Henley Royal Regatta Rowing Team

Henley Royal Regatta 2016: Life of a Rower – Part 4

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 Four of a Five Part Series.

The 1978 regatta season opened, and we didn’t have much success; to be honest, absolutely none at all.

Nothing daunted, the Henley entry went in.

A few days later I phoned up to check the state of play. The phone was answered in those lovely crisp clipped tones of Home Counties West. She just had to be a Celia, possibly a Johnson, hopefully an Imrie.

“Yes Mr Fazakerley, there are 39 entries, there will be a qualifying time trial to reduce the field to 32.”

This wasn’t really what I wanted to hear.

It was time to turn on my rough Brummie charm. It is said locally that the only true Brummie is one who is born within the sound of another Brummie whining about something.

I was from West Bromwich, but could give it a good go. “Alroight then Bab, yo wo be needing us then, woi won at Oironbridge last year.”

The stunned silence from the other end of the phone said it all. I’d clearly made a big impression. She had her revenge.

The day in question saw us in the nervous melee of qualifiers waiting below the start. The Stewards had kindly left a gap big enough to get a bus through, sideways, for access to the course. All that was left in the river was one innocent wooden pile, minding its own business close to Temple Island.

We lined the gap up, or so we thought, and charged for the start line.

With an ominous crunch we slewed sideways, blade wrapped round the pile, at dead stop.

To say Roddy hadn’t quite got the line right would be an understatement. We unscrambled ourselves and shot off up the course, all plans thrown to the wind, it was desperation. Roddy at least kept it straight, Paul stroked the boat admirably from two. Colin did what Colin did best, looking straight down the lens of any passing photographer, and I just hung in there.

We crossed the line, and paddled in in silence. We disembarked in silence, and showered in silence. With nothing better to do, we walked over the bridge, and found the only segregated pub in Henley, ex Grammar School boys at one end of the bar, an ex Public School boy at the other … and he bought all four rounds.

We wandered back without hope, to be greeted by Stourport, also required to qualify, grinning like Cheshire cats.

They saw us, and gave us the thumbs up, more thumbs than you might expect from a coxless four, but that’s the Wyre Forest for you.

Could it be? We checked the results board. YES, WE’D BLOODY DONE IT!

Straight back to the pub, Roddy was now the hero of the hour.

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