Belfast Telegraph

Friday 21 November 2014

Messing about with boats and tigers on the Thames

Jot this one down for a pub quiz question you’ll be asked for years to come: “What was the name of the man who spoiled the 2012 Boat Race?”

Yes, that’s right, John Garrett, no, not the daft swimmer who got in the way of the boats, nor indeed the John Garrett who played for Linfield and Ballymena United in the Eighties, but the umpire who didn’t let the event continue by sailing over a daft Aussie.

Emily Davison, Erica Roe, the daft former priest who ran out in front of cars at Silverstone and then in the marathon at the Olympics and that fella who parachuted in to Evander Holyfield’s fight with Riddick Bowe are now joined by keen amateur swimmer Trenton Oldfield on the list of great sporting disrupters.

Little did we know that this was just the start of the drama, but worryingly it could also justify the Beeb continuing to devote a Saturday to this nonsense, as Clare Balding promised before a stroke was rowed in anger ‘the key to this event is its simplicity’. Or not.

“This is a unique event, it’s based on intense rivalry, tradition and on honour,” Clare implored at the start, an event like no other, unless you count the Old Firm, although any boating analogy between Rangers and the Titanic will not be entertained here.

“It’s one of the most watched and most famous sporting events in the world,” she continued, and James Cracknell got in on the act saying it was the only time, apart from the Olympics, that rowing got on the telly. And the World Championships. And the World Cup. And the European Championships

With Andrew Cotter at the golf and usual rowing commentator Garry Herbert being kept safely under wraps until he can shout ‘Grade Briddin’ at a very annoying level when GB win their obligatory clutch of Olympic medals, it meant that Jonathan Legard, the man who walked the plank from the Beeb’s F1 coverage, slipped back in when no-one was looking. He must have had a speedboat with him as he also managed to provide commentary on Leicester City’s game with Doncaster on the Football League Show later on, but I digress.

With him was the world’s poshest man, Dan Topolski, and once we had had all the preamble out of the way, the race, with Oxford and Cambridge once again reaching the final, got underway, cheered on by lots of toffs.

And it was going swimmingly, perhaps the wrong choice of words, until Matthew Pinsent, deputy to sheriff Garrett, spotted someone bobbing up and down, and a discombobulated Topolski screamed: “He could have had his head cut off by the blades.”

Danny Wilson had the same feeling when things weren’t going well at Sheffield United.

After much mock horror and confusion we eventually got started again, with Oxford not playing ball by deciding they wanted to row in the Cambridge boat and then disaster struck as an oar broke and suddenly they were desperately looking for another swimmer to save the day.

The umpire, former Cambridge rower, Garrett waved play on and a bit like the Scottish Premier League the leaders coasted in for a hollow victory even though Oxford, as Topolski explained, ‘rowed like tigers’. I’m not exactly sure what he meant either but there was still more drama to come.

As Clare desperately sought to make a silk purse out of the quickly unravelling pig’s lug she had been served, things took a turn for the worse and in the midst of already hollow celebrations, they noticed that one of the Oxford crew hadn’t moved.

Thankfully he hadn’t been savaged by one of the tigers, but as he received treatment it was announced that there would be no presentations or celebrating thus denying us the sight of the cox being chucked in the water.

Still there’s always next year for revenge for Oxford, if they manage to get through to the final again.

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