"I've never had the nerve to race in a regatta before. This is my first time in an eight and I'm racing for the honour of my county!" commented a participant at Bradford's annual War of the Roses sums up the reasoning behind this unique veteran rowing event.
The War of the Roses invites 'veterans of all ages, sizes, abilities and genders from both sides of the Pennines' to take part in scratch crew races. Bradford secretary, Barbara Edwards mixes the abilities of entrants so that each crew has a blend of competent competitors and beginners. Most of the crew members have never met each other before. They agree seat plans and tactics just minutes before race time. It sounds like a recipe for chaos but it works surprisingly well in practice, which is a tribute to the standard of coaching in ARA clubs.
This April the weather was kind and members of eight northern clubs cheered on their colleagues from the balcony of Bradford's pretty victorian clubhouse, as they took part in the knockout competitions for coxed fours and quads over a short 'splash and dash' side by side course. All the rowing seats were booked well in advance. Bob Cannell, Bradford member and Yorkshire Veteran commissioner said: " We were turning people away again. It would be good if other clubs offered similar competitions. There's a big demand for this kind of less formal, more social event."
Bradford's Terry Edwards, a long standing member, said: "These days, going to a regatta also means organising a trailer and a boat. Once upon a time, before we all had private vehicles, you just got yourself there and used the organising club's boats. We reintroduced 'committee boats' for War of the Roses to make it easier for people to attend. We say leave the trailer at home and come on the train. We're only a ten minute walk from Saltaire station."
Perhaps the most eagerly awaited part of the day was the post race Bradford kebab and curry feast washed down with local real ales from the club bar. "Arif at the Silver Grill in Manningham did us proud again with the cooking," said Richard Philips, Bradford's President. "Seventy portions of his masala fish and chicken bhoti disappeared before I even managed to get any!"
The finale race, The War of the Roses, was a 500 metre sprint between eights carrying the white rose of Yorkshire and the red rose of Lancashire. Competitors were drawn from flagons into which they had tossed their entry tokens. Some surprising allegiances were uncovered, namely a few long term Yorkshire club stalwarts revealing a childhood allegiance to the red county and vice versa.
This year Lancashire won again. So that's Reds 2, Whites 0. Come on Tykes! We can't let them get away with this in 2010.
Report from Bob Cannell