I wanted to write this about two years ago for an article for WoodWord, the newspaper of Collingwood College I used to be editor for, but I never got that opportunity to do so.
It’s a weird thing to write now, after a drink and watching Spain completely obliterate the poor Czech Republic on the internet, but it’s a factor in my life I want to draw to a written close and always have done.
When I first came to university, I went along to football trials. I was playing in a very unfamiliar holding midfield role and held my own the best I could. Indeed, I thought I did myself rather proud if somewhat unspectacular by man-marking a certain Matthew Brummitt out of action for most of the match. Little did I realise at the time Brummitt looks 100 times more like a good footballer than he actually is, but I actually felt it was worth checking if I got my call up into the Collingwood D team. I didn’t, and to be fair, that is a very good thing.
I hadn’t thought much about football after that. I saw there were trials for some E team taking place that weekend, but I just couldn’t be bothered. I can’t really remember why, I think the posters for the trials were a bit silly. The man-mountain that is Dave Sparks bumped into me after lunch on that Sunday and spent a good minute convincing me to go down and play football. He was the person who made university life so fantastic for me for that single gesture.
I remember playing upfront on my own with very little support coming from a young Dan Collins on the left wing. I had one chance the entire game 6 yards out and I fell over while shooting and hit it straight at the keeper. Or more accurately, I hit it straight at the keeper and feigned that I slipped.
I caught the bug though, and became a part of the team by taking my turn in goal. I made one save to my left that was good, but was easy, and that was it, I became the keeper.
Tim Machin was our captain, and despite being a little loyal at first, he suddenly realised my generation through in the Legion were footballers far above the non-league level. We were winning 7-2, 8-2, 8-1 and so forth each and every week, and the socials were hard, but still felt safe for an 18 year old who had only just started drinking. The Legion was unique, we were huge, and we’d have 25 people come down whom all got at least 30 minutes of a football match each week.
We were too good for non-league, however the fun, and we split into a league and non-league team the year after, and despite some spats, we were one Legion. United differently to the rest of the club, we were more inclusive, we were more fun, and we enjoyed our football no end. The first Legion league match summed it up. Joey Baylis with 4 solo goals keeping us in infront, but Matt Brummitt, coming on as a sub, gave a last minute needless handball away with the score at 4-3. The penalty was missed and a heroic pitch invasion took place.
The non-league team had some smashingly good players too, sadly pretty much all midfielders, and it took them an entire year to win a match. However they did get league membership for the next year, probably based on the reputation of the Legion in the league, who were one goal away from promotion in their first season, in a match with a huge touchline support.
The Legion had no option to expand no more, from the Forest the previous season, seeds were sowed that eventually gave birth to the Legion’s second child, the Grasshoppers. These were a successful team, and while the Legion and Forest made silly mistakes to leave them both unable to win the league, the Grasshoppers did themselves proud with a late 1-0 cup defeat to one of the college A teams.
The Legion was sticking together, but the communities became so divided that it separated piece by piece. The Legion became full of lads, the Forest became full of shlads, and only the Grasshoppers had that non-league community team spirit that really existed.
The Grasshoppers, younger and more enthusiastic, could never bring the Legion fully together, and although the term stuck, the teams became further and further distant from each other.
These Grasshoppers also received league membership, and did very credibly with it as well. They spawned another new team, thus doubling the amount of football at Collingwood College in 4 and a half years. These lucky boys had me as a very poor, overworked co-captain, but we did keep the dream alive throughout the year and I thank the boys for their determination to keep it going.
The other three teams, betraying the original Legion spirit, became much more integrated in the whole club, going against the idea of being different, alternative and more welcoming for it.
I had five years at Durham, and I was one of the few ones who remembered the true Legion spirit when I left. It is sad it has somewhat disappeared, but in dying, it has given birth to 4 more football teams, each doing itself proud too. Collingwood was always renowned for its rugby prior to my arrival, and my last edition as WoodWord co-Editor, I asked the question if our college song lyrics could be changed to beer, tits and football, now, rather than rugby, and the college seemed to agree. We now have comfortably more football than any other college, and despite my nostalgia it is in great spirits. The Legion started something special, granted it’s different, but these Freshers’ starting now at Collingwood just don’t realise both how lucky they are now, and also what fun they missed out on three years ago…