By Jonny Stringer
The University of Sheffield recently stopped a decade of Hallam dominance at this year’s Varsity final, claiming the trophy for the first time in nine years.
After witnessing the pinnacle of the universities’ rivalry, Try Sheffield looks at how deep-seated the student tug-of-war actually is.
Sheffield Hallam’s Democracy and Communications officer, Howard Duffy believes Varsity is key to the student rivalry.
After taking in the rivalry as a spectator, student union officer and as a participant of Varsity rugby, he feels that the competition is ‘fought tooth and nail’.
He said: “This year, I’ve had to take a step back from it, but as a student, you see it in a different light – especially if you’re competing.
“We’re within a mile, in a city with a massive student population – so it’s all about bragging rights.”
Although Howard hammers home the importance of Varsity in shaping the university rivalry, he is taking this year’s defeat on the chin.
“Varsity is made up of so many what-ifs; what if that player had scored or that goal hadn’t been disallowed, but they’ve had that for the last nine years.”
The competition came down to the last day, with Hallam having a chance of an overall draw, which would retain the title. Despite the incentive of a ten-year triumph, University of Sheffield managed the points to secure a 36.5 : 34.5 victory.
Howard described his pride in the Hallamers who took part, saying: “You saw that it meant so much to everyone competing; everyone played their heart out.”
And this passion isn’t restricted to the players; fans turned out in their thousands to show support at the Hillsborough football final.
When asked if university loyalty is only a fleeting passion, Howard replied: “You want people to be passionate about their university. You see it in other countries where they swear by their university for the rest of their life. In Britain, a lot of people move away from the area and lose touch.”
If long-lasting university pride is left to the most dedicated alumni, then is the short-term passion just an excuse for harmless banter?
“The rivalry is about keeping a good atmosphere between the universities – it’s a sporting environment.
“At the end of the day, we go to the same nightclubs, different students date, there’s no inherent rivalry – But Varsity is somewhere to show off our competitive nature.”
Pressing Duffy for his take on a ‘typical’ University of Sheffield student, the Democracy and Communications officer gave a suitably democratic reply: “There are 36,000 students here and 25,000 there – can you say there’s a typical student? People that come to university span a massive spectrum, so I don’t think either university has a ‘typical student’.”
Avoiding the jibes that were thrown around at the Varsity finals, Howard reiterates that ‘what is said is said’ and that the rival banter is ‘never meant in a malicious way’.
University of Sheffield’s Student Union President, Abdi Suleiman agrees that the rivalry is ‘mostly harmless’.
“I hope it’s just harmless banter. There are times when people say things that are disagreeable, but I think it’s mostly harmless,” he said.
Abdi has been SU President for almost a year and feels that ‘Varsity is the main place where there is rivalry – in terms of sport, it’s one of the best in the country’.
Speaking for University’s students, Abdi said:
“It was a major moment for us to win; everyone this side of the city was excited. For a lot of people, it was genuinely an Ashes sort of moment.”
As a representative of the University of Sheffield masses, Abdi takes a slightly subdued approach to the rivalry, despite this year’s victory.
He said: “I’m actually from Sheffield, so for me it’s a bit odd because I quite like Hallam. I spent a lot of my youth there.
“Personally, I think Hallam is a really good institution – what it does in terms of changing the general trajectory of many people’s lives is really extraordinary.”
Rivalry might be rife come Varsity time, but Abdi believes the two universities do a lot to work together.
He said: “In a city like Sheffield, where 10% of the population are students – 100,000 people if you include college students – you end up with a lot of moments when we’re working together on issues that affect all Sheffield’s students.”
While rivalry is strong in the hearts of Sheffield’s Varsity fans, the SU President’s focus is more on working together in a hard time for students.
“Being a student is pretty crap nowadays…”
He said: “I don’t think this is the time for rivalry between the universities. Being a student is pretty crap nowadays – in terms of the amount of time you have to dedicate to worrying about your finances and making sure there’s some sort of job for you when you leave – so, the rivalries between the universities in terms of sport isn’t the biggest thing in the world right now.”