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Tackling loneliness: An inclusive rugby club

Being physically active helps people feel more motivated and confident, and team sports can play a crucial role in bringing people together to build relationships. 

Today, on Rainbow Laces day, we hear from Leigh, a forward for the Manchester Village Spartans, about how an LGBT-inclusive rugby club helped him tackle loneliness.

Challenging times

When I graduated from University, the UK was in the midst of another challenging period – the aftermath of the 2008 recession.  The next five years were about getting jobs, any jobs, to stay afloat. Whilst many people know the cost of financial insecurity, the mental and emotional cost is less well known. Constant job rejections made me reassess my self-worth and really knocked my confidence. Without the motivation or the funds to socialise with people  my friendships slowly fell away. I became very lonely, without realising it was happening.

After five years of this I was exhausted and very isolated, feeling as though I had few friends left. But with an upturn in my career prospects, I realised now was the time to get back out there. What I was most interested in was something I hadn’t done for over ten years playing rugby.

Spartans rugby club, action shot

Getting out of my comfort zone

The Manchester Village Spartans are a LGBT inclusive rugby club. Founded by a group of a gay men in 1999 as a safe place to play rugby union at a time when homophobia was rife in the sport.

Over two decades later they have two union teams, two touch teams, and play in local, regional and international tournaments. And this is what I had decided to try, despite not playing any sports in over ten years, and traditionally being shy and awkward in new situations.

My first day with the Spartans was a taster session for new players. I talked myself in and out of going dozens of times, but I went. By the time I walked into the changing rooms that evening I was a nervous wreck. I was well and truly outside of my comfort zone. I hadn’t played team sports since I was 16, and remembering that, I defaulted to my old P.E. lesson survival mode; quiet, awkward and embarrassed for even showing up.

However, my nerves were for nothing. The Spartans didn’t care that I hadn’t thrown a rugby ball for over a decade, or that I didn’t even survive the cardio of the first session. They teach you that, they build that up. So I kept going back. Within 8 weeks I and the other new players played our first match. We lost a ridiculous amount to nil, but it was amazing.

Spartans Rugby Club posed team photo

Opening up my world

That was four years ago. Since then I have captained a squad, been to Madrid and Dublin to play in tournaments, and was part of the team who won our division in the 2019 Union Cup.

What being a Spartan has given me is a sense of community, camaraderie, and most importantly, confidence. Being part of a sport where you get bashed and bruised on the regular, you quickly learn to trust your teammates to support you..

Being part of a sport where gaining ground means moving as a line, you have to communicate, and that breaks down barriers off the pitch as well as on. And finally, playing a sport where you run toward men twice your size, whose job it is to tackle you to the ground, fosters confidence.

A feeling of belonging, on and off the pitch

What I’ve found is that this new found confidence and self-belief doesn’t stay confined to the pitch. I’ve carried them into all areas of my life. It made me comfortable mixing with people and personalities I previously wouldn’t have encountered, gaining new friends and cherished experiences as a result. It made me more ambitious at work, seeking promotion where previously I would have written myself off. And most of all it gave me a sense of belonging to a community, which is something I’d been seeking for a long time.

Sport is a powerful force to remedy loneliness, but to achieve that it must become more inclusive. Through increasing inclusivity, sports will gain players, clubs will grow, tournaments will fill, and players will gain confidence, self-worth, and most of all, a sense of community and belonging.

As Spartans, we are proud of our history as one of the first LGBT-inclusive clubs in the world. Many of us wear rainbow laces in our boots as a symbol of how far we’ve come, but also as a reminder of how far there is still to go to make all sports inclusive for all.

If you live in the Manchester area and are interested in playing men’s Rugby Union or mixed touch rugby email join@villagespartans.co.uk to find out more.