If, like the vast majority of the Oxford student population, the annual Boat Race for you means an excuse to have a party, get drunk and rant about Cambridge, read on. If you are from the rare breed of student who actually gives a shit about the rowing, read on anyway – it only lasts 20 minutes. And don’t spend the day talking about it.
Before I tell you where to go to get pissed, let me give you some cultural background to this seminal event in the social calendar. It’s all frightfully Oxford. In 1829, Charles Merivale of St John’s, Cambridge, challenged his Old Harrovian chum, Charles Wordsworth of Christchurch, Oxford, to a boat race at Henley-on-Thames (and was, happily, thrashed). Today, the race still begins with the President of the previous year’s losers challenging his counterpart (kudos to the first President who suggests they all just go down the pub instead). Things have changed a bit since the days when the boat race was some sort of aquatic gentleman’s duel. You don’t have to have attended public school to participate… Besides, they even let women race now – and on equal terms to men as of, errr, 2015…
But don’t let the classism, elitism and patriarchy that birthed the Boat Race ruin your quiet pint on the river bank. Sit back, relax and hold onto your straw boater as you sink into the social cache of this quintessentially British tradition.
Need to know:
When: Sunday 27th March, Women @ 3:10pm, Men @ 4:10pm. It’s ideal, really. You can fit in a morning of drinking, have lunch and a snooze, watch the races with passably-butter-knife-if-not-razor- sharp vision, then get immediately back on it c.4:30pm.
Top Five Pubs: Even if you’ve set up camp on the river bank, or are fortunate enough to be at a house party, it’s definitely worth venturing out to some of these places just to soak up the atmosphere. Most have Boat Race parties and events happening throughout the day, though note they will all be packed:
- The Duke’s Head – 8 Lower Richmond Road, Putney, SW15 1JN. Right at the beginning of the race – watch the coin toss and cheer them off at the start.
- The Crabtree – Rainville Road, Fulham, W6 9HA. Approx 1.5 miles in, you can see a substantial stretch of the course.
- The Rutland Arms – 15 Lower Mall, Hammersmith, W6 9DJ. Great view of the race around the midway point and proximate to Hammersmith Bridge – definitely worth the trip in you’re in the area and vertical.
- The White Hart – The Terrace, Riverside, Barnes, SW13 0NR. Riverside views for the final quarter of the race – perfect if you want to be in the thick of the action.
- The Ship – 10 Thames Bank, Mortlake, SW14 7QR. Fantastic view of the final stretch and the bend after Barnes Bridge. You’ll be right in the centre of all the emotion at the finish line.
How to enjoy the Boat Race:
- Wear stash. Lots. Of all the hundreds of thousands watching on the riverbank, and the millions more on TV, you have an intellectual right to be invested in this (clever-clogs). So be obnoxious. Cheer with all the smugness of a Man U fan actually from Manchester.
- Take some time to appreciate that you’re not actually in the boat. The rowers train six hours a day, six days a week for six months. Social lives end, bodies break; degrees go to shit. Take a nice long drag on your cigarette and congratulate yourself on not falling prey to that bizarre cult of flagellants that is student rowers – heresies practised include drinking bans and 5am starts.
- Don’t bet on the Boat Race. It’s not worth it. Cambridge Men are odds-on favourites at 8/11, and even if you’re (rightly) 100% certain that Oxford Men will win, the odds are only 11/10. In the women’s race, Oxford are odds-on favourites at 4/9, and though Cambridge women have the best odds at 7/4, placing such a bet would raise fundamental questions about your soul. So save it for the National.
- Grasp what’s at stake and embrace the hype. This is win or lose; glory or despair. There are no runners-up prizes and no draws in the Boat Race. (Well, apart from once in 1877 – but the Judge was both merry and blind in one eye). Moreover, the results currently stand at 81 wins to Cambridge and 79 to Oxford, so it really is a crucial race for closing in on Cambridge.