The first Sunday of this April saw The Boat Race return to the Championship Course (Putney to Mortlake), after two long years. Delightfully, we saw almost pre-COVID era crowds come out to watch the race which was first held on the River Thames in 1836. However, the 167th Boat Race may be one of the last on its traditional course, according to new plans by Fulham FC to build an 80m pier as part of their Riverside Development.
The pier idea was first put forward in August 2021 and a post on their website details “it is intended that a pier is created” to “connect the Riverside Stand development to central London.”
“The proposal is that the river bus service from the Riverside Stand will form part of the existing network of river bus services operating along the Thames, providing river access for leisure and commuter use to other parts of London as an alternative to road and rail services.”
However, this has been met with extreme backlash from the local community, on the basis this would completely prevent any water sports on this stretch of river – threatening many schools and clubs, including our own Imperial Boat Club. On race day, many of the boat clubs and pubs along the river encouraged people to sign a petition to “keep this stretch of water focused on recreation, not commercial exploitation”.
Putney’s MP, Fleur Anderson, has also been strongly against the development saying it would make it “impossible and unsafe for schools and clubs to continue sport on that stretch of the river”.
This is not the first time some of these boat clubs have been forced to move from the river. Westminster School Boat Club, reportedly the oldest boat club in the world, with official records beginning in 1813 with the names of the boys who manned a six-oared boat called ‘The Fly’, was originally based near the school in Westminster but is now a neighbour of our boat club. Since then Putney has become a thriving centre for water sports on the river and has over a century of its own traditions. Imperial College Boat Club itself was founded on the embankment in 1919 and is now one of Imperial’s biggest and most successful sport societies, with the top Women’s 4 winning the Henley Women’s Regatta last year.
That’s not to say the football club hasn’t had a long history in the area. Originally bought by Fulham in 1894, Craven Cottage held its first match in October 1896. The grounds themselves have been upgraded many times since then, but both the club and grounds have never had any involvement with the river.
The first part of their current redevelopment received planning permission from the council as well as the Port of London Authority and the Marine Management Organisation in 2017. This saw the reconstruction and extension of riverside stands by nine meters into the Thames. They paid handsomely to do so, and so apparently, the short answer to the question, “can you buy part of the river Thames?”, is yes. Original plans saw many people and local clubs concerned about the precedent being set of allowing corporations to buy part of the Thames and fears over the club’s encroachment into the river being a slippery slope.
Thus, many people were unsurprised when plans, pictures and a website for a new pier and pontoon service were released via Fulham FC’s website, despite the original report referring to ‘minimising encroachment’ no less than four times in their Planning Application Planning Summary.
In response to an article by the Daily Mail, a Fulham FC spokesperson, said in contradiction to their website, ‘’For clarity, there is no proposal to extend a pontoon 80 metres across the Thames (nor has there ever been) and there is absolutely no risk whatsoever to the boat race.’’
‘’Fulham’s design would, in addition to creating substantial and obvious benefits to the local community, focus on providing a wonderful viewing platform which would enhance the boat race atmosphere, experience and accessibility.’’
However, in order for the race to go ahead this year safety buoys surrounding the construction of the first part of the riverside development (the nine-metre extension) had to be removed so there would be enough space on this already narrow part of the river.
There is an existing pier within sight of the football club, that is currently serviced by Uber Boats. The benefit of a new pier to ferry the fans of a single club seems minimal and unrealistic, especially given the price difference in fares.
Single Adult Fare on Uber Boat: £13.50 for all zones; £8.70 for Central to West
Single Adult Tube Fare zone 1-6: Peak £5.10, Off Peak £3.10
What is certain is the incompatibility of rowing and Thames Clippers, especially on a stretch of river used to introduce a lot of children to the sport.
The use of their engines while arriving and leaving causes wash severe enough to force experienced rowers to stop or risk serious damage to their equipment, which demonstrates the problems the launches can cause even when stationary. Still collisions, unfortunately, are more than possible and potentially fatal.
In 2009, a crew of men training to row across the Channel were hit and sliced in half by 220 passenger Hurricane Clipper Ferry. In the original article by the Evening Standard, Jock Wishart, the organiser of the London to Paris Challenge, said: “This was an accident waiting to happen. The Clippers tend to think a bit that they have the river to themselves.”
On Fulham FC’s website they claim, “the Riverside development will be a location like no other, a real game-changer for Fulham Football Club, our neighbourhood, and all of London.” - A quote by their owner Shahid Khan, an American billionaire, who has never lived in London or the United Kingdom.