American football is a contact sport most easily comparable to a cross between rugby union and rugby league. At its core, the sport works as follows. Eleven players on ‘offense’ must attempt to move the ball into the opponent’s ‘end zone’, while the 11 players on ‘defense’ must attempt to stop them. It is played by players of all sizes, from 23 stone behemoths at the professional level, to 9 stone amateurs who have played the game for a couple of months at most (more representative of the average Oxford player). Part of the appeal of the sport is that there truly is a position for people of every body type.
Oxford has had a history of competing in American football for a surprisingly long time. For many years, the University competed in a joint team with Oxford Brookes, known as the Oxford Cavaliers. Due to a league rules change that banned joint teams, the Oxford Cavaliers was forced to split into two separate teams. This resulted in the formation of the University’s current team, the Oxford Lancers. Since the team’s inception in 2011, Merton has been represented on the team in each season by at least one player, and has had more than five players represent the University in the sport throughout this seven-year period. In particular, Merton has had a strong history of providing the team with players who play the ‘defensive back’ position. The primary goal of a defensive back is to prevent the offensive players from catching the ball. For this reason, they are usually fast players who can change direction quickly to enable them to stay close to the opponent they are covering.
Due to the College rugby system, it can be hard to maintain an adequately sized squad as, unsurprisingly, the two sports have an overlapping playerbase. This contributed to the Lancers’ slow start, where they lost the first four varsity matches played against the Cambridge Pythons. However, in recent years recruitment has improved dramatically and the team can now boast a 2-1 record in the last three varsity games played. These two wins were decisive victories, ending in scores of 49-0 in 2016 and 48-6 in 2018. The team has also recently begun an annual tour. Last year the team travelled to Dublin to play against University College Dublin in a friendly over the Easter break. This summer the team will be travelling to Belgium for a similar game against a local team.
To conclude, the Oxford Lancers is a rapidly improving mixed team that is constantly looking for new players. Merton as a college has maintained a strong link with the club, even winning the ‘plate’ (runners-up cup) one year in the team’s annual no-contact Cuppers competition. I strongly hope that Merton students can continue to represent the University in this somewhat niche sport, and I encourage anyone who thinks they might be interested in trying something new to give it a go.
Tom Mattinson (2012)
Oxford Lancers SS