Encouraged by the soaring temperatures – on one afternoon it went all the way up to zero – I went on a football-watching spree with seven games over the Easter period. The centrepiece for me was the 129th Varsity Match, played at Selhurst Park on Saturday.
The results, with attendances in brackets, were: Old Street Tuesday 0-0 Regents Park Estate* (3), Brentford 2-1 Notts County (7,412), Whyteleafe 5-1 Rochester United (91), Oxford 2-3 Cambridge (750 approx), Nastaran 2-5 CFB (2), Banstead Athletic 5-3 Warlingham (22) and Carshalton Athletic 3-0 Hampton & Richmond Borough.
*Regents Park Estate won 5-3 on kicks from the penalty mark.
Saturday’s unusual double-header started with a Kent League Premier Division fixture between Whyteleafe and Rochester United at Church Road and it had a comical kick-off.
The Rochester centre-forward slipped the ball a few inches to his right where his team-mate was standing and ran forward. Unfortunately, his team-mate also ran forward at the same time, leaving the ball those few inches from the centre spot and with no Rochester player anywhere near it.
The bemused ‘Leafe players around the centre circle didn’t know what to do at first but quickly recognised the ‘gift horse’ and proceeded to set up an attack.
After that game, which third-placed ‘Leafe won easily, I took a train to Norwood Junction and was in my Main Stand seat at Selhurst Park a few minutes before the Varsity Match kicked-off at 5.30pm, with a lot of fragrant Cambridge University ladies sitting around me.
I’d seen several such encounters before – at the old Wembley Stadium, Craven Cottage and Loftus Road – and my favourite was the 1984 Wembley clash which Cambridge won 4-2.
I have a new favourite now, the Light Blues edging a classic 3-2 on Saturday which had sunshine, rain, sleet, snow and a sizeable crowd that was both noisy and partisan.
On the pitch the star of the show was Cambridge right-winger Richard Totten, a Trinity lad who scored a magnificent hat-trick. His winner on 68 minutes was my best of a season of 137 games so far.
He received the ball on the right touchline, a few yards inside Oxford’s half, and set off on a mazy run that started, stopped, started, stopped and started again. The challenges were going in but the ball stayed glued to his right foot.
Accelerating into the box, with defenders snapping at him from all angles, he transferred the ball to his left and chipped it perfectly over the ‘keeper’s head and into the far corner. The Cambridge half of the stand erupted.
After 129 editions of this historic contest, Oxford have 50 victories and Cambridge 49. The Dark Blues have scored 205 goals and the Light Blues 204.
Some remarkably close tallies for a fixture that was first played at Kennington Oval in 1873-74. I feel quite privileged to have been there on Saturday. That stand at Selhurst Park, by the way, was where I saw the first of my 6,432 games as a nine-year-old with my dad.
It was a good weekend for goals. There were eight on Easter Monday morning as Banstead beat local rivals Warlingham 5-3 in the Combined Counties League’s Division One. It was goalless for 22 minutes and then a shivering crowd (also of 22) saw three in three minutes that left the Wars 2-1 up. Later on the A’s scored twice in a minute en route to their ultimate 5-3 success.