Mike Sweeney

I went to the Becket School, a Roman Catholic Grammar School by the River Trent in Nottingham. In my third year in the 6th Form two happy events occurred –I gained a place at St. John’s College and I learnt how to scull.

In my first term in 1963 I won the University Freshman’s Sculls and a year later I won the Colquhoun Sculls. I then ended up stroking the 1965 Blue Boat, sadly only winning a silver medal. I was elected President for the 1966 Race and immediately set about recruiting my team of coaches. In those days there were no professional coaches and the President had to rely on asking college or school coaches or Old Blues to take a two-week period of coaching through to race day.

We were based at the Goldie Boathouse and cared for by our redoubtable boatman, Alf Twinn. We only had eights in the boathouse – we never trained in smaller boats. Our wooden oars had ‘pencil’ blades. Trials during the Michaelmas Term consisted of two or three eights racing from Jesus Lock to Baitsbite Lock each Saturday, followed by a convoy of coaches on bikes. The President and coaches would then retire to Alf ’s cottage for tea and to decide which of the rowers would be dropped and which would continue in Trials. There were two Trial VIIIs in 1965 and 20 rowers and two coxes were invited back to Goldie the following January. In 1966 I introduced heavy weights into the programme for the first time. Happily, the modern ergometer had not been invented!

“I have appeared on the front page of every national daily newspaper – being rescued from the Black Buoy along with my crewmates.”

For the first three weeks of January, we trained every weekday afternoon in Cambridge – there were far fewer college crews on the water in the sixties than these days. The following three weeks found us rowing from a pub in Earith before we moved to Ely. For the three weeks training at Ely, we used two racks in the King’s School Ely boathouse, and Alf drove the coaches in Allegro, the CUBC launch.

When we moved to the Tideway, two weeks before the race, we stayed at the RAC Country Club in Epsom. Each morning we ran up to the top of the Downs before breakfast – each evening we would dress for dinner in our ‘icecream’ kit. Each day we were driven into Putney by a large bus for our two outings. Lunch was provided at The Hurlingham Club and we then rested on camp beds until it was time for the afternoon outing.

Disaster struck on the afternoon of the Thursday before the race. We went out at Putney – in pretty dire conditions – to race Imperial College from Putney Bridge to the Mile Post. As we turned just upstream of the Bridge my cox turned ashen –I looked around only to see a black wall of wind and rain bearing down on us at great speed. In moments the waves were breaking over the sides of the boat, we filled with water and we sank. We then drifted broadside across the Black Buoy and the boat was wrecked.

I have appeared on the front page of every national daily newspaper – being rescued from the Black Buoy along with my crewmates. Happily, nobody was injured.

We raced in the Goldie Boat on the Saturday – lost the toss – fought well – still overlapping at Hammersmith Bridge – lost the race. Regardless, a wonderful and memorable experience leaving me Light Blue for ever.

1965 Lost

1966 Lost and President