This year’s Varsity will once again be one of the biggest events on the calendar in Leicester as teams go into battle to decide the city’s best sporting university.
However, there is nothing new about De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) facing off with local rivals the University of Leicester as the sporting contest has a rich history.
DMU's rugby team in 1946
Whether playing or cheering, students have been part of the sporting showdown every March for an impressive 18 years.
Varsity started in 2000 with a men’s rugby fixture, then rapidly developed and gathered momentum year-on-year.
The annual challenge now sees more than 740 students from DMU competing across 62 teams in 28 different sports.
Fiona Dick, DMU’s Head of Sport, said it was great that Varsity had grown over the years to become “bigger and better than ever before.”
She said: “We absolutely love how Varsity sees so many students supporting each other.
“We see team members going to support other sports and that support is passed down to friends and housemates even if they have never picked up a bat or ball in their lives. The thought of a good sporting challenge brings everyone together.
“Varsity really exemplifies how everyone feels proud to be part of DMU and how they strive to be the best.”
DMU's cricket team in 1938
Delving into the archives, the history of student sports clubs dates back nearly 100 years putting DMU firmly on the map as a sports-loving university.
Back in the 1930s, tennis remained a firm favourite but the popularity of sport was gathering pace with several new clubs set up at The Leicester Colleges of Art and Technology, which became DMU.
In July 1931, the Leicester Mercury reported on the first ever annual sports day between the then Colleges – which was postponed by a week because of rain. For at least 10 years, the most sought-after event at the sports day was the tug of war competition, as it was always a close call between the Cricket Club and the Pharmacy Department.
DMU's American Football team in 2001
In November 1934, sports clubs on offer included cricket, hockey, football, tennis and table tennis. There were 22 playing and seven non-playing members in the cricket 1st team, and they got 14 out of 30 points to come fifth in the league.
The women’s hockey team had a new uniform, playing in Students’ Union ties with white blouses and navy gymslips, and they had tea together after each match, with strict rules that all food consumed had to be paid for by the consumer!
In June 1938, there was a new gymnasium, the formation of a Department of Physical Education and the first Inter-Colleges Championships and the College came in 2nd out of six local institutions. The student magazine noted ‘this should be looked upon as a credible performance as this was the first occasion the College had tried its athletic strength against other colleges.’
Fast-forward to 1950 and freshers were issued a warning that Honorary Secretaries of sports clubs were ‘like birds of prey as they pray that you will join their club.’ The rugby club had its strongest ever membership with 40 students and basketball had over 80 members.
DMU's staff newsletter getting behind Varsity in 2001
In November 1952, there were talks about encouraging students to take a more active role in college sports so that students were ‘not just index numbers but active members of the community.’ Students from courses such as dress design and cabinet making could now also sign up to basketball, swimming and sailing clubs.
In that year, the rugby team added ‘weight and enthusiasm to the pack’ with some newcomers, and set up Rugger Week as the well-established club was ‘getting stuck in a rut.’
Meanwhile, footballers were instructed to ‘combine their individual talent into a working unit,’ and sailing wasn’t for the faint-hearted after two boats were caught in fierce squall and capsized. The cricket club was struggling with members only playing on an occasional basis – only one out of 30 players had played in every match – and the men’s hockey team was searching for someone to play in goal.
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The Colleges became Leicester Polytechnic then DMU, and in 2000 the men’s rugby team first came together with the University of Leicester, then again in 2001.
Then from 2002 Varsity really started to increase its profile as DMU and the University of Leicester men’s rugby teams played at Welford Road for the first time. DMU’s student magazine reported: ‘For the first time ever the two titans of Leicester student rugby will face up to each other at Welford Road, the home of the Tigers. It is a great sporting event not to be missed.’
The women’s rugby team also started playing each other in 2002, but their fixtures only moved to Welford Road in 2004.
For #TeamDMU news, videos, fixtures and more throughout Varsity 2018 click here. You can also follow the action across our social media channels.
- Information and images for this article were sourced from Special Collections at DMU’s Kimberlin Library.
Posted on Wednesday 7th March 2018