons, I cannot elaborate here. But Phil's photos should tell you all you need to know...

* Thank you Andy Noyce! Thank you Sweatshop!

** Not that an Oxford competitor would have abandoned her... It's just that they all seem to be squeezed into the first ten positions (grrrrr).