The sound of studs on cement, the hot sun beating down on synthetic pitches, eskys full to the brim and the smell of deep heat radiating through the air.
When these four elements come together there is only one event that you can be attending, the return of the annual University Cup held at Willows Playing Fields.
So what does it mean to the players? Not only the event but the rivalry, forged over many years, passed on by those who have left, given to the next generation of players.
For UC second grade player Jackson Jamieson, whenever he comes up against ANU, it raises his excitement levels before he even steps on the pitch.
“It’s always a really physical competition. More so outside of the mental aspect, what it means coming in is that you are going to have to work your arse off, you are going to have to run hard and tackle hard.”
For ANU 3rd grade player Pat Holloway, whilst he loves the rivalry, he couldn’t resist taking a jab at UC.
“It is always an enjoyable day, trying to get something over a long-time rival. There has been a gap over recent years, (it’s) not as tight as it used to be. I would love them to get back to that because it is always fun to play with the noisy neighbours.”
As kick-off drew closer the fans began to line the shade, attempting to get out of the near 30 degree temperatures.
Family, friends and general football fans all watched along as the 220 players poured their heart and soul into winning the cup.
As I turned up to the ground, I quite frankly didn’t know what to expect. ANU had dominated the competition in recent years, however, after a valiant effort, UC did enough to share the cup in 2021.
Bright and early on Saturday Morning, a mammoth weekend of football kicked off. At 10:30 a.m. the first match began, only one team could win, it was time to play.
Third grade and their reserves teams found themselves playing at the earliest time slot, something that ended up being a blessing in disguise as they avoided the afternoon heat.
On the main field, a close contest was taking place. As the two third grade teams battled for the first points of the day.
Despite leading twice throughout the match, UC could only do so much as they ran out of legs.
Despite the score ending 4-3, it was a clear win in the end for ANU.
Speaking after the match, ANU goalkeeper Yussuf Mohamed was pleased with the results, and was hopeful for a successful day as a club.
“It’s pretty good to get the bragging rights in the first game. There are lots more games to go so hopefully the club can get many more wins.”
His prayers were immediately answered as we found out that the reserves game also fell to ANU, a scrappy 3-1 result that was described as a fair representation of the match.
If the first time slot was the ideal start for ANU, the 12:30 p.m. games were put simply, a dream come true.
As UC’s first reserve grade team opted to not participate due to injuries and illness, another point would go ANU’s way without a ball being kicked.
Somehow the match on the second field was an even easier result than that.
14-0 was the final score, total domination from start to finish. George Owens was the hero of the day, scoring six on his own to help ANU lead 7-0 at halftime.
The goals never stopped as UC goalkeeper Dan Mullett could do little to calm the flow, with two late injuries rubbing salt into the wounds of the UC side.
As the final matches of the day grew near, tensions began to rise.
The first and second-grade men’s sides were scheduled to play, with a UC loss in either game being enough to hand the trophy to their rivals.
In a turn of events, it was UC who came out strong in first grade, taking a 2-0 lead within 20 minutes off some well-worked goals.
Despite the match getting heated with a bit of push and shove in the shadows of half-time, that couldn’t stop UC. With the away side scoring again to take a 3-0 lead into the break.
A hotly contested second half saw UC run out 4-1 victors to collect their first points of the day.
The high of the UC win however soon disappeared, as the final whistle in second grade blew, signifying a 4-1 loss and the retention of the University Cup for ANU.
As the clock hit 10:30 a.m. the two women’s games got underway. Whilst there were meant to be four matches, due to unforeseen circumstances they had been cancelled.
Not wanting to be outshone by the men’s first-grade team, UC’s women’s squad came out firing.
Two goals before half-time calmed the team’s nerves, as striker Alice Austin put on a clinic. She was able to score her second by the 52nd minute, adding to her assist from earlier in the match.
ANU’s women’s team could only aim to not concede more as UC put their fourth away to seal a comfortable victory, the largest by the club throughout the whole competition.
For UC goalkeeper Emily Pearce, whilst it was great to get one up over the old rival, the most pleasing part of the match was how they played as a team.
“We always love winning against ANU, they will be a tough team to come against throughout the season. Put simply, it was great to smash them,” she said.
“We had some great passages of play, we didn’t really give them many opportunities and all together we just played as a really great team, which was a good start to the season.”
Unfortunately, as if it were déjà vu the match on the other field was again a victory for ANU, running out late 2-1 winners.
As full time of the two women’s Sunday games was called, ANU could finally celebrate their dominant Cup victory.
Six-two was the final score, a comprehensive win across the whole weekend. Only the first-grade men’s and women’s games went to UC – a positive for the club in an otherwise disappointing weekend.
The old saying goes that ‘football was the real winner on the day’. It may be hard to say that with one game ending 14-0, so let’s shift to ‘competition was the real winner of the weekend’.
No matter the end result, the one thing that was noticeable after each fixture, was despite the tough nature of the matches, there was mutual respect afterwards.
Hands were shaken, laughs were enjoyed, and well wishes for the upcoming season were spoken.
That’s the spirit of the University Cup; hard football on the pitch that once the match is finished is left just there.
So as the sun set on a festival of university football, drinks were shared all around; because those eskys that were full at the beginning of the day had to be empty by the end, right?
All photos by William Makepeace