It is difficult to think of a bigger character in recent Boat Race history than Acer Nethercott.
This year marks not just the 20-year anniversary of the ‘closest Boat Race of all-time’, but also 10 years since the passing of the Oxford cox who steered them to success on that day.
Acer was a two-time victorious Blue with the men’s crew, helping them to success on that memorable day in 2003 and then again in 2005, while he also guided the women’s boat to victory in 2000.
The University College student went on to steer Team GB men’s eight to silver at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, but passed away at the age of 35 in 2013 following a two-year battle against brain cancer.
Acer first came into the wider public consciousness in the 2003 Boat Race through steering the Dark Blues to success in the epic contest.
“Acer did what he did best in this race,” says Robin Bourne-Taylor, who was in the No 5 seat.
“He prepared more diligently than any other and he delivered precisely on that, with a burning heart and fierce passion.
“Without Acer on the day we would not have won. Without Acer for what he brought to the team over the whole year, we would have taken a hiding.”
Matt Smith, who will umpire this year’s Women’s Boat Race, sat in the stroke seat alongside Acer in the Oxford Blue boat in 2003, forming part of a strong unit in the stern of the crew with Henry Morris, who was at No 7.
“Acer was a pretty special individual and was key to delivering the victory,” says Matt. “I think he is a hugely influential figure in the history of the club, and that is personified by the fact that the sports stadium at Oxford is now the Acer Nethercott Sports Hall.
“It is not every day that a State school-educated guy from Harlow goes on to be so influential in an elite rowing club, and an elite sports club, and to achieve such amazing academics.
“The guy passed his PhD without comment in physics and philosophy, which is almost unheard of.
“In his eulogy, Scott (Frandsen, a Canadian international rower who was in the No 4 seat of Oxford’s 2003 crew) explained that it meant he handed in thousands of words on an extremely complicated subject and the tutor just came back and said, ‘That’s fine, I have no comment’. It’s pretty cool.”
While reflecting on the legacy of Acer on OUBC, Matt explained that it was also one of never giving up.
After Acer had been informed that the cancer had returned and there was not much the doctors could do, he was informed that the best thing was to go and enjoy himself. A few days later, Acer, Robin, Matt, Sam McLennan (No 3 seat) and John Adams (bow man), also from the 2003 boat, and members of the reserve Isis crew went on a cycling trip.
“We cycled from Geneva to Nice over the biggest mountain climbs in the Alps,” explains Matt.
“One particular day, we had already done 150km over some huge climbs and were cycling up the Galibier, which is renowned as one of the big mountains in the Alps.
“It was pouring with rain, it was cold and wet, and I cycled up alongside Acer, and he just said, ‘palm trees, Smithy, palm trees’. The attitude and outlook he had on life was hugely positive and it’s a privilege to have known him, an absolute privilege.”
Robin adds: “Acer embodies the OUBC in all that is epic, courageous, hilarious, loyal, fiercely smart and caring.
“His soul seeps through every brick in the boat house and his race calls echo through the generations. He lived and breathed the Club and his example stands for all who come to aspire to. Acer is dearly missed.”