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University teams


When I was on a visit to Chile, I switched on the television and Universidad Católica were playing. Eventually they scored and the successful player ripped off his shirt to reveal a huge tatoo on his back of Jesus on the cross.

Two of the top three teams in the Chilean capital, Santiago, have university links.  Católica (the illustration shows part of the campus of the Catholic University of Chile) have traditionaly been backed by wealthy elites and this has been a constraint as they have not been allowed to expand their stadium.  There is real weath in Santiago: I went to a dinner hosted in a fabulous house which I can only describe as built into its garden.  I also visited a slum neighbourhood, although a lot was being spent nearby on social housing.

Universdidad de Chile ran into trouble under the Pinochet regime and links between the university and the club were broken.  In 2008, the new university's rector agreed to enter a contract with the now private club, in which he allowed the use of the university's name and symbols in exchange for a royalty and the right to appoint two out of the eleven directors of the board.

The university teams are among the top two in the country an Católica is particularly admired for its training centre which is regarded as one of the best in South America. Chile is, of course, one of the most prosperous countries in South America and a member of the club of rich countries, the OECD.  President Michelle Bachelet gave me a tour of her palace and asked me if the Queen would do that.

Professional or semi-professional university teams have been unusual in Britain. Pegasus was once a leading amatuer team drawing its players from Oxbridge graduates.  Team Bath had success in non-league football, creating controversy because some complained that taxpayers' money was beingh used,  In fact universities have extensive private funds they can use for this sort of purpose.

Now the latest university team to make headway is Cardiff Met now in the Welsh Premier League.  They reached it for the first time last season after winning three promotions in four years. They only narrowly missed qualifying for the Europa League after losing a play-off final.  

Every member of the team is a student apart from one who is a former student now on the staff.   They don't get paid to play, but have to pay a £100 membership fee to join the club.

The team is coached by Christian Edwards who played as a professional footballer for Swansea City, Nottingham Forest and Bristol Rovers.  He won a cap for Wales and is said to be one of only two international footballers to gain a doctorate, the other being Brazil's Sócrates.  He says that 'success has come through the humility and loyalty of our players, who have now created a club, not just a team.'