Meet your Umpires Antony Reynolds and Matt Smith who will be able to call on a wealth of Championship Course experience when umpiring the 168th Men’s Boat Race and 77th Women’s Boat Race on Sunday (March 26).
Reynolds, an ex-Cambridge Blue will be umpiring the men’s race for the first time, having previously overseen the women’s reserve Osiris-Blondie race in 2020 and 2022, and the men’s Isis-Goldie race in 2021. It will extend a long association with the Boat Race that stretches back to childhood. A three-time victorious Oxford Blue, Matt Smith took part in some of the most memorable men’s races in the past 25 years.
“When I was younger it meant watching or listening to the race on the BBC,” explains Antony. “My father went to Cambridge and so I/we always supported Cambridge. It was one of those things as a family we did together. Once I started rowing, I was more interested in the race and when I was training at Leander or in the GB lightweight squad it was a chance to race and try to beat either club. Those fixtures were always hard but good fun.”
Antony arrived at Cambridge to study for a PGCE at Pembroke College in 1983. “When I had the opportunity to study at Cambridge for a year, I was determined to make the Blue Boat, which I fortunately did,” he says. “Now the race had real meaning.“Two terms of training with the hope and desire to beat Oxford. My race, 1984, we didn’t do it.”
He was in the bow seat, but the victory went to Oxford, by three-and-three-quarter lengths. However, he was now a member of CUBC. “Every year afterwards, I hope we do win,” he says. “Now I realise that in the age of professional sport, this is one of the remaining events that is televised where athletes are not being paid to take part. They are doing it because of the race and its traditions and by racing become part of that tradition.”
It was through racing, and then coaching internationally, that Antony decided to take up umpiring. He had been looking for other ways to be part of the sport, and it was through a discussion over good umpiring that the thoughts were crystalised. “I mentioned a race I had been in,” explains Antony. “Another crew came into our lane in the last 250m of the race. There was interference and we put our hands up at the end of the race to object. The umpire, after checking the result, told us to put our hands down as we had won. Had we not won, the other crew would have been disqualified. That was the right decision and I have always tried to emulate that umpire.”
That will be to the fore on Sunday, where Tony will be hoping to be as small a part of the race narrative as possible.
After winning as a first-year undergraduate at St Catherine’s College in 2000, Matt Smith was in the stroke seat in the controversial restart in 2001 as Oxford were defeated. “There was some very difficult umpiring, a restart and I still believe that the race shouldn’t have been stopped – and I think that would probably be the view of most umpires today – and we should have rowed away and won,” explains Matt.
He had the same seat as the Dark Blues became the first crew in 50 years to come from behind at Barnes Bridge to win and set the pace again in the ‘closest race in history’ as Oxford won by a foot. “I think it stands you in good stead,” explains Matt. “I think it gives me a real sense of the importance of the umpire, the seriousness of which you need to take the role and, also, how the race can evolve quite quickly. Hopefully, it gives me a perspective but as does the distance from actually doing the race. It’s been 20 years and that is a good amount of distance from actually being involved in the emotion of the race to be able to have perspective on the whole situation.”
Matt was initially asked about becoming an umpire by Oxford University Boat Club. The Boat Race is usually umpired by an ‘old Blue’ with an ex-Oxford and an ex-Cambridge umpire alternating year-on-year, with the selection made from an Umpires’ Panel composed of umpires from each university. He admits that it was a privilege to be asked, but it needed some consideration.
“I thought about it quite long and hard,” says Matt. “I spoke to my brother (Ben), who I rowed against when he rowed for Cambridge, and his view was that there was no upside in this role – if it goes well, you’re not going to get praised but if it goes badly it’s pretty awful. On balance, I thought I could do a job and it’s great to be involved in the race. I think the umpiring role is really important in this race, and so it’s a role I take very seriously.
“I think it will be fantastic to be involved in the race and will bring back some memories no doubt of sitting on the start line and going down the course.”
Matt is under no illusions about the pressure that he will feel on the day, much of it self imposed, and has been putting in lots of practice and preparation for the role. But he hopes that it will ultimately be a quiet day on the Thames when considering the ideal scenario.
“Two crews to go down the course and respond to my warnings,” he says, “and a good, clean race.”
He adds: “I want my life to be as easy as possible, and for the crews to do themselves justice.
Find the whole umpire line up here.