Ten things you never knew about the Boat Race:
1) The first Boat Race was run in 1309, as an attempt to resolve the Hundred Years University War, a long and messy conflict fought between Oxford conservatives and Cambridge reformists over the right to split infinitives in Latin. Oxford won that first race, but were later disqualified after Charles ‘Jumbo’ Millefeuille, their president, said in his victory speech that he was “delighted to convincingly win”.
2) During the 1912 race, Oxford’s crew disappeared under the water near Hammersmith Bridge. Despite an extensive search, they could not be found, and it was assumed they had drowned. However, more than 40 years later, the entire crew were discovered to be alive and well and living in Western Australia.
3) The build-up to the 1956 race was overshadowed by an infamous ‘mutiny’, which saw the entire Oxford eight defect to Cambridge just 20 minutes before the start. The move backfired spectacularly, as Cambridge’s boat was unable to take the weight of 16 oarsmen and sank, leaving Oxford the winners by default.
4) Prime Minister Harold Wilson caused uproar in 1969 by declaring that year’s Boat Race would be restricted to rowers from working-class backgrounds. On the morning of the race, both teams’ boats were discovered with holes drilled in the hull and a note pinned to the side reading: ‘Down with the oiks!’ The race had to be abandoned, and Wilson went on to lose the 1970 General Election as a direct result.
5) There was further controversy in the early 1970s, when the event was hit by industrial action following a dispute over rowing conditions. In 1973, both teams implemented a go-slow protest, resulting in the race taking more than three weeks to complete. The following year, the two teams went on a wildcat strike. Organisers drafted in replacement teams from Lancashire Polytechnic and Derby Tertiary College. The result of the race is unknown, as all records and footage were destroyed immediately afterwards.
6) The late comedian Frank Carson acted as Cambridge’s cox in 1977, only to be thrown overboard at Chiswick Pier after annoying his rowers beyond endurance by repeatedly shouting: “It’s a cracker!”
7) There was uproar in 1978 when the Boat Race made a shock transfer to ITV. The move proved fraught with problems, as the event’s scriptwriters remained under contract to the BBC. As a result, the race descended into a disappointing mix of rehashed material and predictable sight gags, such as Cambridge’s boat sinking. After a critical panning, the race returned to the BBC in 1984.
8) The sinking of the Cambridge boat in 1978 was later made into a hit movie starring Kate Winslet as the cox, Leonardo Di Caprio as a lovestruck oarsman and Martin Jarvis as plummy-voiced commentator John Snagge. The film was criticised for playing fast and loose with historical accuracy, most notably in the scenes which depict all the sympathetic characters as Americans and show Cambridge’s English crew members actively trying to sink the boat while cackling and twirling handlebar moustaches.
9) In 1991, the race ended in a dead heat and, for the first time, went to a replay at Villa Park. The pitch there had to be flooded with 100,000 gallons of water before the race could begin. Aston Villa’s groundsman was said to be furious. Again, it ended in a draw, and so had to be decided by a penalty shoot-out, which Cambridge lost.
10) The race has featured a number of celebrities. The 1980 Cambridge crew included Stephen Fry, Tony Slattery and Emma Thompson, while Oxford responded the following year with a team made up entirely of members of Queen and Motorhead. In 1982, the Cambridge crew included Roger Taylor from Duran Duran, David Byrne from Talking Heads and all three main members of the Human League. The last celebrity to compete in the race was Professor Brian Cox in 2007.
Last on MOTD: Sunderland 0 Tottenham 0
Commentator: Steve Wilson
Sitting in the press room at Stoke’s Britannia Stadium early yesterday afternoon ahead of their game against Wolves, I had two TV sporting options. On a wall-mounted television, there was the later stages of Sunderland’s lunchtime kick-off against Tottenham. On my laptop, there was the Boat Race.
It was no contest.
There are many people who might argue that the Boat Race, with its downright other-worldliness, is an irrelevance in 2012. Before yesterday lunchtime, I might have been one of them. Yesterday’s race certainly took me by surprise.
In fact, if last night’s Match of the Day had scrapped highlights from the Stadium of Light altogether and instead shown six minutes of the turbulence on the Thames, I don’t think anyone would have complained.
Sunderland v Tottenham, in edited form, consisted of a series of half-hearted penalty appeals and a great late challenge by Craig Gardner on Gareth Bale. The Boat Race, meanwhile, consisted of genuine drama caused by a muddled individual who appears to have garnered his entire understanding of politics from listening to Pink Floyd records.
It featured BBC television commentators so flustered by the bizarre events unfolding, that they started yabbering over each other excitedly to the point of incoherence. It featured perky reporters turning to foppish types on the river bank and asking: “What will be going through the rowers’ minds at this moment?”
It featured a near-collision between the two boats at the re-start. It featured a snapped oar. It featured, apparently, the first recorded instance of one crew winning without an official finishing time. It also featured the worrying collapse of a member of Oxford’s crew – although, thankfully, he appears to be making a good recovery.
It was, in short, the most extraordinary sporting event of 2012 so far. Sunderland v Tottenham could not possibly have competed. It didn’t get close.
The Boat Race upstaging Premier League football? You really couldn’t make it up.
1. Fulham: 8 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
2. Aston Villa: 6 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
3. Norwich: 6 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
4. Wigan: 5 (2L: 8, 3L: 5)
5. Sunderland: 5 (2L: 6, 3L: 0)
6. West Brom: 5 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
7. Stoke: 5 (2L: 2, 3L: 8)
8. Swansea: 4 (2L: 7, 3L: 4)
9. QPR: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
10. Tottenham: 4 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
11: Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 7)
12. Blackburn: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 5)
13: Liverpool: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
14. Chelsea: 3 (2L: 0, 3L: 5)
15. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
16. Everton: 1 (2L: 9, 3L: 4)
17. Bolton: 1 (2L: 4, 3L: 6)
18. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 3, 3L: 1)
19. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
2L = On second last (Swansea 0 Newcastle 2)
3L = On third last (Stoke 2 Wolves 1)
(Teams receive one point every time they are last on Match of the Day. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)