Talk:Village Spartans RUFC
Previous content of the page is below. Some of this to be merged back selectively into the main article.
- 1 1998
- 2 1999
- 3 The first Manchester Village Spartans team, 29th August 1999
- 4 2000
- 5 2001
- 6 2002
- 7 Bingham Cup, San Francisco 2002
- 8 2002-2003 Season
- 9 2003-2004 Season
- 10 2004-2005 Season
- 11 2005-2006 Season
- 12 Bingham Cup, New York 2006
- 13 2006-2007 Season
- 14 2007-2008 Season
- 15 2008-2009 Season
- 16 Last league match of the season, 25 April 2009
The idea of setting up a rugby team in Manchester for men who identify themselves as gay or bisexual was first discussed in a conversation between two friends, Simon Stanley and Duncan Leckie, at a house party in Manchester in August 1998. Simon had played rugby in the past and was a keen follower of the game but Duncan had never played before, having been put off playing from experiences at school. Both were in their late 20s and had heard about the Kings Cross Steelers in London which, in 1996, had become the first rugby team specifically set up to provide a supportive playing environment for men who identify as gay or bisexual. “Why don't we set one up in Manchester?” they asked.
In January 1999, Simon Stanley and Duncan Leckie had a meeting in the Metz Bar, Manchester with Alan Stone, a representative from the Rugby Football Union (RFU) and Chris Galley, the Secretary of the Kings Cross Steelers at the time. In this meeting they received helpful advice from Chris about setting up a new club as well as support from the RFU. From the Steelers' experience, they found that indeed there was a pool of gay and bisexual men who wanted to learn to play rugby for the first time, or who wished to recommence playing after stopping, for whatever reasons. The Steelers had provided this unique and supportive environment which had appealed to many.
On 9th March 1999, after several weeks of advertising around Manchester's gay village and in local press, the first meeting was held at Via Fossa bar, Canal Street to see if there were enough people interested in a rugby club. To Simon and Duncan's delight, 15 people showed up and there followed a lively and enthusiastic discussion about setting up the new rugby club. Alan Stone from the RFU was in attendance and announced that he could recommend a coach, David Smyth who, he went on to mention, “has coached several girls rugby teams”, at which there was much laughter amongst everyone in the room! A few years later, Alan died of cancer and the Club will always be thankful for the help he provided to the Spartans, as well as his work with the RFU and his passion for rugby.
On 24th March 1999, the first training session of the Club took place in the indoor sports hall at the Y-Club, Manchester, coached by David Smyth. Over 20 men participated and there was a mix of rugby experience, ability and age. Training continued to take place every Wednesday evening but moved after two sessions to the Sugden Centre, Manchester University. Soon there was additional training on Sunday afternoons at the public sports fields at Hough End, Manchester. It must be mentioned that David Smyth proved to be a superb coach for the Club. He brought with him many years of rugby playing and coaching experience and was full of enthusiasm and patience. He was approachable and endeared himself to all members of the club and a strong bond was formed with him and his family to the extent that he even brought along his two sons, Chris and Jonathan, to training who were teenagers at the time and who were keen rugby players themselves. His wife, Elaine, also later became Treasurer of the Spartans for a few years. David should be credited for much of the success of the Spartans' formation and establishment and all in the Club are extremely grateful.
During April, May and June 1999, new members were joining each week and friendships were formed with post-training socialising in the gay village of Manchester. It was during these drinking sessions amongst new friends that possible names for the rugby club were discussed and an initial suggestion was 'The Manchester Village Maulers', village being a reference to the gay village. Eventually the name 'The Manchester Village Spartans' was agreed and the club emblem of a Spartans helmet was designed and a club motto was decided upon, Unione fortior which, roughly translated, means Strength through Union.
The cost incurred from hiring the Sugden Centre on Wednesdays and Hough End training fields on Sundays was having to be borne by members at considerable cost but after Duncan Leckie (now Club Chairman) successfully applied, the Club's funds for venues was boosted by a grant of £300 from the NHS Manchester Health Authority. A few years later, the Lesbian and Gay Foundation (LGF) charity also became a monetary supporter of the Spartans. Both of the above sources of funding recognised the positive impact that the Spartans was having on the lives of gay, bisexual, and indeed straight men who were being given access to sport and exercise and a healthier lifestyle.
It was in the summer months with training continuing twice weekly when the Kings Cross Steelers, in an act of support, challenged the Manchester Village Spartans to their first rugby match to take place in August 1999. The Spartans then had an event to focus on, to be organised and prepared for, an actual rugby match, and training picked up in its intensity. The first rugby kit was generously paid for and sponsored by John Hamilton, the promoter of Hellfire (no longer in existence) and Poptastic (still very much going). The first kit's shirt and socks were red and the collars, cuffs and shorts were black. It was received just in time for the Mardi Gras celebrations where the club joined the parade through the streets of Manchester for the very first time. Needless to say, the sight of so many men in rugby kit was a huge crowd pleaser and the Spartans are proud to have participated in each Manchester Mardi Gras (name later changed to Gayfest then Manchester Pride) parade ever since.
The next day, on 29th August 1999, at the Armitage Centre by Manchester University, the Manchester Village Spartans took on the London Kings Cross Steelers in what is historically the first rugby match in the northern hemisphere between two 'gay' teams (there had previously been a game of touch rugby between two gay teams in Australia). Captained by Neil 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 promoter, 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 amongst everyone there was a sense of tremendous achievement and celebration.
The first Manchester Village Spartans team, 29th August 1999
Following on from their first match, the Spartans continued to train twice a week and were keen to arrange a second fixture. In December 1999, a match was organised against a local team at the Armitage Centre, however at the last-minute it was cancelled by the opposition. The Spartans, feeling disappointed by the no-show, got talking to a university team from Hulme Hall who had also turned up only to have their match cancelled as well. In the true spirit of the game, a match was quickly arranged and, despite all the efforts of the Spartans team (and some tried harder than others) to catch the youthful and nimble university students, they proved far too fast and skilled and ran through many tries to win 78-0. Still, the Spartans were encouraged with the experience gained and felt progress was being made playing against a 'mainstream' rugby club. The Hulme Hall players even invited the Spartans back to their Halls of Residence where both teams socialised together long into the evening. Perhaps it was due to the newly formed friendship, or perhaps due to an early recognition of the unique Spartans spirit, or simply because they'd actually just thrashed the Spartans, that Hulme Hall insisted on a re-match which was eventually held in March 2000. Remarkably, the score of 78-0 was repeated but that did not stop the two teams celebrating the encounter with post-match drinks in the Hulme Hall bar. The Spartans were experiencing inclusiveness as well as the camaraderie and brotherhood of rugby at its best.
Between the second and third matches a Spartans player, Ian MacDonald spoke with a work colleague about their common rugby interests. It transpired that Ian's colleague played for a local team called Old Salians RUFC who were struggling to field adequate numbers of players for their various teams. A meeting was set up in February 2000 between Ian and Simon (Spartans vice-Chairman) and Roger Bottomley (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. They would also be able to use the rugby pitches for the occasional match fixture. In return, the Spartans would provide players volunteering to play for Old Salians in Saturday league matches. This also provided vital match-playing experience. David Smyth continued as coach but Sunday afternoon training moved from Hough End to Sale and the Wednesday evening training became combined with the training run by Old Salians.
Old Salians RUFC was a historic, hundred-year-old rugby club which, up until the late 1990s had five teams. However, due to the dwindling supply of youth players after Sale Grammar School ceased playing rugby, plus the emergence of the professional game and richer clubs in the area, by the time the Village Spartans came along they were managing to field only two teams in the leagues. The new partnership got off to a good start as straight away, several Spartans players managed to gain places on the Old Salians 2nd XV and play in competitive Saturday league matches. One or two more experienced Spartans players were offered places on the Old Salians 1st XV.
It is fair to say that both groups were a little unsure of each other at first. How would the Old Salians players react to the Spartans? Would there be any homophobia? Or how would the Spartans come across to the Old Salians? Would they fit the stereotypes of gay men? It was an interesting time because each group was made up of individual characters, extroverts and introverts but they quickly found common ground in the game of rugby and a sense of humour in the bar. Jokes flew regarding the fact that the Spartans had joined the Old Salians when their backs were well and truly 'up against the wall', or had only shown interest due to the name of the Chairman, Mr Roger Bottomley! The Spartans named one Old Salian called Dewey, 'Julie' and were also amused to have first been demonstrated the benefits of a nail brush by an enthusiastic straight lad in the bath! It all helped to reinforce the relationship between the two clubs and this partnership proved to be one of the most important moments historically for the Spartans as it is where they are still based today. Several seasons were played with this partnership, but unfortunately, despite the pool of players from both Clubs, after struggling in the 2003/04 season the Old Salians dropped out of the league. They returned for another attempt in the 2004/05 season, only to drop out again for the final time and they folded.
Despite the gradual decline of Old Salians, the Spartans continued to develop and write their own history. 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 Whiteley 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. Later, 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. However, as the two Clubs have developed with busier league schedules, plus the fact that there are other 'gay' teams to challenge, this fixture was not maintained annually. However, the rivalry between the two clubs is still strong and matches take on a higher level of intensity and competitiveness whenever the teams meet in tournaments.
The Spartans held their first Annual General Meeting on 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. The following week, on 27th May the Spartans held their first Annual Dinner in the function room at Old Salians clubhouse. This was a chance for everyone to celebrate the creation and growth of the Club after only one year.
The Spartans were soon in action again on 29-30th July 2000, taking 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 (for girls) and football (definitely for girls). It was here that the Steelers and Spartans did battle again and for the first time met members of the recently formed gay team from Washington DC, the Renegades. This tournament was the 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).
More partying in the summer of 2000 was enjoyed when the Spartans travelled to Scotland to help celebrate Ian MacDonald's 30th birthday. Ian had 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.
In October 2000 the Spartans played their Hulme Hall friends again but improved from previous matches losing 6-42. This was the first time the Spartans had managed to invite visitors to their new home base at Old Salians RUFC and were able to offer food and drinks in the clubhouse.
Later that month a group of around 8 Spartans travelled to Washington DC to visit the Washington Renegades. They participated in their rugby practice and even ran one of the sessions to teach some new coaching techniques. The Renegades showed great hospitality by hosting the individual Spartans in their own homes, taking them out to the bars and even took them to a gay roller-skating night! Sight-seeing trips were enjoyed around Washington, Baltimore and New York City. Although no matches were played, a new relationship with another 'gay' rugby team was established.
The final fixture of 2000 for the Spartans was in December when they played a friendly match against a team of selected Old Salians players who featured in, 'Ally's All-Stars'. The Spartans lost 28-0 but it was a good way for all players to celebrate the end of the year in which the two clubs had come together and formed a partnership.
The Spartans were coming towards the end of their second year of existence and to help celebrate their up-coming birthday, they hosted a Birthday Bash weekend and invited players from the Washington Renegades and a new team on the scene, the San Francisco Fog. Between 25-29th January, the Spartans hosted players in their own homes and planned a weekend of rugby and partying. A trip to Chester on the Friday was followed by rugby coaching on the Saturday, followed by a mad night out partying. All turned up on the Sunday though ready to play rugby in a match between the Spartans and a combined team of Renegades and Fog. The Spartans won 37-5 in what was historically the first 'international' rugby match between two 'gay' rugby teams from two different countries. On the Sunday evening the Spartans hosted a 2nd birthday party at the Hollywood Showbar and our American friends helped celebrate the Spartans creation and achievements.
Around this time the Club decided to update its rugby kit with a brand-new design. The bright new kit was inspired by the gay community's rainbow flag symbol with colours on the shirt mixing into each other in horizontal lines from red at the top then orange, then yellow, then green. The shorts were blue and the socks purple.
On 5th May 2001 the Spartans hosted the King Cross Steelers and beat them 46-15.
After their trip to Manchester in January, the Washington Renegades were inspired to host their new friends and play some rugby on their own turf. Between 18-20th May 2001, the Spartans travelled to Washington DC and competed in the Washington Renegades' Invitational Rugby Sevens Tournament. The Spartans competed with two 7-a-side teams for the first time. The Kings Cross Steelers also sent two teams and there were teams from the Renegades, Fog and now a new team from Buenos Aires, Argentina. Completing the line-up was a Barbarians team made up of a collection of players from other teams. This was the first IGRAB sanctioned tournament and we are immensely proud that it was won by the Manchester Village Spartans A-team who beat the Fog in the final. The Spartans B-team beat the Steelers A-team to come third. The second Annual Dinner a few weeks later was a chance to celebrate another most successful year!
By the time of the 2nd AGM in July 2001, the Club was financially secure for at least another couple of seasons, new members were elected to Committee and the club members voted to become more competitive and seek membership of the Cheshire Rugby Union.
On 11th September 2001, the 'gay' rugby community mourned the tragic loss of Mark Bingham, a player in the San Francisco Fog who was a passenger on United 93, one of four aircraft to be hijacked by terrorists. It is believed that Mark Bingham joined other passengers in an attempt to overpower the hijackers, however the aircraft crashed in a field killing all on board. It has been concluded that the efforts of the brave passengers including Mark, saved the lives of many people on the ground by preventing the plane from hitting one of a number of high-profile targets in the US capitol. Just a few months before, the Spartans had played against Mark and his San Francisco Fog team-mates in the tournament final in Washington DC and everyone was shocked and saddened by the news of his death.
Only a couple of days later, on 13th September 2001, Manchester Village Spartans RUFC was accepted into the Cheshire Rugby Union. Ian MacDonald, the Spartans Secretary who had managed the application wrote, “I believe this a landmark in the history of our club, perhaps I could say it brings another chapter in the club's history to closure and leaves us at the beginning of a new and exciting one. I was going to say a few words about what that meant to me here, but read something earlier which changed my mind. It says what I want to far better than I ever could: (An email from Mark Bingham, upon finding out the Fog had been accepted as a permanent member of the Northern California Rugby Football Union) When I started playing rugby at the age of 16, I always thought that my interest in other guys would be an anathema -- completely repulsive to the guys on my team -- and to the people I was knocking the shit out of on the other team. I loved the game, but KNEW I would need to keep my sexuality a secret forever. I feared total rejection. As we worked and sweated and ran and talked together this year, I finally felt accepted as a gay man and a rugby player. My two irreconcilable worlds came together. Now we've been accepted into the Union and the road is going to get harder. We need to work harder. We need to get better. We have the chance to be role models for other gay folks who wanted to play sports, but never felt good enough or strong enough. More importantly, we have the chance to show the other teams in the league that we are as good as they are. Good rugby players. Good partiers. Good sports. Good men. Gay men weren't always wallflowers waiting on the sideline. We have the opportunity to let these other athletes know that gay men were around all along -- on their little league teams, in their classes, being their friends. This is a great opportunity to change a lot of people's minds, and to reach a group that might never have had to know or hear about gay people.
Let's go make some new friends...and win a few games. Congratulations, my brothers in rugby. Mark Bingham
It is very much my hope that we will strive to make these sentiments a living part of the Village Spartans. With much joy and regret, Ian ”
Manchester Village Spartans RUFC was now part of the wider Rugby Union and applied to enter the Manchester & District Fixtures Pool, which existed before the current Miller Homes leagues. The Spartans were able to list themselves as available for matches in the Pool, and arrange matches with other teams of a similar standard. The Spartans were not ready for a league which would demand weekly matches but the Pool provided the flexibility to play when they wished to.
On 22nd September 2000, the Spartans played their first match as an affiliated rugby club. It should not be forgotten the pride and excitement which was felt by the players and supporters as they travelled as a team to play Eccles 4th team. With both teams facing each other before the match started, Ian said a few words about Mark Bingham and his love of rugby and how he had helped inspire so many people. A minute's silence was observed and the match was dedicated to his memory. This match was even more historic as it turned out to be the first win, 22-10, for the Spartans against a mainstream club. Everyone felt enormously proud and happy to be a Spartan.
In the remaining months of that year, the players continued to play matches for Old Salians but continued to arrange monthly fixtures from the Pool. These were Lostock (home) on 20th October, Old Bedians Vets (home) on 24th November and Macclesfield 4ths (home) on 15th December.
On 12th January the Spartans played an away fixture against Macclesfield 4ths. Between 25-27th January, the Spartans ran another invitational Rugby Clinic for their American friends. Players from Washington DC, San Francisco and Los Angeles visited Manchester for a weekend of rugby coaching, partying, a friendly match and some more partying.
Over the rest of the season the Spartans arranged several matches from the Pool and continued to field players for Old Salians on a weekly basis. 9th February Old Bedians Vets (away), 2nd March Broughton Park 4ths (away), 16th March Old Salians (home) and 13th April Lostock (away).
At the end of the season in June 2002, the Spartans travelled all the way to San Francisco to compete in the inaugural Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Cup, hosted by the San Francisco Fog. With the expansion of 'gay' rugby throughout the world, Club members of IGRAB had been moving towards establishing some kind of international 'gay world cup' tournament. However, after the tragedy of Mark's death on 9/11, there was more determination than ever to create the tournament as a fitting tribute to Mark and the values he held regarding the inclusiveness of gay people in all sport, especially rugby. As the International Rugby Board recognised, this was the largest international 15-a-side amateur rugby tournament anywhere in the world.
Bingham Cup, San Francisco 2002
To help keep down costs, the Fog very kindly hosted individual players in their homes. Partying on the tour included joining in with the annual Pride march and going on sight-seeing trips. On the rugby pitch, the Spartans played well but only made it as far as the semi-finals of the tournament, earning Third Place in the subsequent play-off. The tournament was won by Mark's rugby team, the San Francisco Fog. It was an inspiring experience for all who participated.
After the summer break, the Spartans carried on from strength to strength, playing matches from the Pool each month and playing for Old Salians at other times. Matthew Whiteley took over the captaincy from Neil Mason. In January 2003 they hosted another invitational Rugby Clinic for the American teams. Spartans Vs Yanks, January 2003
For the Spartans end-of-season tour, the lads travelled to Cologne, Germany and competed in the Hürth Rugby Sevens tournament. They made it to the final of the Plate and won 200 beer tokens for their efforts!
The Spartans were settling into the routine now of playing monthly matches and still supporting the efforts of Old Salians in their league. Old Salians were down to just one team now and by the end of the year, they had decided to drop out of the league. It was sometime during this season that the team decided to drop Sunday afternoon training and concentrate purely on Wednesday evenings.
The Spartans spent the rest of the season playing monthly matches from the Pool. Soon the focus of their training became fixed on the second Bingham Cup tournament which was set for May. It was hosted by the Kings Cross Steelers at Esher Rugby Club's ground. From just 8 teams in the first tournament, 20 teams from around the world participated in 2004! The Spartans won through their Group to the knock-out stages. They narrowly beat their rivals, the Steelers to make it to the final where they were beaten by a strong San Francisco Fog. The Fog retained their trophy. Bingham Cup, London 2004
This season proved to be the final showing of Old Salians RUFC. Their numbers had dwindled even further and they found it increasingly difficult to field a full team in the league. By Christmas, their Committee had taken the regrettable decision to abandon the league entirely, leaving Manchester Village Spartans RUFC the only rugby club left at Sale Sports Club. The Spartans continued to play their own monthly matches and train twice a week. Notable wins came over Warrington 3rds (29-14) and Congleton 2nds (31–5) in January 2005.
For their end-of-season tour the Spartans travelled to Montpellier France and participated in the inaugural Union Cup which has since been run bi-annually by the European Union Gay Rugby Association (EUGRA). This was a chance for gay teams in Europe to get together and have their own tournament away from the larger Bingham Cup. The team met others from London, Cardiff, Dublin, Montpellier, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Edinburgh. Having beaten the London Kings Cross Steelers in the semi-final and Dublin Emerald Warriors before that, the Spartans lost in the final (2 tries to 1) to Les Artichauds, the only 'straight' team which had been entered by a local rugby club.
With the demise of Old Salians and with more experience playing as a team, Manchester Village Spartans applied for participation in a new amateur rugby structure called The Miller Homes Leagues which was set up by the RFU. The Manchester Village Spartans 1st XV was accepted and placed into Division 5 South. This was a significant moment for the Club because the team members were committing themselves to playing weekly matches for a whole rugby season for the first time.
Despite finishing the league in 12th place, the team had survived their first full season which was a great achievement.
Bingham Cup, New York 2006
Their season was not over yet though because they enthusiastically travelled to New York to participate in the third Bingham Cup, hosted by the New York Gotham Knights. A total of 29 teams participated, from 22 clubs and 6 countries. For a team which had bonded through an entire season in the league, they offered so much. However, in exhausting hot and dusty conditions, they ended up finishing a disappointing eighth place in the main Cup competition. The Sydney Convicts were winners for the first time, beating the defending champions the Fog in the final.
In the next season, Manchester Village Spartans RUFC competed in the Miller Homes Division 5 East. In an attempt to raise the standard of rugby skills and give the team a more competitive focus, the Spartans looked to bring in some professional coaches and several were hired at various times. Phil Leck (from Sale Sharks Academy) was one such coach and for a while was paid to run a monthly session. His son, Chris Leck (professional player from Sale Sharks) helped out as well. Towards the end of the season the David Smyth left the Club and Chris Leck became the main coach for the team.
It was around this time that Elaine Vassie attended a few training sessions with a friend of hers. She had played a lot of rugby herself and was working as a fitness instructor so the Spartans asked her if she could run some sessions to help improve the team's fitness and conditioning levels. The team still struggled in their second season in the league and ended it in 13th place. They knew that they needed new players, particularly towards the end of the season when injuries had taken their toll and everyone was very tired.
For their end-of-season tour, the Spartans had the option of participating in the second Union Cup which was held in Copenhagen, however they decided to travel to Cologne, Germany and compete in the Hürth Rugby Sevens tournament again. After such a tough season, the lads primarily went to have a good time and their focus on this was increased once they discovered that awaiting them in their group was the team from the British Army, made up of Samoans and Fijians! Even though they thrashed by the British Army team who went on the win the tournament, the Spartans enjoyed the experience and it was possibly the first match between a gay rugby team and one from the military. Overall, everyone who went was able to enjoy another fun tour and it helped keep the Spartans team spirit very much alive!
After a few years in the role, Matthew Whiteley decided to step down as Captain and was replaced by Russell Jaszewski. At the start of the season, the Spartans had their most successful recruitment drive yet and welcomed over 20 new members into the Club. There were regularly over 30 people at Wednesday training sessions and the increase in numbers created healthy competition for places on the team.
Competing in Miller Homes Division 5 South, the 2007/08 season was the best yet for the Spartans because they remained in the top 3 of the league table for most of the season. Out of 24 matches, they won 13 and lost only 10. Over two different periods they were unbeaten in 6 matches. It really was a superb season for the team and they could have placed higher if they had not suffered a run of three losses at the end. Even though they finished in 6th place the Club was promoted for the first time!
In January 2008, on a free weekend out of the league, a small group of Spartans went on a mini-tour to Newcastle to take part in the inaugural Hadrians Cup which was organised by the gay team, the Newcastle Ravens. Over the weekend there was plenty of partying with a bit of rugby thrown in. The Spartans even won the cup!
After such an excellent season it now came time to prepare for another Bingham Cup tournament and in May 2008, it was held in Dublin, hosted by the Emerald Warriors. The Spartans had managed to retain high numbers of members and for the first time, had enough players for two full 15-a-side teams. A new kit made of lighter material was ordered and its design was based on the same colourful pattern as before. At the tournament the 1st XV used the new kit and the 2nd XV played in the older one.
The Bingham Cup had grown considerably, this time with 32 teams competing in four divisions of competition (the Cup, the Plate, the Bowl and the Shield). The Spartans 1st XV competed in the main Cup competition and the Spartans 2nd XV, competed in the Shield because it had several players who had never played a whole rugby match before.
The Club felt it had done the best training and preparation so far for any Bingham Cup, and each team was hopeful of a good result. Chris Leck specifically worked with the 1st team whilst Elaine Vassie worked with the 2nd team. For a rugby tour and club event, it was certainly a lot of fun and many supporters of friends and family went with them to Dublin. The 1st XV made it through their group stage but, as in New York in 2006, failed to make it past the quarter-finals. They were out of the competition on the second day, much to everyone's disappointment.
The 2nd XV were still in action on the third day of competition however, after winning two out of three matches in their Group. They lost in the semi-final however and then lost their play-off match as well. Considering the levels of experience they did very well. The winners of the Bingham Cup were Sydney Convicts for the second time in a row.
Having gained promotion to Miller Homes Division 4 East, Manchester Village Spartans RUFC was hoping they could cope with the higher standard of rugby. Well what a torrid season it turned out to be! The team suffered a devastating loss of experienced players, about 10 in total, who were no longer available to play regularly due to retirement, injuries, or a change in their work patterns.
In the new year some Spartans were hoping for some light relief with a trip to Newcastle and the Hadrians Cup, hosted by the Newcatle Ravens. They had won the Cup the previous year and it would be a chance to temporarily forget about their tough season back home. However, due to the freezing weather that weekend, it made any rugby playing impossible and the tournament was cancelled. Still, a small group of Spartans made the trip and enjoyed a night out in Newcastle with fellow rugby friends.
When the season was eventually over they had come 14th and last place in the league and were demoted to Miller Homes Division 5 East. The mere fact that the team battled on and completed the season with their heads held high was testament to their bond and fighting spirit. The Spartans would return to play in the local league with lessons learned and hopefully some fresh new players to help strengthen the side.
Last league match of the season, 25 April 2009
Before the season was fully over the team held their 10th Annual Dinner and celebrated the existence of the club after so many remarkable years. There was a lot to be proud of and they received messages of support from past members including Duncan Leckie and Simon Stanley. The following week the team went on their end-of-season tour and competed in the third Union Cup, run by EUGRA and hosted by the King Cross Steelers in London. They played against the Dublin Emerald Warriors, the Steelers and a Barbarians team in the group stage. In what was an incredibly hard-fought match, with a large crowd of enthusiastic supporters, the Spartans were narrowly beaten by the Steelers (3-0) in the final. It was indeed a tough season for the club but the Union Cup tour managed to bring everyone together again to have fun and play excellent rugby. After 10 years the spirit of this unique and special club was very much alive and every one was proud to call themselves a Spartan! Union Cup, London 2009.