Interview with Matt Nowicki - June 2004

Age 25
Born Ashington, Northumberland, resides Edinburgh.
University of Newcastle upon Tyne / Medicinal Chemistry (MChem) / 1997 - 2001
University of Edinburgh / PhD in Medicinal Chemistry / 2001 - present

Matt, thank you for agreeing to be interviewed. How are you shooting at the moment?

Quite well I think. Only shot a few competitions outdoors, but the scores are heading in the right direction.

Looking forward to BUSA Outdoors?

Haven't really thought too much about it, but no doubt I will be closer to the time.

Let's go back to the beginning. Where did you start archery?

That was in my second year Newcastle Uni, thanks to a friend of mine, James Milburn.

Your archery at Newcastle began in 1999. Describe the state of health of the club at that time, members, facilities etc. and your role in it.

Whilst I did start shooting in February '99, it was on and off for about a year. The club was very active (thanks to the enthusiasm of Jared Thornton) and seemed to have a healthy membership. This only lasted until about October, when the sports hall's roof fell down, leaving us with nowhere to shoot indoors (on uni premises) for about a year. I didn't shoot again for months (not having any equipment n'all) before being coaxed back by Isla Lillie. and Tom Davis and ending up as Club President by August 2000.

Yourself, Isla Lillie and Jared Thornton were the basis of a good Newcastle side, most notable in the 2000/2001 season when Newcastle finished 7th at BUSA Indoors and 10th Outdoors.

Yes, that was the year we held it and was a bit of a nightmare. With 48 hours to go, we still didn't know whether we could accommodate everyone. 7th I guess wasn't bad, but none of us shot very well. A little disappointed at the time, could have done better.... a phrase that many an archery will use!

You left Newcastle to go to Edinburgh to begin your PhD in 2001, what is your PhD about?

In short, making drugs. In the not-so-short version, the development of lead compounds for trypanocidal drugs based on inhibitors targeted against parasite glycolysis.... would you like me to continue?

You kept in quite close touch with members there. What happened in between your departure and Newcastle's late withdrawal from NEUAL in 2002.

As I understand, the club started to suffer, especially in numbers and enthusiasm. The few members that were left were under pressure to recruit in order to justify their booking times etc... Eventually, with the Sports Union taking away their facilities (both indoors and out) the club (the few members that were left) was forced to disband.

Northumbria have now also disappeared, which leaves Durham the only university club in the entire North East of England. NEUAL has now re-designated its E to stand for England and not East. The closures must have made you angry. Do you know what was driving the actions of either Sports Union?

I hadn't realised that Northumbria had gone the same way, nor do I know anything about their closure, but I suspect it will be a similar case to that of Newcastle. It is always sad when clubs disappear, and if you'd have asked me about this two years ago, the reply would have been somewhat more emotional and damning. Taking the case at Newcastle, the Sports Union's view was that the archery club underused their allocation of time in the sports hall. This time could be reallocated to clubs/individuals who would use it. With the archery club having so few in number, there would also be a greater satisfaction factor by allocating this time elsewhere. Now, whilst I do not agree with this action, I can understand the decision. What other support the Sports Union offered I am unsure of, but I suspect very little. The problem that the newer university clubs face, is that if there is not a big drive to recruit in the first 3 years, the club will fold after 6, if not sooner, as in the case of Northumbria. Smaller and depleting clubs also face a similar problem unless they have a sympathetic S.U. I could ramble on about this topic, but will leave it there, as I suspect I'll we'll touch upon it later on!!

As an experienced archer you must have been delighted with the material facilities available at Edinburgh?

For me personally it was a bonus shooting in the now infamous Edinburgh range.

At Edinburgh you've picked up many medals both team and individual. In 2003 where you picked up a (so-far) unique treble, picking up team winners medals for all three national university tournaments: BUSA Indoors, BUTC and BUSA Outdoors. How do these team wins compare with one another.

It is difficult to compare BUSA with BUTC. I enter the BUSA competitions as an individual, knowing that if I perform to the standard I expect I'll also have performed well for the team. Two 4th places at these competitions were slightly disappointing even though I shot well and Edinburgh won the team golds. No, the highlight for me last year was the BUTC win. It was a competition and format that, like many, I had never experienced before. Although it was the most nerve-wracking thing I've done, myself Alisatir [Whittingham] and Martin [Russell] shot well and performed for each other. It really was a great day. (Although you're not going to believe this, our practises running up to the event were hopeless. We couldn't shoot for toffee, scores were very low and none of us were particularly looking forward to 'competition day'!)

What do you make of Edinburgh's crop of novices this year?

Outstanding. There isn't much more to say, except to acknowledge the amount of work put in by not only them, but the dedicated people that surround them.

Do you believe in the "Edinburgh effect", where other university teams try too hard to beat Edinburgh and wind up shooting less well than they should?

What?! You mean people actually think they can beat us?!... Only joking. No, I don't think that is necessarily true, but then I have a biased view. At an individual level, maybe, but that is more general.

Edinburgh have been beaten only once outdoors in the last 10 years, by Heriot-Watt at SUSF Outdoors 2002. Can the increased expectation levels be a problem?

Funnily enough there are 2 answers. Firstly, no. Edinburgh this year has such a strong squad (strength and depth, just like Arsenal *spits into a metal spittoon* star players and solid performers), so much so that the healthy rivalry within the club, and the continuing improvements by last year's and present novices will ensure high standard performances whatever the expectation.... and that's without mentioning the club structure and effort put in by those who rarely get acknowledged.

Secondly, yes. Although I can't see this situation arising for at least year or two (and even then, that's only if the work rate within the club decreases), if the depth of the club was to dwindle, Edinburgh may end up in a situation as in 2001/2002 whereby the apparent success of the club would depend on very few people.

Even though you were a beaten finalist, would you agree that York A's win at BUTC 2004 was "good for the game"?

Hopefully it will encourage more teams to support the competition next year. As was shown this year, in head to heads, anything can happen and there is little margin for error. It's also a good experience and people may learn a lot from taking part.

BUSA Outdoors 2004 is coming up. It surprised me to find that you have never won a BUSA individual medal despite four top 10 finishes, including 4th at BUSA Outdoors 2003. Are you shooting well enough to go one better this year?

I most certainly am!..... Well really..... what answer did you expect?!

How does an archer at your level find ways to improve?

If we're talking about an archer at my level then I'd say get a coach and let them worry about it. A tongue-in-cheek answer but probably close to the truth. The rest is a learning curve (with plateaus), finding out what works, making good use of practise and finding out how you can help yourself. That is the tough part and takes time. As for finding a coach, it should be someone with a vast amount of experience and knowledge (would also help if they are of a similar or better standard and was someone who you respect and who's opinion you value). Most importantly, have faith in them. If we're talking about me then.... something akin to the above!

What specific aspect of technique (if any) has brought you most benefit recently and what if anything are you working on a the moment?

Blimey Charlie! I thought you were pushing it with the last question, but you're really testing the 'trade secret' limits this time! In short, I've been concentrating on my concentration. Having discovered a few things I am now working with a different riser.... more to be revealed later.

John Sullivan vacated the post of SUSF Non-Student Co-ordinator this year. Why did you decide to go for it?

I felt it was about time I put something back in to archery, especially archery in Scotland. I am looking forward to the challenge.

Let's first consider SUSF's positives, it is by far the oldest regional league as has official backing from Scottish Uni Sports Federation, a part of BUSA. It has seven universities and an established structure. Scottish Unis beat English Unis at the EuroNations 2003 and informal scores collected from BUSA competitions are routinely decided by a handful of points, despite the vastly greater numbers competing for English Unis.

However, SUSF is the only one of the five regional leagues that does not run a novice team competition in parallel with the senior set-up. Over the last two seasons, outside Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt only a handful of SUSF archers have attended any BUSA competitions - this year St Andrews didn't even send anyone to either SUSF Championship.

How do you assess the overall strength of university archery in Scotland?

I am well aware that the Scottish Universities as a whole are poorly represented at BUSA competitions as well as at open competitions and it is an area that I am eager to address. Plans to change this should hopefully go hand in hand with plans for increasing standards and enthusiasm at all Universities. I would really like to see an increased profile of all Scottish university clubs, and the SUSF league and championships to become something of which all members are proud.

How can you revitalise the SUSF league and what, if any, changes do you propose to make to SUSF league from 2004/05? What changes would you like to see come from the constituent university clubs.

Although it as yet (for me) too early to say, I foresee no changes as such to the actual SUSF league. The changes will come from the universities themselves in as much as I have already mentioned. In order to do this, all universities should prepare for a lot of nagging from me!! I will also appreciate help wherever it is offered (and requested!!).

Those nice fellows in ACME are attempting to put together another University Home Nations match this summer, similar to the one last year concurrently with the senior EuroNations. Whilst there is still no firm date confirmed, it must be flattering to be invited to lead the defence of this trophy.

It goes without saying. I know there are other worthy candidates.

Edinburgh archers are bound to dominate the Scottish Universities team. (Team scores comprise top 6 recurves from 8 and top 4 compounds from 6). Which archers from the other SUSF universities have caught your eye?

All members of all SUSF archery clubs should be aware by now of the competition and the selection criteria (I emailed all club captains and secretaries a few weeks ago now), and I think it would be great if as many people attempted to submit scores as possible. Not only is this the fairest way of selecting the team but it makes sure absolutely nobody is left out who should be considered. It also serves to get as many SUSF archers shooting in open competitions as possible - something which I may have alluded to earlier in being in being a definite plus for SUSF archery. However, if you were to ask me which names I would be expecting scores from I would say Lorna Proven (HWUAC, LR), Brian Marr (RGU, GR) and Ronnie Taylor (RGU, GC). Also, if Hugh Thomson [ex?Aberdeen] is still shooting it would be interesting to see how he's doing.

Keith Conlan, who is the organiser of the university league in the Republic of Ireland recently got in touch with me and it now seems possible that an Irish Universities team might also be present at this match. What sort of positives will be derived from the University Home Nations Match?

I think that this is a great event and hopefully will become more prestigious as the years go on, and turn into an event that people want to take part in - team selection being something for all archers to aspire to. It is also great to hear that the Irish Universities maybe represented.

You've also been busy away from the university circuit. Presumably the highlight of this season was Edinburgh Uni winning British Open Championship recurve team trophy 2004 with Tim Mundon, Claudine Jennings and Becky Gridley. How was the competition for you?

Terrible. I didn't shoot very well and my score capped off a personally pretty unsuccessful indoor season. However, winning the British Champs with the team was obviously a bonus, so I wasn't wallowing in misery for long.

How are student archers received at competitions like the British Champs and the EuroNations?

Just like any other archer. It's nice to build up relationships with people up and down the country, whatever walk of life they may be from.

What do you think are the major advances made by student archery in your time as a student archer and what do you see as the next steps?

It's difficult to say what advances have been made as I see student archery as something that is growing and maturing year by year, and hasn't yet settled, meaning advances are made all the time. Student archery is massive and should have a more than worthy place in the archery community. People outside of student archery may think or feel differently so it would be nice to have more support and recognition from BUSA as well as from GNAS (not to mention all the individual sports unions).

You are coming up to the end of PhD now. What are you plans after you submit?

I am planning on doing a post doc in a similar area, hopefully remaining in Scotland.

The Olympics are in Athens with Alison Williamson (South Bank in 2003), Helen Palmer, Naomi Folkard (Birmingham) and Larry Godfrey representing the UK. Archery starts on Saturday 15th August. Do you think archery will get much telly time? Would you advise novices (and indeed seniors) to watch/record any archery that is shown?

There has been increased publicity of archery on the BBC website thanks to Peter Jones, I believe. However, I don't think that will mean archery will be shown as a priority sport. The best chance we have of seeing archery on TV is if our guys win medals... then just maybe....

As for watching, it's always nice to watch world class performers.

As for something that will get telly time, Euro 2004 beckons with many great games in the offing. How do you think the tournament will go overall and for your team England?

I'll stick my neck out and say England will reach at least the semis. For me though, I just think Portugal may just prove to be something special.

Matt, thank you very much.

My pleasure, and thank you. Now, where's my pipe and slippers?