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. This is the final instalment in our series.
Henley Regatta Rowing – The Life of a Competitive Rower
Even in his late twenties, Colin owned a caravan. We camped at Swiss Farm, and every morning three of us would crawl from our wind battered, rain sodden tents to seek the warmth of the van.
Colin would serve us tea and cheese on toast, all at very reasonable rates. He had us believe he was a big cheese with Tarmac, but I think his secret life was running a truckers tea stop just off the M54.
We’d head for the river and plough up and down the Reach in ever worsening conditions. We’d take on anyone, and it usually ended in defeat. The draw had been published; we had City Orient, and spirits soared when we saw that they were all about 11 stone.
Come on! Were we really going to lose to a crew of emaciated Eastenders? No chance!
Race day came.
We were the penultimate race before lunch. It was bloody cold and the rain was coming in sideways. We nervously edged into the start gate. A quick look up the course didn’t help; it seemed plenty wide enough when you’re on the bank, but just a bit tight when you’re sitting in it.
Mr Magoo was frantically cleaning his glasses, but he’d cope.
Down went the flag and we were off.
Draw, draw, draw, bloody hell this feels alright, we’ve already grabbed two seats! Then the inevitable thwack! Mental note to Roddy, cork buoys are there as a steering aid, they’re not a slalom course!
And Orient were away.
We bashed on up the course, there were some slightly embarrassed cheers of encouragement from the Barn, a couple of club members who had loyally come to support us. The result hardly needs recording.
Orient politely waited as long as they could at the finish line to offer three cheers, but eventually paddled off to seek the relative warmth of a Henley shower. For those who haven’t experienced them, they’re sourced from an artesian well under the Chilterns ice cap.
And that was it, all that time, sweat and effort to be first round cannon fodder.
No polite victory, no applause, and certainly no nubilty.
We were just four more logs casually tossed onto Henley’s ever burning funeral pyre of broken dreams, Birmingham ash mixed with Stourport dust.
Was it all an unrealistic ambition, why had we bothered, given the result it seemed silly.
To quote Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood: “Take me back, Carry me back, Back to Gasoline Alley, Where I started from.”
Was there anything to be recovered from the wreckage?
Three of us tentatively asked about Stewards Enclosure membership, Paul was already a member. We were ushered in to the Presence, a real Steward no less! Forms were signed with due decorum, and two hours later we had the precious badges.
A ten year waiting list? I don’t think so! 1978 was a great year!