Sports Editor Samuel Mitchinson reflects on a tumultuous year.
Last March, when I left St Andrews in the midst of this growing pandemic, I certainly didn’t think it would be almost 5 months before I returned. At that time, reports of new cases were still a slight novelty, and the news would qualify deaths with a comforting assertion that the victim had “underlying health conditions”. As we completed that semester from home, I began to miss the little things about St Andrews that we all love. Walks on the beach, a drink with your mates after a good workday, sitting on the library top floor until two a.m.; all of these seemed miles away sitting in my room at home, staring at a screen as my tutorial battled through connection issues trying to discuss the impact of the German Reformation.
However, as we slowly moved towards summer and the grey haze and rain gave way to blissful warmth and sunshine, I realised what it was that I truly missed most: university sport. In my case, cricket. Now, I can hardly claim any natural athletic ability – my all-time BUCS batting average of 0 will clearly attest to this fact – yet I couldn’t help feeling a tangible sense of loss as the period of the cricket season came and went. I missed more than the revitalising effects of outdoor activity, more than the nervous pit in my stomach as I made my way to the crease, more than the exhilaration upon hearing the crack of ball hitting bat. Most of all, I missed my teammates. The half-hearted chuckles as someone yelled “don’t mind seeing that boys”, belting out a particularly stirring version of “Loch Lomond”, and sitting in Beacon bar discussing the minutiae of club administration. All of it, which I had taken for granted in my first two and a half years, was now felt through the void in my life as the final weeks of my third year at university came and went.
Your first year at university is perhaps the greatest step up you will have in life. You’re thrust into a large community amongst people you’ve never met before, faced with four years at a place where you know absolutely no-one. Perhaps the greatest advice I received before I arrived came from one of my secondary school teachers, who recommended that I “try absolutely everything”. Despite multiple misfires, including a brief period where I thought I was interested in economics, I finally found what I’d been looking for: the University of St Andrews Cricket Club. Of course, not everyone reading this will have a love or appreciation of cricket, or a great desire to get involved with this specific club. As much as I wish it weren’t true, some people just don’t like cricket. Yet, the advice to get stuck in and meet a community of people who are passionate about the same things as you remains the same, regardless of whether it’s a sports team or a society.
It was as a member of a sports team that I learnt the most during my first year at university. I learnt the eternal maxim that “you’ve just got to want it”, the importance of regular manscaping, the first-class batting averages of a huge number of Sri Lankan cricketers, and I certainly learnt my limits. It was a huge chance to meet people outside of my typical social sphere and my course, and a chance to foster some lifelong bonds with people I respect, and with whom I shared a common love. Outside of playing the sport, the social events were the most important dates on my calendar. Yet another chance to meet new people, discuss the past, remonstrate on the present, and wonder at the future, even if that future was only an upcoming England Test series.
With the latest news from Sally, it looks like any dreams I had of ever playing sport for this university again are over. Nevertheless, I had two and half years to make and reinforce some incredible friendships that I know won’t end when my time at university is finished. It’s for this reason that I have nothing but sympathy for the huge numbers of new first-years who haven’t had the opportunity to do what I could. Back when we took meeting with a friend for granted, one could hardly imagine that it would one day be illegal. I’ve met some of my best friends at university through playing sport, and it saddens me that there is a group of people who’ve been denied this formative experience. Nevertheless, whatever some doomsayers might put forth, this pandemic won’t last forever. In some ways, we’re extremely fortunate that our degree lasts four years, and when this is all finally over, many will finally have the opportunity to get back involved with sport. All I know is that it’s the best decision I made at university, and regardless of what sport you’re interested in or what club you join, whether you’re the next Joe Root or the next Sam Mitchinson, I can only implore you to get as stuck in as possible. You’ve just got to want it.