Inter-college football at Oxford is almost as old as the club itself. The first cup competition, Cuppers, was contested in the 1882/3 season, and was won by Magdalen College. A college league was first instituted in 1906/7.
Today there are separate league and cup competitions for reserve and graduate teams but the top level competitions, the JCR first team league and Cuppers, can trace their origins back to the early days. The exact formats of the league and Cuppers then are unknown; what we do know is that they have changed considerably since the 1960s. The structure in place in the 1960s and 70s (probably having its origins in the early part of the 20th Century) was of two separate competitions: the league running in Michaelmas term and Cuppers in Hilary. The Varsity match was played in December, around the same time as the rugby union Varsity match, and this arrangement continued until the move to Craven Cottage in 1991. This provides an explanation for the common misconception that Blues players are permitted to play in Cuppers (after Varsity) but not in the league (before Varsity).
Traditionally Cuppers has been a knock-out competition with the final played towards the end of Hilary term usually at the Iffley road athletics stadium where the current Blues side play their home fixtures. For a short period of time, in the 1980s and early 1990s, the final was played under floodlights at Oxford City’s ground. Starting in 1972/73, a group stage was added to the cuppers competition with the top placed teams in the group stage qualifying for the later knock-out rounds. This format was abandoned for the 1986/87 season with cuppers reverting to a straight knock-out. This season also saw the move away from different competitions in each term with both the league and cuppers starting in Michaelmas and reaching their climax towards the end of Hilary.
By the start of the 1999-2000 season, the first team league had grown to comprise 27 teams split into a top division of 14 and a second tier of 13 teams playing each other once. It was decided that there were too many unevenly matched games and, for teams that exited Cuppers in the first round in October, the season could be a long one with few games and little incentive of promotion and relegation. To combat this, the league was radically overhauled and three smaller divisions were created with the top division renamed the Premier League. Teams would meet twice per season, once at home and once away, and with three teams being promoted and three relegated everyone should have something to play for until the very end of the season. This format was adopted for the beginning of the 2000/1 season and is the format that exists today. The first winners of the new Premier League were Magdalen, who had won the old second division in its final season of existence; they retained their title in 2001/2. The current Premier League champions are Worcester and current Cuppers champions are Balliol.
Throughout OUAFC’s history there have been periods of dominance by varying colleges. In the recent past, Worcester has dominated the college league in three seasons between 2006 and 2008 losing only 3 of 45 league games played in that time. This was underlined in 2008 with their first Cuppers victory since 1950 to become the first team to win the “double” since 2002. This hold on college football is by no means unprecedented. Magdalen are the only team apart from Worcester to retain the premier league title since its inception, in its first two seasons, but they went one better than the current Worcester team by completing the double on each occasion. Just before the creation of the Premier league, Wadham also completed the double when they defeated St Catherine’s 6-1 in the Cuppers final of 2000, the biggest victory that is recorded for that match. Jesus also won the double in 1997/98, beating league runners-up Worcester on penalties in the Cuppers final.
Going further back through time, there have been periods of dominance by various colleges − Oriel won the league 6 times in 9 years between 1977 and 1986 including doubles in 1978/79 and 1984/85. Bizarrely, during the same time there is dominance of Cuppers football by St. John’s who won the trophy 4 times in succession between 1981 and 1984. In 1981/82 and 1982/83 St. John’s interrupted Oriel’s dominance of the league to win doubles. All these achievements pale into insignificance, however, in comparison to the utter dominance of the St. Edmund Hall side in Cuppers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In this time they won Cuppers no less than 9 times in succession between 1964 and 1972, with a total of some 40 games unbeaten. During this period, there are some remarkable personal achievements; goalkeeper Baxter won Cuppers 5 times in a row, 3 players won the trophy 4 times and 10 players won it 3 times.
Women’s College Football History
January 2013 saw the creation of the inaugural OUWAFC 5-a-side tournament, to be held once per term in order to facilitate greater involvement of women in football across the University, and as a development base for the two University-wide squads. The 2012/2013 women’s cuppers campaign attracted sponsorship from X-Changing, and introduced a ‘player of the round award’ for the knockout stages of the tournament. The club has recently also held development-training sessions once weekly during Trinity term specifically to provide extra football sessions for female college footballers.
There were 22 teams entered into the Cuppers tournament last year (Mansfield Road are not eligible to enter). The teams are split into six groups (A-F) which were determined by a random draw in 2nd week of Michaelmas term. Each team in the group plays the other teams once. At the end of Michaelmas, the group stages of Cuppers should be complete. The top team from each group and the two best placed runners-up (based on points and goal difference) will go through to the quarter-finals. The final of the Cuppers tournament will be held at the end of Hilary or, failing that, at the start of Trinity Term.
The original women’s college cuppers trophy went missing between seasons 10/11 and 11/12, and was replaced by the OUWAFC 12/13 committee in partnership with the OUAFC sabbatical officer in November 2012, meaning the current trophy has only had three holders: Worcester (2012, 2014), St. Catherine’s (2013) and the Foxes (2015).