Gaylife Manchester speaks to the Manchester Village Spartans about their hopes for the future, and their trailblazing past achievements on and off the pitch.
This autumn, England will host the Rugby World Cup and whether you like it or not, come September, we won’t be able to escape as “Rugby Fever” grips the nation; and Manchester will be no exception! The city’s Etihad Stadium will host the only England game to be played outside of England Rugby’s HQ, Twickenham.
One team hoping to capitalise on popularity of the Rugby World Cup 2015 is Manchester Village Spartans, the North West’s inclusive rugby union team. The team, who celebrate their 16th birthday this year, were set up in 1999 when a group of gay friends decided they wanted to be part of a team where they could be openly gay. However, a lot has changed in the last 16 years, especially within the LGBTQ community and the Spartans are no exception.
One of the better changes in the last decade and a half has been society’s view of gay people. With high-profile sports personalities including Welsh international, Gareth Thomas coming out of the closet and widespread acceptance of gay marriage, many people ask; “do we really need “gay” sports teams?
For the Spartans, the answer to that question is a resounding “yes!” It’s not really about homophobia or even the fear of not being accepted, it’s mostly about playing a sport that you love with a load of guys who really understand you. Some of us have played for “regular” teams and most of those teammates accepted us. But with the Spartans it’s different. From a social perspective, the team spends a lot of time around the Gay Village, with the boys out most weekends after matches to celebrate or down their sorrows. And that’s the main difference essentially, the social aspect. Going out on the gay scene rather than on the straight scene and spending time with people who really get you is so important. It’s that sense of belonging that is one of the reasons gay and inclusive teams around the world are going from strength to strength. But they don’t have just gay players. A good few of their players are straight, some coming to play for the club as it’s their most local team and not realising initially that the team was mainly made up of gay men.
To look at the Spartans on the pitch, you wouldn’t tell them apart from most rugby teams. They play with the same passion and physicality that you’ll see in any rugby game. Rugby players come in a range of shapes and sizes and no matter what your body-shape, there’s a place for most people in a rugby team. With 15 payers, each requiring a stereotypically different physique and skillset, there’s probably a place for you too!
Over the years, the Spartans have gone from strength to strength and last season was their most successful ever.
“2015 has been an amazing year for us. With the help of our coaching and management staff, we have achieved so much more than the targets we set ourselves at the start of the season. Our plan was to achieve league promotion by 2017, which we have done two years ahead of schedule after finishing second in our league. We’ve been really lucky to have attracted some great new players in the last couple of years, as well as developing existing players through our professional coaching which has given us plenty of depth in our first team squad. I remember just a few years ago when we struggled to field 15 players and now we have a really strong squad of around 30 regular first team players, as well as a second team who play regular friendly fixtures. It’s been hard work but well worth the effort!” Says Captain, Dean Bee.
The Spartans will move up in to Division 4 of the North West Intermediate Leagues from next season. But the success doesn’t stop there! The lads have also had a lot other things to celebrate, including:
Winning the “Hadrian’s Cup” an inclusive tournament held in Newcastle in spring 2015
Winning of the “Touch My Brum” inclusive touch rugby competition in Birmingham in July 2015
Runners up at the Union Cup competition in Brussels in May 2015
Travelling to Sydney, Australia in August/September 2014 to play in the Bingham Cup (aka the “Gay Rugby World Cup”
Continuing success and regular fixtures for the second team
Launch of a new women’s team
The Spartans offer coaching to for people at all stages, from basic training for those who’ve never picked up a rugby ball, through to more advanced training for those with previous experience. And if you love the sport, but don’t fancy playing, the team has lots of supporters and social members and is always looking for more!
With the World Cup just around the corner, the guys will be inviting potential new players and supporters to join them in watching the games at their clubhouse and at bars around the gay village, where they will be hosting events and throughout the tournament.
But if you’re keen to play and want to get involved as soon as possible, pre-season training starts in early August, running for a month until league games start in early September. The season runs until April and then many of the guys will fly out to play in the Bingham Cup, in May 2016, hosted in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Spartans have travelled all over the world playing competitive rugby, forging friendships in all four corners of the globe. The lads recently toured in Brussels and had a lot of fun as well as playing a great standard of rugby.
They may have finished second in the competition, losing in the final to fellow UK team Kings Cross Steelers, but they were certainly first place when it came to fancy dress! Around 30 of the lads donned wedding dresses, wigs and makeup in their most spectacular fancy-dress tour theme ever.
The lads attracted plenty of attention from locals and tourists for their renditions of Disney hit “Let it Go”, Adele’s “Someone Like You and Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” , with large crowds forming outside a bar which they adopted as their home from home.
“One of the great things about the Spartans is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously off the pitch. We’re a very social team and we had a fair few social members and supporters join us in Brussels, as well as our players. The weekend was amazing fun, and for many of the lads it was their first experience of touring outside of the UK.” Says Matthew Whiteley, Club Chairman and long-time player.
If you’d like more information about how you can get involved, there are lots of ways to get in touch. Email firstname.lastname@example.org, search “Village Spartans” on Facebook or follow the team on twitter at @MVSRUFC. More information about training and events can be found there or at the clubs website: www.villagespartans.co.uk
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