It all started in 1903 when the players lined up with wooden sticks and the only protection came from gloves stiffened with thin slats and horse hair.
Cambridge won the first lacrosse Varsity Match 19-6 and their rowing eight followed suit with a 6 lengths victory in the Boat Race to make it a golden year for the Light Blues.
Thousands of scholars have graced the annual fixture since and although times have changed – a celebratory pint would have cost the equivalent of 1p back in 1903 – the honour, intensity and anticipation of the Varsity Match remains undimmed.
The two teams, who have been training for Saturday’s clash since the start of the 2015 term, will feel the weight of honour and expectation on their shoulders when they step out into a cauldron of history at The Parks, in Oxford.
The main event is part of a seven-game Varsity weekend of lacrosse with men’s, women’s, alumni and mixed teams all competing for the right to claim a landmark win.
The 100th Varsity promises to be high quality and close with both teams enjoying good seasons in SEMLA’s East One Division. Cambridge are second with ten wins from 13 games while Oxford are fifth with nine wins from 11 games.
Their league encounter, on November 21, went 7-5 to Cambridge but few people are viewing that as an accurate form guide. The record books favour the Dark Blues with Oxford triumphing in 56 compared to Cambridge’s 39 wins but statistics will mean little on a day infused with emotion and tension.
Those feelings will be supercharged in the Barrie household in south London where the family has the rare prospect of watching two sons on opposing sides.
Twins Gabe and Will Barrie will line up in different colours and they will be see plenty of each other as both are stand-out middies. 2nd year Gabe is Oxford’s face-off man and 1st year Will, who had a gap year, is Cambridge’s No. 1 LSM pick.
“Gabe is one of our danger men and being up against his brother will add a great dynamic to the game,” said Jack Templeman, Oxford co-captain with goalkeeper James Kavanagh, a 21-year-old 3rd year biology student.
“This game has been at the back of our minds since the start of the season. You concentrate on each game but you know it’s coming up and there’s no escaping the importance.
“But the whole team is looking forward to it and we are ready. We played them in the league and it gives you a bit of an idea how each other plays but it is really about concentrating on what we do best. They have got a few new players compared to last year and will be quite strong but I don’t think league form counts for much, it will be what happens on the day.”
Jack, a 21-year-old attacker from Andover who picked up lacrosse in his 1st year of an engineering sciences degree, is playing in his 3rd Varsity.
Both teams have been upping their already punishing training regime which involves sessions most days built around midweek university games in the BUCS league and Saturday games in SEMLA’s East One Division.
The Dark Blues’ ‘ones-to-watch’ include middie Tim Sweeney, on a Masters degree, who played for Clarkson University, in New York State, and Dutch defender Tim Sweere. They have six players returning from last season’s 13-10 triumph
Cambridge, who have lost the last four encounters, will be encouraged by their league form which, on paper, looks to have just eclipsed Oxford.
“We were underdogs in the last two but if you look at the SEMLA and BUCS results this season we will probably start slight favourites but this is Varsity and it will be close,” said Stuart Cummings, Cambridge goalkeeper and captain, a 22-year-old, 4th year natural sciences student from Berkshire, who also picked up the sport when he arrived at university.
“I’ve played in two Varsities and lost both so I’m aware of the pressure involved and that is much greater as it’s the 100th,” he says. “It’s a big responsibility being captain in such a game but I’m enjoying that. We’ve done a lot together and been through a lot as a team so we are united in this which is very good.
“There has been a lot more organising for this one with increased interest from alumni and you can sense there is more excitement as it’s the 100th. There is definitely extra pressure.”
Cambridge pinpoint Will Barrie and Cody Jacobucci, a face-off specialist on a year’s placement from MIT, in Boston, as dual midfield threats while attacker Peter Baddoo has switched to the Light Blue camp for a PhD course after winning with Oxford last year.
Both universities now run second teams and report good numbers at training as more students get hooked on lacrosse.
A sizeable crowd is expected for the game, which faces off at 2pm, and the first whistle will echo with heritage.
The first game was played at a time of recession and great social change in the UK. The Suffragette Movement was founded and a pact with the Liberals gave the the newly formed Labour Party a gateway into Parliament. It was also the year of the birth of George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh.
It seems beyond belief, but house prices were falling at the turn of that century with inflation at 0.3% and the economy stagnating and average wages at £95 a year
On a more fluid note, 6,500 breweries operated in the UK supplying 102,000 pubs in England and Wales – less than half remain.
In sport, Bury beat Derby County by a record score of 6-0 for their only FA Cup victory. Sheffield Wednesday – then known as The Wednesday – won the Football League while the Home Nations rugby contest was claimed by Scotland.
Thousands of students have graced the fixture over its 115-year history and for many it was the pinnacle of their lacrosse and sporting careers. Many have kept playing and promoting the sport but all never forget the day they played in a Varsity match.
Oxford 56, Cambridge 39, Draws 4
Biggest Cambridge win 25-4 in 1955
Biggest Oxford win 20-3 in 2003
Oxford 12, from 1993
Cam 6 form 1962
Oxford 4-3, 1993
Oxford 20-9, 1997
SEMLA Senior Flags Wins
Oxford (11) last in 1980
Cambridge (15) last in 1966
**Oxford or Cambridge won the Flags between them in an unbroken 1954 to 1966
SEMLA First Division Title (Now Premier League)
Oxford (Four) 1934, 51, 79 and 80
Cambridge (Three) 1948, 49, 50
*Stats courtesy Jon Cooper and SEMLA