Running-Up to the 45th Roses Tournament


For one weekend every year chaos, anarchy and unrivalled sporting enthusiasm falls spectacularly upon one of two Northern Universities. Sports teams either side of the Pennines clean their kits and polish their shoes, improve their game and practise their war cries.


I am referring of course to the infamous Roses tournament that is fought out between the universities of Lancaster and York in a sporting homage to the War of the Roses. The tournament is a mutually engaged in yearly grudge match which epitomises sporting prowess and spirit, a massive sporting and social event embraced by the students of both universities.


In the run up to the start of the 45th annual games this Friday, SCAN has delved into the history of the event to give you some background flavour. We have also interviewed Gareth ‘Gav’ Coleman, the AU President, to lay bare his thoughts and feelings of the tournament, as well as what he hopes to achieve this year.


The tournament began long ago in the archaic time of the 1960’s, when the Vice-Chancellor of York, Lord James of Rushholme, decided to accept the challenge laid down by his Lancastrian counterpart, Sir Charles Carter. The challenge in question was to have a boat race between the two Universities in imitative style of the Oxford – Cambridge race. The first race between the two Universities was held in 1965, the team from York won this first race and was given the Carter–James trophy in celebration of their triumph. The event was quickly enlarged upon by students and it was turned into a three-day event that included rowing, table tennis, a relay race, mixed field hockey and a tug of war. The event is also traditionally ended with a quaint game of croquet, played between each University’s Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor and Athletic Union President.


Since its fledgling start in the 60’s, the weekend of sport has grown to encompass over 40 different games with hundreds of participating contestants. The games that are played range from the usual football, rugby, cricket and hockey, to the more unexpected ballroom dancing, frisbee, karate and canoeing. Each year the organisers of the event seek to make it bigger and better than before, with American football, powerlifting and judo being added just last year. The tournament has grown to such an extent that in recent years it has become one of the country’s largest inter-varsity sporting events. Gav stated that ‘The tournament has the potential to be much larger than it is at the moment; in particular I’d like to see more societies competing. Unfortunately the expansion of Roses requires facilities that aren’t available right now’.


When I asked Gav to explain the enduring appeal of Roses, he eagerly clarified why the tournament is seen as (in his words) ‘the jewel in the sporting calendar’. Not being the most athletic of students, Gav explained to me that from the first week of the year ‘teams will be playing and thinking about their performance in relation to their ability over this one weekend’. To those not initiated into the ranks of a Uni sports team, the weekend offers you endless social delights, which range from ‘cheering on your mates, to celebrating wins and enjoying the exciting atmosphere’. Gav did suggest that on the most basic of levels though, a resounding win during Roses gives a team the all-important and sought after ‘bragging rights’ over their Yorkist counterparts.


Since the first competition in 1965 the trophy has changed hands between the two universities many times. On the tally of wins Lancaster is currently behind, with 21 wins to York’s 22, with the only draw of the tournament occurring in 1974. The usual pattern of Roses is that the home advantage weighs heavily in the host’s favour. A quick glance at a table of victors indicates that the trials of travelling and sleeping on a lecture room floor constitute an unsurprising disadvantage. What in other sporting events would be seen as decidedly unfair doesn’t worry Roses players, as Gav states ‘what goes against you one year will be in your favour the next, it’s all part of the tournament’.


Lancaster has had long periods of success in Roses, the most impressive being between 1972-7 and from 1984-6. Unfortunatly recent years have been swaying in York’s favour, with the last Lancaster home win being in 2006 and the last away win being in 1985. Looking towards Lancaster’s performance this year Gav indicated that he hoped to ‘reverse the recent trend of losses’, and indicated that this University had ‘a very good chance of winning the tournament’ this year. On the issue of the rugby games, one of the tournaments main crowd pleasers, Gav admitted that it would be close and that ‘Lancaster would be entering the game as the underdogs’. On the plus side Gav saw this as only to the good, as the rugby teams were eager to bring to York the inevitable fall that follows pride.


The AU President went on to explain that his belief in Lancaster’s abilities stemmed in part from the Sabb review earlier in the year, as he believes it has ‘galvanised the teams’. In Gav’s opinion Lancaster’s Athletics Union isn’t just a collection of different sports groups, but is now ‘a unified university team, with similar goals and similar beliefs’. It is hoped that the unity the Athletics Union showed earlier in the year (such as their mass protests during the conference and debates over the changes to LUSU) will resurface during Roses, giving the teams a focused, collective mindset.


We talked to Gav about what he saw as being the most important aspect of Roses and how he would like to see the event develop. Gav explained that whilst the tournament was developing year on year, it is important that it maintains the values of sportsmanship which are central to the nature of Roses. He indicated that whilst good-natured rivalry are all part-and-parcel of a good sporting mentality, he had already had to recommend that some teams ‘tone-down the pre-Roses banter with their opponents in York’. Gav also voiced worries that by playing up the extraneous entertainment aspects of the event, as the York hosts are doing this year, that the sports at the core will suffer from less attention from the organisers. On a more positive note Gav said that he would love to see Roses get more national media attention, and that there was no reason it couldn’t be on a par with Oxbridge inter-varsity sports events.


This year the York hosts have decided to take the theme of England’s 15th century civil war a step further and have decided to give the entire weekend a medieval twist. This slight change in emphasis is an extenuation of the other side of the sporting tournament, the side of socialising and entertainment. Every year the hosts usually organise a bar crawl and on campus events, this year these will be taking place on the Friday and the Saturday respectively. For more information on this weekend’s activities see the Roses 2009 website, be warned however as SCAN was told of the inclusion of a chlamydia-testing tent alongside other entertainment being added to the event.


The Roses weekend has always been seen as the culmination of the University’s sporting calendar and the organisers try hard to make it a great time for all students, from the team players to the spectators. If you are attending Roses this weekend you may well see Gav patrolling the campus, as he stated that he would like to try and support as many teams as possible. He will also be their to help smooth over any problems that arise, and he remarked that he has a good support group to help him fight Lancaster’s corner over any disputes that crop up. As he said ‘anything so that Lancaster does as well as it can’. So good luck to all those going over the Pennines to fight it out for University glory, and just remember which side won the actual War of the Roses. 

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