Roses 2024 is back this weekend: Here’s a short history of the tournament

Lets hope it doesn’t end like the actual ‘War of Roses’ did

Sports teams are training hard, team sheets are being posted on Instagram, and the tension is rising. It must be time for Roses 2024. The annual varsity competition is often described as the largest inter-university sports tournament in Europe, and with both universities having 28 wins to their name, this year it’s all to play for.

The struggle between the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York is one that goes back years (literally hundreds), but nowadays the two rivals fight through a range of nearly 50 different sports to decide the colour of the rose for the next year.

Since coming back from the pandemic (where competitions were cancelled), Lancaster has won back-to-back tournaments, last year serving up a defeat for York on their home ground painting the campus red. But how did this all start? Whether you’re heading over to Lancaster this year or watching from home – here’s a brief history of the tournament to get you up to date:

Let’s go right back to the ACTUAL war of the roses, the OG (if you will). The War of the Roses was a civil war that took place in the 15th century, fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. It was a big political scrap, to cut a long story short, over the English throne. The war lasted over 30 years, and in the end, a politically arranged marriage between the two houses brought us the House of Tudor.

Jump to 1965, and the history of Roses, the tournament, began. Lord James of Rusholme, who was then the Vice-Chancellor of the University of York, suggested a boat race between the two universities. The students at the time decided to take this further, creating a five-day event that included rowing, table tennis, relay race, field hockey, and tug of war.

Each game won gave two points to the winner, and the losing Vice-Chancellor presented the “Carter-James” Trophy to the winning university. The trophy itself is named after the two instigators of the tournament, Lord James (York) and Sir Charles Carter (Lancaster).

For nearly 60 years the tournament has grown into a huge annual event spanning three days. Currently, there are 48 different sports involved in this tournament ranging from your classics such as hockey and rugby to chess, canoe polo, and pole fitness, to name a few. Esports were introduced to the tournament for the first time in 2016 in the form of League of LegendsDota 2 and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. The 2018 tournament saw the introduction of Dodgeball and Golf to the competition, as won by the Lancaster Royals.

The 2020 tournament was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic but this did not put an end to this almighty battle. A virtual competition was hosted instead (and York won, might I add). The dedication behind this sporting tournament is very clear.

The tournament is broadcast by both York and Lancaster’s television stations and covered by both universities’ radio stations. So if you can’t make it to Lancaster, you can keep up to date with everything at

Clearly, this event is more than just sport. The social aspects of the tournament amplify the excitement and competition, as York or Lancaster students travel to the respective universities to cheer on their teammates and friends, often participating in the nightlife. There are organised events for both Universities on the Friday and Saturday evenings, encouraging a relationship between each student body, as well as fostering the sense of good natured sportsmanship.

This year’s tournament is particularly important. With 28 wins to each side, 2024 is the year to gain it back. Lancaster set foot on Yorkshire soil and won last year. Brutal, I know. The question is, can York do the same and secure the win away from home? The pressure is seriously on for a historical win.

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