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A second year's Roses: the rivalry of red and white

Abi Ramsay explores the experiences of second years at Roses at both York and Lancaster.

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Image Credit: Luke Snell

Before I came to the University of York, I was well aware of the prevalence of the York/ Lancaster rivalry, and my expectations had already been set high as to the Roses Competition. This knowledge was not from the university handbook, nor was it from my open day. My knowledge of the competition was much more in-depth, as it came from behind enemy lines itself – my sister Iona goes to Lancaster University. Thus began my exposure to the Roses Weekend.

When Iona was in her first year at Lancaster, and I was in my first year of sixth form, I was subject to numerous FaceTime calls in which she spoke in length about the competition whilst simultaneously sharing photos of the swaths of red wearing spectators on the family WhatsApp group. That year, Lancaster won, making her first experience of a home Roses even sweeter. In her second year, Iona competed at York with her netball team. Lancaster’s loss was lamented, but as I was in Year 13 and had already decided on York as the university I wanted to go to at this point, I was secretly pleased by the win and beyond excited for the rivalry to continue into her final year at Lancaster, and my first year at York. Needless to say, this did not happen, as Covid lockdown number one hit, resulting in the cancellation of Roses last year.

At both the University of York, and Lancaster University, it is easy to presume that a majority of the student body has experienced one or fewer Roses tournaments, which in itself is disappointing as these events add to the quintessential essence of both universities. Because of this loss, Roses has become an event which is mainly recognised or remembered through the sports teams, with it becoming enigmatic for a majority of second year and first year students who would just be spectators in usual circumstances.

However, this year Roses Unlocked is replacing the normal event, as restrictions slowly return to normal. Because of my exposure to the event through Nouse and the emails from YUSU, as well as my wider understanding of Roses as a whole due to my sister, I was eager to see how this knowledge of the legacy of Roses and the subsequent Roses Unlocked has been advertised on the rivalry’s side. So I spoke to Caitlin Rees and Megan Dyke, two second-year students at Lancaster University, to gauge their opinions of Roses, and to see how it compared to mine.

When asked about their plans for Roses in first year, both Dyke and Rees were supposed to be participating, Dyke as part of the Lancaster University Boat Club (LUBC) as Cox, and Rees in the University Windband for the opening ceremony. They both also had to cancel plans with friends coming to stay due to the Covid lockdown.

This cancelling of plans appears to be quite similar to what my current housemates and I had to do in first year. We had big plans of a trip to stay with my sister and purchase the spectator package and were looking forward to the final club night at Lancaster’s ‘Sugarhouse’ to celebrate the bank holiday weekend, regardless of the victory.

Because of this, much like me and many other York students, both Rees and Dyke feel as though they have missed out on a rite of passage, with Dyke mentioning that “[Roses] was bigged up so much by the uni during Freshers Week, especially by LUBC as it is a key event for many of the clubs”. Rees added that it is "hard to feel attached to Roses as we’ve never done it before, but it feels as though we’ve missed out on a Lancs experience”.

Although they are both excited at the prospect of Roses Unlocked, as it is a step in the right direction for a huge Roses celebration in final year, Dyke especially is still feeling as though she is missing out, with it being “hard for LUBC as we can't actually do a race against York.” However, she goes on to say that she “look[s] forward to races that will actually be in person, hopefully by our third year!”

For Rees and myself, most of the excitement towards Roses was the prospect of enjoying pints with our friends whilst watching the events. However, although the events themselves are not the red vs white rivalries spectators may be used to watching, some of the alternatives are being streamed to university bars, which allows for Rees’ dream of using Roses as a “neat excuse to have a drink with friends and watch sport” to no longer be out of the question.

It is hard for me to comment on an event that I have never truly experienced, and it seems this is a thought shared by Lancaster students as well. However, speaking to both Caitlin and Megan, as well as considering my sister’s continued appraisal of Roses, allows me to believe that it’s an event that holds a lasting legacy for many people, shaping Freshers Week and sport’s teams, regardless of whether it is something that has personally been experienced. Roses is highlighted to be the coming together of vast groups of people, and sharing the hard work and dedication put in by YUSU and LUSU to make the event, with Roses Unlocked seeming to be no exception.

Of course, Roses Unlocked will be different to what has been experienced by others in the past, but as a student who has missed out on it previously due to the pandemic, I am just excited at the prospect of the steps being made for the return normality. Whatever Roses Unlocked may lack in terms of in-person spectating and team sports, it makes up for it through the continued work YUSU and LUSU have applied to make the event achievable, and I will happily raise a pint to that team spirit whilst watching the virtual events take place.

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