The 1958/59 season – meeting an Olympic gold medalist in Varsity
(text by Clyde Emery, picture by Tom Davis, added by Michael Hofstetter in January 2022 and January 2023)
We were delighted to receive the following article by our alumni Clyde Emery. It would be great if players from this season could add additional material such as photos or team sheets. Update: Tom Davis sent a team picture of this season shortly after. Thanks a lot.
“I was Captain of the Fitzwilliam team. They wanted to make me captain of the University team but I deferred. Those times shortly followed the Suez Canal flare up of 1956 and Americans were resented by “some” in Cambridge. I thought it best to keep a low profile – plus – a British University sports team should have a British captain. I have a large photo of our team and will forward to you if you do not already have it.
I believe we beat Oxford in 1959. Charlie Grimes and I played center for our respective teams. Charlie was big, muscular and I remember feeling like a bowling alley ten pin.
There is a good story about Charlie Grimes; “Choo Choo Charlie”. A Yank who rowed for Yale and was a gold medalist at the 1956 Australian Olympics. Oxford wanted Charlie to row for Oxford, obviously. Oxford in Autumn 1958 had a large and talented squad. It included eleven returning Blues plus Yale oarsmen Reed Rubin and Charlie Grimes, a gold medalist at the 1956 Olympics. Ronnie Howard was elected OUBC President by the College Captains, beating Rubin. In 1958, Howard had rowed in the Isis crew coached by H.R.A. “Jumbo” Edwards, which had frequently beaten the Blue Boat in training.
Howard’s first act was to appoint Edwards as coach. Edwards was a coach with a strong record, but he also imposed strict standards of obedience, behavior and dress on the triallists which many of them found childish. As an example, Grimes withdrew from the squad after Edwards insisted he remove his “locomotive driver’s hat” in training.
With selection for the crew highly competitive, the squad split along the lines of the presidential election. A group of dissidents called a press conference, announcing that they wanted to form a separate crew, led by Rubin and with a different coach. They then wished to race off with Howard’s crew to decide who would face Cambridge.
Faced with this challenge, Ronnie Howard returned to the College Captains and asked for a vote of confidence in his selected crew and the decision not to race off with the Rubin crew. He won the vote decisively and the Cambridge president also declared that his crew would only race the Howard eight.
Three of the dissidents returned and Oxford went on to win by six lengths, see here.
Charlie refused to row without his locomotive driver’s hat. It was the news headlines of the day. Instead Charlie joined the Oxford Basketball team – and that is how I met Charlie.