School friends to row Atlantic

Life long Ipswich Town supporter James Croome and Norwich City fan Oliver Back will have to put their clubs' history to one side when they take part in a gruelling ocean challenge.

Craig Robinson

AS every football fan knows there is little love lost between Ipswich Town and Norwich City.

But life long Blues supporter James Croome and Canary Oliver Back will have to put their clubs' history to one side when they take part in a gruelling ocean challenge.

The 25-year-olds have given themselves a target of 55 days to complete the 3,000 mile Woodvale Atlantic Rowing Race - the equivalent of them each rowing a marathon a day.

And thousands of miles from home, with endless ocean all around the last thing they want is to fall out over derby day rivalry.

But the pair - who have been friends since school - are confident their teams' varying fortunes will not get in the way of their success.

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“We have been best of mates since we were at school and lived with each other throughout university,” Mr Croome said. “There's always been a bit of healthy banter.”

Mr Back, who is from Oulton Broad, Lowestoft, added: “It's all very friendly. Unfortunately James has had a few more bragging rights of late but hopefully that will change.”

The friends decided to take part after Mr Back's girlfriend's brother completed the challenge as part of a four man team.

“There's a bit of one-up-man-ship about it,” Mr Croome said. “We thought that if they can do it with four - we'd give it a go with two. We've always wanted to do something adventurous and this seemed a break from the norm. It's a great opportunity to really push ourselves.”

Mr Croome and Mr Back, who met in 1995 at Norwich School, will take it in turns to row shifts - with the other navigating, cooking or cleaning the boat.

The friends, who now both live in London, are training down at Burnham-on-Crouch in Essex and have been hitting the water every weekend - come rain or shine.

Mr Croome, whose parents live near Dereham, said: “We're both quite sporty but prior to this we hadn't done any rowing.

“It's a very steep learning curve. It's exhausting. Your whole body is drained - everything feels like it has been put through the wringer. The last few weeks have been pretty brutal and bitterly cold.”

Mr Back added: “Now that we're actually in the year of the race it's becoming a lot more real. We started planning it in 2007 and it was just something we were going to do sometime in the future. However now it's actually happening. It's very exciting.”

The pair - who are being sponsored by Mr Croome's employers, insurance company QBE - are raising money for East Anglia's Children's Hospices and The Multiple Sclerosis Society.

The challenge starts on December 6 from La Gomera in the Canary Islands and finishes at Nelson's Dockyard English Harbour in Antigua.

N For more information visit www.atlanticrow2009.com.

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