Introducing the Durham Society League: Durham’s newest footballing competition

Fierce, flair and fun; it’s more than just a game to these societies.

Going down to the Collingwood crumb on a chilly Sunday evening, I wasn’t too sure what to expect from the fairly new Durham Society League, a weekly 6-a-side football competition.

It wasn’t at all long until I discovered a greatly welcoming community of people united by their unwavering passion for football, regardless of their wide range of ability. As the mathematical society’s captain Oliver Wood (nope, not the Gryffindor keeper but instead a Stephenson E centre back) told me, “We have a few prem players, a couple of div six players and some of the boys don’t even play college football”. For reference, these blokes won the inaugural competition last season and are unbeaten for 13 games. If you ask me, their manager Harry Wiffen is Yorkshire’s greatest export since stainless steel.

This spirit of inclusivity could certainly be found in all of the teams I spoke to, with the roll-on roll-off substitute system being complimented as a good way to make sure weaker players in teams still got adequate playing time while stronger players were able to come back on if a team was pushing for a decisive goal. On the topic of quality, there was some real talent on display with the silky feet and no-nonsense defending of Avi Molina in particular mesmerising me.

I’m looking at you here college football, some of us can’t run around for 90 minutes with a severe hangover from a date with Mr. Allen’s and a diet that would make Jamie Oliver shudder. Please implement roll-on roll-off for the sake of my sanity: Playing in goal gets tiring when you’ve conceded a potential record of 70 goals in college football in a mere 23 games.

However, inclusivity was not solely limited to footballing ability, but also to the great diversity of religious and ethnic societies competing. While it became evident that there were certainly some heated derbies in this league, many of the boys commented on how participating in the league had granted them with new friends from vastly different backgrounds that they would not have known otherwise.

On the matter of cross-cultural interaction, Adam Hellack, president, founder of the league and a genuine pleasure to interview commented on how the community spirit and competitive edge of the league had legitimately made both the Arab and Turkish societies closer with the Jewish society rather than dividing them further.

Moreover, many of the boys I spoke to commented on how the society league means just as much, if not more, to them as college football does. As a man who lives and breathes Wednesday night socials and weekend games for the CCAFC and has truly had their university experience shaped and bettered by college football, to realise that in just a few months these boys had the same passion for their societies was honestly quite inspiring.

While most of us in Durham do feel a genuine sense of attachment and belonging to our colleges, ultimately, we were all allocated randomly without anything intrinsically common between us. Sharmaarke Ahmed of the Islamic society detailed how his team’s common identity had transformed their success on the pitch, with their wide variety of backgrounds in the likes of Brunei, Gambia, Malaysia and Somalia being entirely irrelevant in comparison to the importance of their shared faith.

Despite the cold conditions and lack of any decisive fixture, the evening attracted a sizeable crowd comprised of society members who were not playing. The crowd was fairly evenly split in terms of gender, with an onlooker jokingly stating “my boyfriend’s playing and these two don’t have any lives” in relation to her friends watching with her. Brutal. What happened to girls support girls?

Hellack also mentioned his desire to form an executive committee for the next competition scheduled, taking place in third term. Equally, if sufficient demand arises he appeared keen to incorporate a third division and women’s league to make the competition even more accessible. If your society fancies playing some football under the lights with the aim of a combination of passion for the sport and light-hearted fun, I’d really recommend getting involved.

Featured image via Shaarmarke Ahmed. 

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