Henley Royal Regatta Rowing Team

Henley Royal Regatta 2016: Life of a Rower – Part 2

John Fazakerley, a stalwart of the Midlands rowing scene, former captain of Birmingham Rowing Club, reveals his rocky road to “glory” in the Henley Royal Regatta.

Part Two of a Five Part Series.

One summer someone suggested we drift down to Henley Regatta.

This was maybe 1974, and we were only slumming it, but I was immediately hooked. I wanted some of this.

What really sealed the ambition though was the final of the 1976 Thames Cup, when Henley RC went down in glorious defeat to Harvard by a few feet. That was it; I was going there!

I wanted to cruise up the sun dappled course, a couple of lengths to the good, to receive polite applause from an enraptured crowd, and admiring glances from the local nubility.

First thing, find a crew; simple enough.

Birmingham was then in a golden period, with plenty of graduates coming to work there, with time to still carry on playing sport. Would I swap with any current 25 year old? I doubt it, if you have a job your life’s hardly your own, and I feel for the poor sods without work.

So, whilst plenty of the members were fit and capable, who had the single mindedness to go the whole hog?

Colin, Paul, and Roddy, that’s who!

I was tall and talented, Paul was tall, talented, and experienced, having been to Henley with UCL, and Colin was, well, tall. What we needed was a bowside steersman. Roddy was medium height, lean, fit as a butcher’s dog, and technically very good.

There was just one small drawback, it was his severe myopia, wearing glasses (more like goggles) that fogged in the lightest rain, and seared his eyeballs in the sun. Without his glasses, there was distinct resemblance to Mr Magoo. Still, he was hewn of public school granite, he’d cope.

We only needed three more things for everything to come together, a boat, a qualifying win, and a coach.

The only boat we could get our hands on belonged to Birmingham University, and was made of five- ply, but it floated and went roughly straight.

Back in the 1970s one couldn’t enter the club level events at Henley without a win at a high status in the year before entry. Henley didn’t cater then for rowing riff raff. Numerous tries failed to get the win, but then came Ironbridge.

Great regatta, Ironbridge! A nice bendy course, plenty of scope for cheating, and the banks were head high in the sort of elephant grass that devoured umpires.

Senior A4s was the top event that year, and we had a straight final against the old enemy, Stourport, surely we couldn’t cock this up?

We didn’t.

Off the start like a rocket, and then lean into Stourport on their bend to minimise their advantage. We held them with blades interlocking, but thankfully not clashing, with all the usual Anglo-Saxon pleasantries exchanged. Then it was our bend, whip the rudder over, and cruise home a length to the good, top crew of the day!

Now we needed a coach to take us to the next level.

We found Dave. Dave was a sculler, one of the gun slingers of the sport. He was mean, moody, and a loner. He was a fitness fanatic.

Winter training in the week consisted of impossible weights sessions mixed with mile after mile of pounding Handsworth’s dark streets.

Rowing at weekends was a never ending sequence around Edgbaston Reservoir. Lacking the imagination to change direction, we ended the winter with a strokeside built like Charles Atlas, and a bowside like Charles Hawtrey.

Summer wasn’t any easier. Dave was dedicated to interval training, the endless repetition of short intense pieces of work, separated by shorter rest periods. Dave however, regarded the rest periods as an effeminate irrelevance.

The Henley Regatta will once again be the highlight of the British summer social calendar.

For more information see our Henley Royal Regatta Hospitality Packages page.