Mr Smith by Sir Steve Redgrave

Times Educational Supplement, April 25, 2014 | Go to article overview

Mr Smith by Sir Steve Redgrave


The most successful rower in Olympic history remembers the man who introduced him to the sport

If it weren't for Francis Smith, I might have been a rugby player. Despite growing up in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, a town known for its rowing club, I never considered rowing; it seemed to be very much a private school sport, and I was more interested in rugby.

Mr Smith was head of the English department at my local state secondary, Great Marlow School, as well as being my form tutor and the person who introduced me to rowing.

We weren't a big rowing school, but Mr Smith was captain of Marlow Rowing Club and very enthusiastic. He asked a few of us to join the school rowing club.

In my year, 12 of us tried it; within three weeks just four of us were left. But we loved it: we thought it was great fun doing it once a week in games lessons and soon we were going down to the river almost every day after school. Mr Smith made it fun and engaging.

I had two relationships with Mr Smith, however. One was coach-to-athlete, which was outside school and in which I called him Francis. Then there was the relationship in school, which was very different. Within school, Mr Smith was a strict teacher who was able to control a classroom really well.

One year, our form room was in the old science block, with high benches and tall, heavy stools. If there was any misbehaviour during form time, he would make you kneel in front of the class and hold those stools up. If you were classed as quite tough and disruptive, that brought you down to size quickly.

But I didn't rebel or become a troublemaker - I was a goody-goody.

Mr Smith was someone you had to respect, but he still communicated well with the students and had a very dry sense of humour. He was able to get across English literature, which I would class as a boring subject, in a manner that everyone could engage with. …

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