Image Credit: Paul McCarthy
Paul McCarthy takes up a rather sarcastic air as I ask him how he feels about York’s superior record in Roses. “Do you know what? I’m delighted,” he jests. As Lancaster University’s sport president, much of McCarthy’s term has been spent planning how on earth he and York’s ex-sport president Maddi Cannell could run Europe’s biggest inter-university sports tournament during a global pandemic.
“One of the top priorities for me and Maddi this year was that something happened, no matter what. We wanted something physical, because everyone’s been so pent up and stuck inside all year. The thought of it not happening would have been awful. I would have felt like I’d have let students down. I think what we’ve come out with in the end is probably going to be the best we could have done under the circumstances.”
McCarthy details the result of his and Cannell’s regular meetings. “We had our first meeting in October,” he says. “The hardest thing was coming up with an event that students can properly get involved in, that will feel like a competition but also won’t physically be in the same space. Coming up with this pentathlon combine was the best thing. Everyone’s done a Zoom quiz about 100 times by now; you had to do something different.”
The competition will take place in both institutions this year. He explains how Roses 2021 will work. “It’s going to ensure that teams who typically have a fixture in Roses will instead be able to have a fixture in a variety of sports, competing against each other in the pentathlon. It’s going to be: ‘Who in each team does the quickest sprint?’, ‘Who does the best cycle’… So teams will be competing against each other, but not competing in their sports.
“Obviously, there’s no travel between Lancaster and York at the minute, so [we’re looking at] having the events running simultaneously. We’re planning to do archery at the same time but happening across different counties. I think we’ve done pretty well to arrange as [much] of that as we have.
“We’ve got to make the best of it. I’m excited and I think we are doing the best we can. I think people will get behind that. It’s gutting that it can’t be your traditional event, but regarding everything we’re putting on, we’re going to make it as celebratory a weekend as possible.”
Tracking how competitors did many miles away might well have become an issue given this year’s format. Imagine finishing an utterly draining cycle, only to have to wait for a phone call from Lancaster to see if you’ve won. McCarthy put that concern to bed. “The stuff that student media are going to do with streaming events would be awesome, because even if there’s no crowds, people can still watch and be a part of it [via] our social media presence.”
The conversation turns to predictions of which way this year’s tournament will go. “I don’t really think there’s any sport York will dominate in,” he says confidently. He talks of home advantage and how much of a bearing that has had on Roses in years gone by. “Beating York any year is an incentive. The big thing with Roses is no one ever wins away from home. There’s no team away from home this year!” I suggest the possibility that a draw might therefore be the most likely outcome. “Yeah, probably!”
Ramping it up a notch, the fighting talk comes out as McCarthy tries to convince me it’ll be a comfortable Lancaster victory. York were comprehensive winners in 2019 — the most recent result given 2020’s cancellation due to Covid. It becomes evident that it still weighs on his mind.
“I’m trying to think what football manager I’d channel here! We’ve got revenge; we’ve had revenge on our mind for two years now. Revenge is a very inspiring motivational factor. There’s a will to win in Lancaster, and I think we’ll do it. I’d rate our chances with confidence.” I’m not sure I’m buying it…
Our chat returns to the topic of York’s 28 Roses victories dating back to the very first edition back in 1965. Lancaster’s total tally lingers just behind with 26 titles to date. McCarthy suggests this year might be the start of a turning tide.
“Give us three years and it’ll all be different.” We’ll see.