Barking isn’t exactly the most glamorous place to spend a Saturday morning, but watching the first ever Varsity handball fixtures made the trek out to zone 4 more than worth it. London’s finest (and UCL) assembled at Barking Sporthouse and Gym at 9am to face off in what turned out to be two nail-biting matches, cheered on by a dozen-strong UCL crowd and a vocal KCL away end (composed of yours truly and… nobody else). After already exciting seasons for all teams involved, Varsity would be the final curtain and a chance for King’s to re-establish dominance over London or for UCL to claw back something from our girls and boys in red this season.
First, it was the ladies’ turn to do battle. Immediately something was amiss- there were only 6 KCL players who had to play all 40 minutes. The patchwork feeling was only heightened by some literal patchwork to turn someone’s jersey from a #4 to a #41 with a dash of white tape to do the job. Finally, it kicked off. Despite things looking very grim for KCL from the get-go, the girls in red took a 3-0 lead, before an intense 10 minutes of exchanged fouls and goals levelled the game at 5-5 at half time. With KCL chants of “is this a library?” ringing around the hall to remind UCL’s supposed ‘supporters’ that they were almost as underwhelming as their team’s first half, the second half set off. It was nothing but bad news that followed, as the Strand’s finest let down their guard and started leaking goals. Despite an extremely physical effort by our ladies, one they can really be proud of, they ultimately slumped to a 7-15 defeat. Advantage UCL.
As the dust settled and the two men’s team warmed up, everyone knew that it was all to play for but nobody could quite predict what was to follow. KCL’s hitherto rock-solid defence was blown apart by the enemy within minutes. In the blink of an eye UCL took a nine-point lead, spurred on by seemingly superhuman goalkeeping at their rear end. Despite repeated and vocal renditions of classics such as “Desmond had a dream to build a handball team” or “Can you hear the Gower sing?” from the KCL away end to drown out UCL’s pathetic attempts at mustering sideline support for their own team, the boys in red went into half time badly in need of some change. They came out of the half in a much faster and more aggressive change of pace, but this immediately proved futile as UCL matched every hard-earned KCL point with ease, rolling their six-point lead into the final ten minutes. Then, the switch flipped. The reds clawed back viciously and magically levelled the game at 20 apiece with seconds remaining on the clock. Full time. Penalties. With everyone on their toes, UCL’s goalkeeper put on a penalty-saving clinic and led his team to a 4-3 win on pens, securing both games for UCL.
Despite it being an extremely physical context, there was no love lost between the teams as they shook hands afterwards and confined any chat to next year’s varsity. The reds very kindly applauded their away end for the vocal support (you’re welcome by the way) and closed up shop for the season as league champions and national quarter-finalists, ready to take on UCL again next year.