But next year’s races will take place without any watching crowds after a combination of factors, including the COVID pandemic, and the closure of Hammersmith Bridge at the halfway mark of the 6800m course, forced the organisers to take radical action.

Instead the races will take place on the River Cam in Ely the training water for generations of Boat Race hopefuls. The flat, featureless landscape will allow a straight race over 5000m, free of the variable conditions caused by tides and the sweeping bends that mark the traditional course.

The pandemic and UK lockdown forced the cancellation of the 2020 Boat Races, but the subsequent closure of Hammersmith Bridge, in imminent danger of collapse, left organisers with a major headache. One option was to move the course upriver to avoid the bridge, but that would have meant an unfair course, with no opportunity to boat from the usual facilities because of the risks of infection.

“Organising sport safely and responsibly is our highest priority and moving The Boat Race to Ely in 2021 enables the event to go ahead in a secure environment,” said George Gilbert, Chair of Boat Race Company Limited Race and Operations Committee.

The change in venue marks a return to Ely for the first time since a series of unofficial races took place there during the Second World War.

So that the Oxford crews will not be disadvantaged by racing on the opposition’s home water, plans have been made to allow both squads to train out of the Cambridge University boathouse, situated a short way upstream from the course itself.

On race day next April, crowds will be encouraged to watch the action on television after the BBC confirmed that they would cover the event as usual.

Copy thanks to Robert Treharne Jones