He’s the tracksuit on the touchline who isn’t yelling “No Pens!” or “Work! Work!”
He’s the one who isn’t prowling up and down pitch-side with a thunderous expression when things are not going to plan or we’ve gone for the posts when it should have been the corner. No, RFC First Team Backs Coach Mark Matzopoulos comes across as a cool dude compared to his DOR Boss, Steve Hill, but don’t be fooled – he’s every bit as passionate.
Mark Matz was born in 1978 in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa to a schoolteacher mother with ancestral roots from Shoreditch in London and an accountant Dad of Greek descent. He went to school at Hilton College where ex- Richmond hero Bobby Skinstad preceded him by a couple of years, and he was a typical Saffer boy playing rugby, squash, water polo, cricket and a doing a lot of swimming. Later in our chat he modestly says he was never athletically gifted – though everything is relative, of course.
In 96 he went to Stellenbosch University, subsidised by a rugby bursary, and proved to be no mean academic being awarded a Batchelors, followed by a Masters in Biochemistry. His rugby was played at inside centre and 10 in a team of ‘real good’ players but early in his second year he had a series of concussions, the worst of which left him with a lost three days. Even back then when that kind of injury was taken rather more lightly a neurosurgeon ordered a prolonged break from the game.
What to do?
Coaching provided the answer, initially with a social side at his university residence, then with Stellenbosch, one of the biggest clubs in the world with 40 plus teams. Though there were no formal coaching courses in South Africa at the time, his ability to read a game proved invaluable and he thrived.
He came to the UK in 2005 to stay with his sister and play rugby with a bunch of other Saffers at Old Wimbledonians, and when a mate joined RFC he came along. The then Head Coach Brett Taylor needed a third team coach for the Saxons and they won their league in the first season in 2007 and were promoted. When Taylor was leaving and his departure was being negotiated with London Scottish the pre-season training camp in Jersey was in some confusion and Mark stepped in at short notice to organise things and maintain player spirit in difficult circumstances, something which was much appreciated.
By this time he had a career as a Clinical Research Assistant, but took a break to return to South Africa to spend some time coaching rugby at Paarl Gymnasium School.
A call from Taylor’s successor at RFC, Geoff Richards, made the offer of Forwards Coach to replace Buster White, who had moved on, so he returned, also taking a job as Project Manager for Clinical Trials at a pharmaceutical company. He did his Level 1 and 2 coaching courses and new boss Steve Hill kept him on as Skills Coach when he arrived at Richmond.
Obviously it was an active period for Mark because he met his wife, Rachael - a Lancastrienne Company Secretary, about then, even though it took him 6 months to get a date. They married in 2013, and around that time he joined Eli Lilley, his current employer. He became a UK citizen in 2015.
He was appointed the Vikings Backs Coach, and when in 2011 we were promoted to Nat 1 he replaced James Brooks as Backs Coach for the Firsts. He says “Steve took a massive punt on me.” He’d done his Level 3 a couple of years back and now helps out with Quins junior academy and London and South East under 20s. He’d like to do his Level 4 but it’s not easy to get a place on the course, apparently. Asked about his own aspirations in the game he says it’s the dream of any coach to make it the ‘Day Job’ but he’s a realist.
Talking to him about coaching philosophy he’s very strong on the importance of good defence. “To have a good attack you need a good defence”. He’s very upbeat about the current team, and aren’t we all, saying there’s an infectious buzz about recent performances, whilst pointing out that our relative lack of injuries this season has been a big bonus. He’d like to be a top 3 club every year (which league?) and says all-weather pitches are the way forward – JD does a great job in tricky circumstances but it’s frustrating not to have full access at all times.
As you’d expect he’s full of praise for his players and his colleagues, and puts much of the success we’ve had thus far this season down to camaraderie and all wanting to be part of the club. It’s called The Richmond Way, Mark, as you well know. He illustrates it by saying “There’ve been games up in the wet and windy North when we’ve been spanked by a couple of dozen points and if you’d seen us rolling into Kings Cross that night you’d swear we’d just won the World Cup”. Priceless. It doesn’t matter where you are in the order of things you just can’t beat that kind of attitude and long may we have it.
Paul Grindrod 16/1/16.