University sports teams ready for Varsity clashes across Leicester
When the University of Leicester’s students take on their De Montfort University (DMU) counterparts at Varsity 2022, they will be the latest in a long line of sports stars from the University’s 100-year history.
The University of Leicester celebrates its Centenary year in 2021/22, and the 20th instalment of Varsity clashes with their city rivals.
But sport has been central to the Leicester story from the very beginning. Shortly after the University College was founded in 1921, an ‘Athletic Society’ was formed. They played tennis on courts beside College House, with badminton in one of the early campus buildings.
In 1926 an anonymous donation of £3,000 – almost £200,000 today – allowed the purchase of a 10-acre sports field on grazing land near Wigston Fields on Welford Road where students played cricket, football, and hockey.
One of the earliest recorded fixtures between the University College and the Leicester College of Art and Technology, the forerunner to DMU, was a rugby fixture in November 1949. Leicester won by 28 points to nil.
In the 1950s the University quickly outgrew the Wigston Fields ground and acquired 60 acres of land off Manor Road in Oadby, where students and members of the community still use the facilities to this day.
Members of Leicester’s men’s rugby side in 1950, many of whom played in the 1949 fixture against Leicester College of Art and Technology.
The first Varsity ‘season’ took place on one day in March 2000, when football, rugby, hockey and netball teams from both universities faced off against one another across the city.
The fixtures were masterminded by Ben Mansford, then Leicester Students’ Union (SU) Sports President, now CEO of Blackpool FC. He remembered: “I am delighted to see that the Varsity programme has gone from strength to strength. I was supported by a great team during that year in getting the initiative off and running, especially from Annie Morgan, who was the then permanent Sports Secretary. I believe Annie would be equally proud.
“I loved every minute of my time at Leicester and some of my greatest memories were on the sports field and over the course of those Wednesday nights, which involved the then infamous Regan’s 80s affair! I hope that all the generations since have continued to enjoy the Varsity competition and their time connected to sport at Leicester.
“Sport has played a huge part in my life to date and I hope that it will continue to do so for all connected at Leicester University. I was fortunate that we won that first year and I wish Georgia and all the Club Captains all the best for this year!”
Flash forward to 2022 and Georgia Henton, SU Sports Officer for 2021/22, will be the loudest cheerleader for Leicester teams as they do battle in 22 different disciplines, across seven days from Tuesday 22 to Tuesday 29 March. She said: “It’s so great to be able to see a Varsity again! It was one of the highlights of the year when I was a student and I’m so excited to be able to see another one as Sports Officer. It’s been almost three years since the last varsity was able to happen, so it’s the first one for the majority of our students!
“The buzz around campus is great, I think everyone is really looking forward to putting this event on again after such a long period of uncertainty, and hopefully keep our winning streak!”
Since its foundation, the University of Leicester has played host to countless sports stars such as Terry Price, who played international rugby while still a Geography student in the 1960s, to Sue Campbell, Baroness Campbell of Loughborough, who previously served as chair of UK Sport.
In 2021, History PhD researcher Nick Cummins scooped Gold at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games as part of Team GB’s Wheelchair Rugby Squad. As well as supporting 48 sports clubs alongside Leicester Students’ Union, the University also supports 17 prestigious Sports Scholars with funding and individualised coaching programmes.
And off the field, Leicester researchers are at the cutting edge of sports research, with the University’s Unit for Diversity, Inclusion and Community Engagement (DICE) formalising their long-standing partnership with Sporting Equals at a special event at Leicester City Football Club’s world-famous King Power Stadium last November.
Explore the University of Leicester’s Centenary celebrations, and discover more about our story so far at le.ac.uk/centenary.
Members of the University of Leicester’s men’s rugby team celebrate Varsity victory over DMU at Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road stadium in 2015.