From Fun Fair to Fan Fare

Posted on: 11th January, 2017 by Andrew Wilson

I began my rowing career more out of need than desire, but then I was only 8 years old. My eldest brother saw me as a likely cox for his club and probably thought that it might divert my attention from annoying neighbours by being a budding pyromaniac and with my mates riding our bikes continuously around the cul-de-sac we lived on, using loose sheets of corrugated steel we "acquired" to go up and down kerbs.  Crash, crash, crash.  So, I was guided down to the rowing clubs in Nottingham to cox around 1971/2.  We were already a rowing mad family and I was another addition.  A brother-in-law and my 3 brothers - we were all bitten by the rowing bug.  To this day, there are currently 10 members of close family involved in rowing either participating or through rowing based businesses.
My first novice coxing pot I won in 1975 at Burton Regatta with one of my brothers on board too.  I even missed the semi-final because I got distracted and lost track of time in the fun fair they used to have at the regatta in those days.  My face must have been a picture when I saw my crew from the top of the helter-skelter winning another round with an adult stand-in in my seat!  Little did I know then, that 10 years later I would be lining up on the start line at the World Championships in the bow seat of a GB lightweight 8+ with the same eldest brother who introduced me to the sport and inspired me through it.
I started sculling at age 12 splashing around under the shadow of Nottingham Forest's City Ground at the height of 70's football hooliganism with the fans' regular Saturday skirmishes with visiting opponents in front of the rowing clubs next to the famous "Trent End". 
I was 16 when I won my first novice sweep rowing pot at York Regatta in 1980.  It's the one win you never forget and arguably the most satisfying.  My crew mates, all in their 20's, promptly celebrated in style with a pub crawl in the centre of York to get some proper use out of our shiny new hard earned pewter tankards.  The end result was on our return to Nottingham, they left me, rather worse for wear, propped up against a lamp post outside the family home in the small hours, whilst they rang the doorbell and scarpered before my irate (and probably worried) parents answered the door.  All good fun in hindsight but explains why that particular tankard looks like it has been excavated from an archeological dig all battered and bruised from a drinking session.
That win was sadly followed by not many more.  I found myself in the trials system as a Junior and a couple of years later straight into Senior Lightweight trials through the newly formed Nottinghamshire County Rowing Association (eldest brother again).  We basically only rowed in top competitions so "pot-hunting" every weekend was out, as was drinking and social excesses.  Unparalleled competitiveness, tough sessions mentally and physically, but always generally jovial and with great comradeship.  A sometimes miserable and unsociable lifestyle at the top but fond memories of travel and events, and rowing friends in just about every corner of the globe.
The GB system is very different now with even greater commitment and sacrifices, but if you are of that ilk and with ambition, I'd urge you to give it a go to test yourself to the absolute limit.  Painful, and sometimes affected by the elements but any successes are very rewarding.  Today, being in the position to offer high performance rowing equipment to the rowing community, I am still heavily involved 40 something years later.
- Andrew Wilson