The journey to the game, pre-match tunes hyping the players up. The team talks focussing on group unity and playing as a tight-knit team. The intense 90 minutes of long balls, tackles galore and the subs bench acting as manager. A far cry from the Champions League, I visited the Riverside Sports Complex on Wednesday afternoon to watch the beautiful game, following the Mechanical Engineering (MechEng) football team in an intense clash against Hugh Stewart.
Intramural Sport, or IMS, pits different halls, societies and other interest groups against each other in a much more casual, less intense affair. It’s not limited to football either – the university website lists hockey, netball & rugby union as well as many other team and individual sports which can be played through the IMS programme, with activities available for male, female and mixed groups.
“After the lockdown, and being stuck inside on our computers, it’s so nice just to go out and socialise, and meet new people – regardless of the result” said Matthew Stevenson, Hugh Stewart football captain.
The social aspect is one that drew many of the players I spoke with to IMS. People enjoyed being able to show up on an afternoon and play a game with their friends for an hour and a half as an escape from uni work and a chance to stay active. It also allows those people who may consider themselves less sporty to give a new activity a try in an environment without any pressure or need to commit to training multiple times a week.
“It’s a chance to take a break from any work you have whilst still doing something productive”
Leah Valins, a second-year English student who participates in IMS badminton, noted the benefit that it had had on her mental health too. “It’s a chance to take a break from any work you have whilst still doing something productive. I’ve made so many friends from participating in the women’s singles and mixed doubles leagues, something that has been really great especially with less opportunities to meet people this year due to COVID”.
The game, which Hugh Stewart narrowly edged 2-1, had just as much drama as you are likely to find at a Premier League game on a Saturday afternoon. MechEng fell behind after 5 minutes after failing to deal with a corner that was headed in from close range. Despite dominating the remainder of the half, as well as being on the end of some crunching slide tackles – particularly on defensive midfielder Hadley Shapps – they found themselves still behind at the break.
The half-time team talk was an interesting look into the nuances behind playing at IMS level, as MechEng captain Tom Minnard – in the absence of a proper manager – gave an honest assessment of why the team were losing. He wasn’t afraid to call players out but carefully balanced any criticism with measured praise at what the team were doing right and noting that only a few small alterations were needed to change the game in their favour.
The second half got off to the worst possible start for MechEng. A handball in the box led to a penalty for Hugh Stewart, and whilst the penalty went horribly wide, it only took a few minutes for them to double their lead after a defence-splitting pass led to a 1-on-1 chance for the Hugh Stewart striker, who calmly rounded the keeper before slotting home.
It was too little too late to secure anything from the match – but may have been the glimmer of hope the team needed to carry forward
Before the game, MechEng captain Minnard spoke to me about IMS being “the perfect combination of the competitive and social aspects of sport”. Even if they did lose, they weren’t going to go down without a fight, and the team unity was strong enough to get them a goal back through substitute Jamie Alexander from a corner late on. It was too little too late to secure anything from the match – but may have been the glimmer of hope the team needed to carry forward to future games.
As the full-time whistle went, the players from both teams embraced as if they were good friends, despite lunging into tackles and hoofing the ball only minutes earlier. The Hugh Stewart players celebrated a rare win and bantered about who would be buying the first round at the pub later, as the MechEng team quietly reflected on their loss, discussing where the game was lost on the long walk back to the car park.
The nature of the game, as well as pre- and post-match, really allowed me to fully see the benefits of IMS sport as a great way to socialise whilst also remaining competitive and still having the drive to win. Players noted the boost to both their mental and physical health that organised sport had provided them with, as well as the escape it provided them from other aspects of uni life. For a light-hearted way to keep active and socialise, Intramural Sport is the place to be.
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Featured image used courtesy of Josh Collins. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 1 courtesy of Josh Collins. No changes were made to this image.
In article image 2 courtesy of Josh Collins. No changes were made to this image.
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