It was Different in the 1950s

A true amateur team: England women’s rowing team at Macon in 1951. Photo courtesy of Clive Radley.
A true amateur team: England’s women’s eight at Macon in 1951. Photo courtesy of Clive Radley.

17 March 2016

In response to yesterday’s post “Making a Tideway Head Happen: The Chief Marshal’s View” about the ‘unsung heroes’ of the Hammersmith Head of the River, Clive Radley writes:

Yes, at the grass-roots level, soccer, rugby and rowing are all amateur sports, with coaching and launch driving, etc. done by unpaid volunteers.

However, at elite level, rowing is a professional sport like soccer and rugby. It has been since the influx of lottery money. The UK squad are all full-time professionals. Sponsors’ logos appear everywhere.

Allow me to quote from my book The Radleys of the Lea in which I tell the story of a team of women representing England in the eights at the 1951 European championships at Macon in France. Prior to the event the News Chronicle had an article about the England crew in August 1951:

The captain of the England crew Grace Harvey believes they are the first British women’s team of eights to compete abroad. The ages of the eight rowing enthusiasts range from 17 to 30. Three are civil servants, three are office workers, one is an assistant nursery matron, another a bio-chemical technician. They go to Barnes Bridge to train on the Thames three evenings a week and each weekend. And training is strict with a no smoking no drinking and no late nights rule. 

‘We would like our own boats but cannot afford to buy them,’ said Grace Harvey, ‘but we are buying our own uniforms. We are paying part of our fares and some of the team will go to the regatta as part of their summer holiday.’ A boatman commented, ‘I have never seen girls so keen, they are one of the finest teams on the river.’

The article highlights how much GB women’s rowing has changed since then. I cannot see the current GB ladies crew even considering buying their own eight. The 1951 England women’s eight was the first English women’s crew to compete in an international competition. Unlike today’s women rowers who benefit from generous lottery funding, the 1951 eight had to do things on a shoestring budget and with no funding to support training prior to the tournament. 

These days our international crew’s food intake is carefully planned and monitored by the coaching team in an attempt to achieve maximum performance. Looking back to the 1950s, everything seems very amateurish, which is not surprising as they were amateurs. The Football Pools in the 1950s was the equivalent gambling vehicle to the Lottery but didn’t have a fund to support sport! 

It was different in the 1950s.

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