Loughborough Boat Club Masters D VIII (Masters D crew has an average age between 50 and 55!) knew that they had a tough challenge from Nottingham Boat Club/Nottingham Union crew at Lincoln Head of the River Race – which was contested over 5500m of the River Witham at Lincoln last Sunday. Loughborough’s Winter training had not gone well, with several injuries and key personnel taking holidays, and the actual crew had never been out together in that exact form until the day. But in the last training outing on Saturday, the crew (still without Captain Keith who was away supporting the LBC juniors at the Regional Trails at Nottingham) the crew had “clicked” and so optimism was high in the beautiful Spring weather which graced the event at Lincoln.
The Head Race format is against the clock and the Nottingham crew started some 20 seconds behind Loughborough, and were always in sight of the key tactician Keith in the stroke seat of the Loughborough Boat. He knew he had to drive his men especially hard at the start and Loughborough pulled away in the first 1000m; but then half way into the race Nottingham were pressed by a faster Doncaster Schools crew in a different event coming up behind them, and the competition to keep ahead allowed Nottingham to regain the deficit on Loughborough who were rowing well above their training rate. There was a fear that this speed could not be sustained over the entire gruelling 20 minutes or more of the race. After 10 minutes sinews were busting and lungs were bursting as the Nottingham crew, pressed by Doncaster Schools remained stubbornly in sight. But the Loughborough cox, O’Shean, managed the pace well and inspired the Loughborough men to further effort. Eventually the Doncaster crew overtook the Nottingham crew who then faded towards the end of the gruelling race, and the pressure came on the Loughborough “geriatrics” to stave off the Doncaster Schoolboys. The last 1000m of the race was in a red mist, according to several of the Loughborough men – from the the eldest, 61 year old Nick, to the youngest, 45 year old Andy. Eventually the cox called for the last 20 strokes and the Loughborough crew started to pull away again from the Doncaster boys, before collapsing – fully spent – at the finish line.
Loughborough had a total of 5 crews of various sizes and status entered. When the times were published LBC’s Tom Scholefield had won the Senior Sculls, and the Loughborough Master’s VIII had beaten the Nottingham crew by 9 seconds. But knowing that the Nottingham crew had a higher average age, a “handicap” would be applied to the relative times – giving the trophy to Nottingham. The Loughborough VIII were therefore very surprised when they were called out at the prize ceremony to receive their trophies – individual cut glass brandy glasses engraved with the Lincoln Imp to match similar trophies several members of the crew had won in 2011. In celebration the photos were taken and preparations made to depart, before the Race Officials agreed that “the pot that never was” had been wrongly awarded and the trophies had to be re-wrapped and given back, to be finally given to Nottingham. Knowing they were not entitled to them, Loughborough did this in good grace and without rancour.
For several of the Loughborough crew, this is the third dubious happening against a Nottingham crew. At the Ironbridge regatta in 2011, Loughborough beat Nottingham in the knock-out semi-final, but the regatta was called off before the final when excessive driftwood coming down from Shrewsbury made the river dangerous. Later the same year, at Stourport regatta, a Stourport VIII was forced to retire from the final when one of their crew suffered a heart attack, and a scratch crew from Bewdley and Loughborough was rapidly assembled to “give them a race” – but Nottingham won by 1 1/2 lengths.
With this history, the next time Loughborough and Nottingham local rivals meet on the river, the memory of these events, and the “pot that never was” will make the race very special!