Oxford at War ?
Suitably inebriated we began a search for a College to hate and attack. Being on the periphery of University territory there were no immediate neighbours to make the focus of lifelong animosity and loathing. Working on the now-disproved theory that College pretentiousness increased the closer you got to Carfax, we eventually came across a suitable target which incidentally, also happened to be one of the nearest. Our decision was cemented through the meeting of a suitably annoying Psychologist and the fact the College bar was full of copies of the FT and served Castlemaine XXXX. It was of course Freshers' week, and looking back, why we engaged in such dubious activity is unclear except for the fact that College rivalry is as much a part of Oxford University life as Sub-Fusc, and slagging off the tradiotional rival College as much a part of being a Fresher as matriculation.
1999 sees the 20th anniversary of the most infamous contemporary example of College rivalry the 'Turl St Riots' of 1979. The Battle which would eventually lead to numerous injuries and arrests, was precipitated by a drunken pact made against Exeter College, by her neighbours Jesus and Lincoln as the two Colleges began a traditional singing contest in The Mitre bar. Suitably pissed, a marauding rabble from Lincoln and Jesus set off to launch an attack on Exeter's front-gate. Exeter responded by throwing water, milk and flour at the invaders, and a crack- commado unit, consisting of the Sub-Rector, a Law Tutor and the members of the JCR Committee, were despatched to the front gate to keep the warring factions apart. By about 10.30pm two police vans and five police cars had arrived and expressing the usual student disdain for the boys in blue, Jesus student Chris Dean proceeds to kick one of the vans, and was subsequently arrested. Eighteen fireman and three fire engines then arrived to respond to various alarms which had been set off, and turned their hoses onto Exeter College.
Jesus students being held back at the front entrance, cunningly proceeded to lever open a window by the Broad Street gate to Exeter and managed to let of another fire-alarm and open a gate. Not content with this infiltration into enemy territory, fire extinguishers, fire crackers and smoke canisters were let off by the invaders, along with damage to a lavatory. Exeter fought back, with several Jesus students thrown into the College Pond. The riot ended with the arrest of six Exeter students from rooms overlooking the Turl.
The 'Battle of Turl St' understandably resulted in a huge amount of negative publicity for the colleges concerned and the University as a whole. The then President of Exeter JCR, whilst condemning the who affair, expressed his regret at the way in which the whole incident had been blown out of all proportion by the national media. Indeed it seems that this particular skirmish may have been quite tame, Catherine Bailey, an undergraduate who took part in the riot, confirmed that in the past limbs had been broken and went on to say, "This was one the safest riots there's been for a long time." Jesus College JCR President Steve Thomas took a different view at the time stating that, "The other Colleges must realise that things have gone too far this time. It would be best to forget this pointless rivalry."
The 'Turl St Riots' probably represent the nadir of Oxford College rivalry in recent times. The fact that in the intervening two decades we have seen nothing on a similar scale, could suggest that rivalry has become a bit passe. However, it would probably be more accurate to say that College SCR's have hardened their attitude to 'harmless rivalry'.
Rivalry is certainly still alive and kicking, well perhaps not kicking. There have been numerous incidents between Colleges, which while not desending to violence have been just as adversarisal. In June 1997, early morning rowers at Trinity discovered the College Boathouse had been painted lime green. The Boathouse doors, flagpoles and paving slabs had all been daubed with the same message, "Harry Lime was Here". Harry Lime being the enigmatic anti-hero of Balliol alumnus Graham Greene's The Third Man.
The litany of lime-green lampoonery continued inside, with windows being smashed to secure entry. Two toilets were daubed with derisory slogans from the Gourdouli-Ballliol's long-standing anti-Trinity song. It had been beleived that the 'Lime Society', set up under mysterious circumsatnaces in the 1940's in order to prove the "effortlossy superiority" of Balliol students over their dullard neighbours, had long been disbanded. However, it was obviously clear that the 'Lime Society' believed to consist of 'fringe' members of the boat club, had undergone a ressucitition, albeit breifly. Balliol JCR, shunning mindless acts of vandalism, attempted a more fitting attack on their rivals. Discovering that Balliol actually owned the land upon which Trinity stood, and had leased it to the College for a yearly goat (or something equally absurd) the JCR decided to place an advert the Times putting the land up for sale. Thankfully for Trinity, they were not succesful.
Colleges declaring war on each other, would perhaps be seen as an extreme example of rivalry but it has been done, and not in the Middle Ages. In November 1996, a covert group infiltrated Magdalen as part of the Northern Alliance's first strategic attacks on Oxford's southern Colleges. The Northern Alliance consisiting of St Hugh's, LMH, and St Anne's, defeated the People's Army of Magdalen and manged to handcuff the then Magdalen President James Cronin. After this victory Chris Lewis, Commander in Chief, explained why the College deserved attacking.
"This is the only College to be named after a prostititue. It is now a St Hugh's Annexe." Chris Lewis spoke of how to be a loyal and good supporter of the Northern Alliance, stating, "You need not neccessarily be from a Northern College, it is more important that you have a Northern way of thinking, that your attitude is of the North, of being truly thrusting."
Magdalen was not alone, Pembroke also recieved threats from the Alliance and proposed creating a central alliance with Wadham, Brasenose, Jesus and Teddy Hall. However, such action did present Pembroke with a few problems as the JCR preseident explained at the time, "I have proposed that Pembroke discard its traditional pink in favour of black. Can we really go to War wearing pink?"
For the most part College rivalry is something which helps to fill boring interludes and acts as an excuse for immature and frankly bizzare behaviour. For the most part it is purely superficial and false, only occasionally does alcohol fueled rivalry spill over into something more sinister and unacceptable. Though College rivalry is perhaps a remnant of Oxford's public school-dominated past, few would deny that it doesn't occasionally make student life that bit more exciting.