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'My goal is to change the stigma that is still attached to rowing'

He is a member of Scottish rowing royalty and now works in a rarified atmosphere but, in bidding to help rid his sport of its elitist image, Andy Barton is making a fine start by properly acknowledging the issue.

Andy Barton is aiming get more people involved in the University of Glasgow rowing team, pictured training above, and try to match the infrastructure that is already in place in Aberdeen
Andy Barton is aiming get more people involved in the University of Glasgow rowing team, pictured training above, and try to match the infrastructure that is already in place in Aberdeen

Appointed at the start of this academic year as the first director of rowing at the University of Glasgow, the 25-year-old was born to be an oarsman. Mum Karen (nee O'Neill) represented Scotland the last time rowing was part of the Commonwealth Games, at Edinburgh in 1986, when his dad Peter was her coach.

Consequently it was pretty much inevitable that he would be press-ganged onto the water as a youngster and while he claims that was the case he is clearly grateful for the opportunities provided.

"I didn't want to do it to begin with. I hated it because I was forced to do it," Barton protests.

"My memories between 10 and 14 are of going out in a coxed quad. My younger brother James would sit and steer, mum would sit in the front, dad would be in the back and me and my older brother Joseph would be in the middle.

"Eventually, just by keeping doing it and doing it I found some success and it's the kind of sport where you catch a bug. By the time I went to university I'd raced for Scotland and been British under-18 champion in the coxless four."

After four months out while he had a spell working in the US he was unable to rediscover the drive required to continue working at the top level.

"Having done it for 12 years I just didn't have the passion to continue training to that extent," he admits.

That was three years ago and having followed mum into the national team he then followed in his father's footsteps by entering the world of coaching, picking up part-time work with Scottish Rowing before taking the chance to work full-time as a coach in South Africa.

He was enjoying success there but was hankering for home when the University of Glasgow job came up and having earned his own degree there, it was too good an opportunity to turn down.

In terms of the most obvious reason for his appointment, the business end of the season gets underway with the Scottish Universities Championship at Strathclyde Park this weekend followed by the British Universities Championship a week later.

Everything culminates with the Scottish Boat Race between Glasgow and Edinburgh on May 24, reckoned to be the third oldest university boat race in the world, predated only by the Oxbridge event and the Yale-Harvard fixture.

That roll call in turn helps explain why, proud as he is of his alma mater, the lad raised in Hamilton acknowledges that without his particular family background he might never have had the chance to get involved in this sport.

"There is still that stigma attached to rowing and my goal is to change that," he said.

To that end, while very much a product of Glasgow rowing, he is magnanimous enough to acknowledge that the example of best practice lies on the other side of the country.

"If you're at a secondary school in Aberdeen they run a programme in which in first year you must do a session on the rowing machine as part of your PE curriculum," he explains. "If you like it - and it doesn't matter whether you're good or bad - you can do a 'learn to row' course and once you've done that you can join the club.

"Aberdeen have had a really successful last couple of years with people rowing at junior world championships and under-23 world championships. The people doing that weren't necessarily the good ones when they started, they just really enjoyed the sport and developed themselves.

"That's starting to happen around the country, but Aberdeen is showing the way."

He reckons Aberdeen has an advantage in that regard in having a more compact set-up.

"There are other clubs in Glasgow and the surrounding area that like having school-kids at the club.

"Rightly so, because it helps with membership and they like having people all the way through, but it's not as joined up in Glasgow or Edinburgh as in Aberdeen where there's only one senior rowing club, the two Universities and school club so it's really quite easy in Aberdeen. I don't know how feasible it is to run the same system in Glasgow."

What is feasible, though, is for all involved to create an environment that feels all-inclusive and that is Barton's own main objective.

"At the start of this year we had 45 girls and 35 guys - over half our membership - completely new to the sport," he pointed out.

"I'm not necessarily looking for really talented people or for people who are just interested in the social side, it's more of a rounded approach. We've managed to retain a huge number of novice rowers this year because we haven't shut the door on certain sides of it.

"This is an opportunity to develop not just a club, but one which holds personal significance for me.

"The goal from a rough perspective is to get people to the team, but my personal goal is to develop someone who has never touched an oar to be on the team in four years.

"That's the dream I have."

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