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Winning isn't Everything 8 May 2015 (Eynsham Shirt Race) Village newbie Lucy Gibbs sits down for a beer and a chat about Eynsham Shirt Race with Alan Craft.

Village newbie Lucy Gibbs sits down for a beer and a chat with Alan Craft to find out about Eynsham Shirt Race which kicks off Carnival day on 4 July and is one of Eynsham’s most entertaining and best loved traditions.

If, like me, you have never even heard of a shirt race here’s how it basically works. Teams of two dressed in a costume of their choice compete in a race round the seven pubs in the middle of Eynsham. One of the pair gets to ride in a pram-like contraption; the other gets to push. To even things up, at each pub the pair swap places, and the pusher recovers with a quick half pint.

According to Alan, who will be taking part in his 33rd race this year, “The event is even better than Christmas. Spectators have a good laugh, pubs sell loads of beer, and everyone is happy.” Shirt Race really does sounds like fun, but what would I go as?

Luckily Alan has lots of photos on his phone of entrants from previous years and we spend a fun few minutes scrolling through images of; Thomas the Tank Engine chugging down Acre End Street, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang speeding past the Co-op and Thunderbird 2 touching down outside the Queen’s Head. “Clearly,” I say to Alan, “a great costume is vital, so what are you going as this year?” I wait, but Alan says nothing. Perhaps Alan hasn’t heard me or maybe he’s annoyed because I’ve scoffed all the crisps. I try again. “Your costume Alan, what is it?” Again nothing. Eventually (and in a very slow voice) Alan explains that the golden rule of Shirt Race is that costume and vehicle design remain an absolute secret until race day. Pleading will do you no favours, and neither will snooping. “So”, warns Alan, “definitely no peeking through your neighbour’s shed window.” 

In one of the photos I recognize Alan. He’s pushing his team-mate through the village, both of them clad in cotton wool and grinning from ear to ear. “That’s me and my dad”, he says. I love getting my family involved. This year I’m competing with my sister. My daughters are old enough now (the minimum age is 18) and my nephew will be in seven years’ time. I want to take part with all of them. If we come first or last, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a great experience.”

Taking part would be fun, but this year I’ll stick to being one of the many volunteers needed to support this remarkable Eynsham tradition. Alan reckons ESR can never have too many helpers on the day, especially people who could help with marshalling the event. It’s a fantastic opportunity for a front row seat to the race and the parade. If you’re interested you can email esr@eynsham.net or pop into Evenlode DIY for a word with Trish or text 07986 099173. And keep up to date on Facebook.

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