X Close

UCL Culture Blog


News and musings from the UCL Culture team


The History of Varsity

By Edmund Connolly, on 17 March 2014

The last weekend saw some fantastic weather and some even more celebratory UCL sport. From the 7th March UCL has been part of the London Varsity Series playing against the rival London College, Kings, in a series of six sporting events. For many, sports and college varsities evoke an idea of elitism and aggressive competition, but I must say I disagree and support the idea as a way of encouraging inter-collegiate relations and development.

Varsity teams, copyright UCLU

Varsity teams, copyright UCLU

Varisty origins

The UCL-KCL rivalry began nearly 200 hundred years ago when King’s College London, an Anglican college; a stark contrast to UCL’s secular mantra, was founded. The religious and national focused tone of these lyrics set to the English national anthem tune displayed KCL’s religious tenacity and was supposedly sung at UCL students:

 King’s College lads arise!
New Universities
Shall quickly fall;
Confound their politics,
Frustrate their teaching tricks,
O, Church! on thee we fix,
Maintain us all[1]


UCL v KCL copyright King's College London

UCL v KCL copyright King’s College London

UCL have responded in kind, but I think it best not to recant the lyrics, the general gist is clear.

This rivalry gradually moved away from denomination disagreements and became more a rivalry of class, with KCL being deemed the more ‘traditional’ and elitist institution, with UCL the liberal and more progressive institution. Student Rags became the forum for the students to express their dislike for one another, such as this melee in 1934 between UCL and KCL medics and engineers on King’s Strand campus (see right).

From difference to inclusion

Mutual rivalries inevitably lead to a sense of camaraderie among peers, i.e. If you don’t like the same people as me we can be friends. This image (see below)shows a cheering UCL group who have defended their mascot, Phineas[2], from a KCL incursion, nb: ‘Covent Garden’ ammunition refers to fruit and veg. missiles.

KCL and UCL’s affiliation with their own colleges lead to the development of mascots: for Kings’ the red lion ‘Reggie’ and for UCL Jeremey Bentham and Phineas proved equally popular. Over the years respective mascots were allegedly stolen and returned in various states continuing the inter-college rivalry. UCL legend has it Bentham’s head was stolen on a few occasions and held to ransom by KCL and even used once in a game of football as part of the varsity fervour.

UCl students with Phinease

UCl students with Phineas

In defense of Varsity

Varsity is now a far more sporting affair with UCL and KCL settling their differences on the pitch. This year saw the first 6 sport varsity which included the ever popular rugby varsity matches, as well as new entries from sports such as kickboxing and water polo.

Aside from the official six, UCL’s Lacrosse club hosted its own varsity match against Kings on Sunday 16th March. In a complete change to previous competitions these varsities are now celebratory, rather than aggressive, inclusive rather than separatist. During the match, UCL and KCL supporters cheer for anyone doing anything (granted not many people understand the rules of lacrosse), and after the match both teams enjoyed a Regent’s Park picnic together in honour of the healthy sporting rivalry, and long may it continue[3]!



UCL's Victorious Varsity Lacrosse team, copyright Luisa Ramirez

UCL’s Victorious Varsity Lacrosse team, copyright Luisa Ramirez

Edmund Connolly is the British Council – UCL Museum Training School Coordinator.

[2] Now on display in the UCLU Phineas bar.

[3] …as long as UCL keep winning, obviously.

Leave a Reply