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A GAY RUGBY CLUB FOR MANCHESTER
The idea of setting up a rugby team in Manchester for men who identified as gay or bisexual was first discussed between friends, Simon Stanley and Duncan Leckie, at a house party in Manchester in August 1998.
The conversation was partly inspired by Duncan’s work within Mancunian Health Promotion Specialist Services (MHPSS) an NHS initiative to promote healthier lifestyles across the region.
Simon had played rugby but Duncan hadn’t, having been put off playing from experiences at school, but both had heard about the Kings Cross Steelers from London which, in 1995, had become the world’s first rugby team set up to provide a supportive playing environment for men who identified as gay or bisexual.
RFU PROVIDE SUPPORT
Simon and Duncan meet in Metz Bar on Canal Street with Alan Stone, a representative from the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Chris Galley, the Secretary of the Kings Cross Steelers.
Following helpful advice and support from Chris and the RFU they were confident that there was a large enough pool of gay and bisexual men who wanted to learn to play rugby for the first time, or who wished to return to rugby in a unique and supportive environment.
March 9th 1999
OFFICIAL BIRTH DATE
March 24th 1999
April - May 1999
SPARTANS NAME & LOGO FINALISED
August 28th 1999
Wearing the very first kit featuring red top and socks with black collars, cuffs and shorts, the team proudly marched in their very first Gay Pride – the Manchester Mardi Gras Parade (later Gayfest and now Manchester Pride). As one of the first LGBT sports teams to ever march, the club were a very popular draw and have become a warmly welcomed fixture on the parade every year since.
The kit was entirely paid for by John Hamilton, promoter of the club nights Hellfire and Poptastic.
John is our longest club sponsor and today owns Barpop on Canal Street who’s logo is worn proudly on our shirts today.
Sunday 29th August 1999
Following the first rugby match between two gay teams (no longer in existence) in New Zealand in October 1998, the Spartans welcomed the Kings Cross Steelers up to Manchester during Mardi Gras (now Manchester Pride Weekend) to play the northern hemisphere’s first 15-a-side Rugby Union match between 2 gay teams marking a significant milestone in the history of the growth of inclusive rugby.
Held at Manchester University’s Armitage Centre, the Manchester Village Spartans took on the London Kings Cross Steelers.
Captained by Neil Mason and watched by a crowd of around 200 people, the Spartans had a squad of 20 players and participated as a team for the first time.
They put in a tremendous performance buoyed on by the large crowd, even managing to score two tries (first from Mick and the second from Chris Smyth).
However, the opposition scored four tries and the final score was Spartans 10 – Steelers 22.
After this historic match, medals were awarded to all players by John Hamilton, our sponsor, and the first Spartans Man of the Match award went to Jonathan Mayor.
The Steelers were impressed at how far the Spartans had come in such a short time and there was a sense of tremendous achievement and celebration amongst everyone.
Ian MacDonald, a founding player at the club spoke with a work colleague who played for a 100yr+ local Cheshire team called Old Salians RUFC and discovered they were struggling to field adequate numbers of players for their various teams.
A meeting was set up in between Ian, Simon Stanley (Spartans vice-Chairman) and Roger Bottomley (the Old Salians Chairman) and through delicate negotiations, a partnership was formed.
In a deal that benefited both clubs, the Spartans would be able to use the facilities for training at Old Salians which included their rugby pitches and changing rooms.
6th May 2000
The London Kings Cross Steelers challenged the Spartans to a re-match, this time at their home ground at East London RFC, near West Ham. This would prove to be the Spartans first tour and the whole Club was very excited at the prospect.
Having lost and gained a handful of different players, but still pretty much the same team as their first, the Spartans team headed to London in a coach with a small group of enthusiastic supporters.
The date was 6th May 2000 and the rugby pitch was hard on a baking hot day making the efforts of both teams exhaustive and punishing.
This account, written from the Spartans perspective, recalls the tremendous effort from the Spartans who had spent many weeks preparing for the match.
An initial try was scored and converted by the Steelers which did not make the visitors’ heads go down.
Later, in his début for the team and playing as scrum-half, Matt Whitely sneaked a quick solo run round the blind-side of a scrum and dashed up the line past the Steelers winger to score his first ever try for the Spartans.
After several moves from the backs, Matt Ince scored between the posts too. Neither Spartans try was converted but they were in the lead 10-7. The Spartans clung on to their lead for the rest of the hard-fought match but, after some very dubious refereeing decisions (referee being the Steelers President at the time and a former Tory MP) the Steelers scored again with only 5 minutes to go and took the score to 12-10.
However, in what is now a part of Spartans Legend, a focused push by the Spartans front pack secured the ball for the backs who passed it down the line to the 40 year-old winger Paul Wright who strode away down the wing to score in the dying seconds of the match.
The Spartans had won their first match, in only their fourth attempt with the score 15-12.
Afterwards, the beer (and Duncan’s cider with ice) did indeed taste sweeter with the first victory and there was much celebrating and partying with the Steelers afterwards.
On the tour bus on the way home the next day, the first Spartans Kangaroo Court was also held with just as much justice missing as the items of clothing!
For the next few years the Spartans and Steelers met annually with the Steelers visiting Manchester in 2001 and the Spartans travelling to London in 2002.
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20th May 2000
The Club adopted its first Constitution and took the first steps to becoming part of a local Rugby Union (later accepted into Cheshire RFU).
Committee elections were also held for the first time and Duncan Leckie stepped down as Chairman and Simon Stanley was elected to replace him.
27th May 2000
The Spartans held their first Annual Dinner in the function room at Old Salians clubhouse (Sale Sports Club).
29th-30th July 2000
The Spartans take part in the London Gay Games (promoted by Waltham Forest Council) where a rugby sevens tournament was organised in addition to other sports such as hockey and football.
It was here that the Steelers and Spartans did battle again with KXS and for met members of the also recently formed gay team from the USA, The Washington Renegades.
This tournament was the world’s first international rugby sevens tournament for ‘gay’ teams and prompted discussion amongst the leaders of the Spartans, Steelers and Renegades about the promotion of rugby within the wider international gay and lesbian communities.
These were the first steps towards the subsequent formation of the International Gay Rugby Association and Board (IGRAB).
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12th August 2000
To help celebrate Ian McDonald’s 30th Birthday, Spartans arranged a fixture against Falkirk RUFC (a club close to his home town) and, despite the out-of-season date of 12th August, the Falkirk players duly turned up with enough players to field two teams.
It seemed that the challenge to take on this new and unusual team had appealed to many. At half-time the score was 14-14, which the Spartans were thrilled with as it was a score-line they had not had against a mainstream team before.
The second half was a different affair though with the Falkirk team shored up by numbers from their 1st team, and the final score was 44-14.
Still, the Spartans were very happy with their efforts and were warmly received by Falkirk RUFC in their clubhouse bar. They were impressed that the Spartans played so well in only their fifth match and presented the Club with a commemorative plaque.
Historically, this was the first match for the Spartans against a fully established Club within the RFU, and one in a foreign country.
Certainly it was the first rugby match featuring a ‘gay’ team in Scotland.
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