So once again Northumbria are the Stan Calvert victors, and Newcastle are left wondering just what they need to do to get back into this competition.
The 25th edition of the Cup followed a now all-too-familiar pattern. A smattering of early Newcastle wins faded quickly into oblivion as Northumbria established a dominance they merely strengthened as the competition went on.
By the final Sunday, with half of the fixtures still to play for, Northumbria had won three out of every four points on offer, but surely, surely, Newcastle would fight back on the final day. And yet, somehow, Northumbria extended their lead and steamrollered their way to the biggest landslide in Stan Calvert history.
Geoff the Lamb summed up what many on both sides felt going into the tournament when he plumped resolutely for a Northumbria win. Indeed, there seemed to be little enthusiasm for the competition this time round. Attendances at matches were lower, the number of fixtures was lower, even the slogan on Newcastle’s t-shirts, “Northumbria can’t read this anyway” seemed to suggest that it really wasn’t worth putting the effort in when the outcome was such a foregone conclusion.
Geoff the Lamb summed up what many on both sides felt going into the tournament when he plumped resolutely for a Northumbria win
Northumbria’s fourth consecutive win in 2017 was also their most emphatic, with Newcastle winning a record low proportion of the overall points. Few of the students taking part in Stan Calvert 2018 were at university when Newcastle last won the Cup, and an alarming number of students didn’t seem to be aware the competition was even happening.
Eyebrows were raised at the somewhat underwhelming fixture list at this year’s competition, with Northumbria accused of pulling out of events they felt unable to win, and Newcastle conceding three walkovers during the tournament when they found themselves unable to field teams for rugby league or Gaelic football.
This made Stan Calvert 2018 the smallest for a decade, with rowing, athletics and outdoor cricket all dropped from this year’s programme. Men’s football also went uncontested, and netball and basketball were the only sports that saw third teams competing, a sign of the competition’s shift towards elite-level BUCS sports.
That said, korfball made its Stan Calvert debut, with the embryonic Newcastle side stunning their more established rivals in an 8-7 thriller. The Stan Calvert Memorial Fun Run on 24 February gave all students from each university the chance to take part, but without counting towards the overall score.
Stan Calvert Sunday counted for about half of all the competition’s fixtures, with a dual “finale” at 5pm seeing the Sports Centre host netball while the futsal got underway at Sports Central. Officially the cup ceremony was due to be held at whichever location won the overall competition, but there was little doubt where this would be.
For two such equally-talented sporting universities to be so unequal in their varsity competition inevitably brings its format into question
In the first half of the competition Newcastle had won just a quarter of the points available, and going into the final Sunday Northumbria had a 26-point lead, with 50 points still to play for. A heavy loss in the men’s thirds’ basketball began the day as Northumbria intended it to go on, and the onslaught only worsened from there.
It’s perhaps not a coincidence that 2014, the year Northumbria overturned Newcastle’s six-win streak, was also the first year Northumbria ended higher up in the overall BUCS table. Since then, though, Newcastle have caught up in BUCS terms, while Northumbria have been stuck in eighth place for the past five years and are currently only in ninth, just a whisker ahead of 10th-placed Newcastle.
For two such equally-talented sporting universities to be so unequal in their varsity competition inevitably brings its format into question. Maybe it should be opened up to non-BUCS sports and follow the lead of the Fun Run this year in focusing more on encouraging participation in sport.
Certainly the feeling on the Newcastle side is that this is a competition we can no longer win, and the accusations of Northumbria skewing the organisation of the competition in their favour makes their chosen slogan rather ironic.
“It never gets easier,” declared their t-shirts, “we just get better.”