With our focus this week firmly on sport, we have a chat with the Chair of Liverpool Tritons Rugby Union Football Club, Mike Turner. The club was a finalist in the Inclusive Sport Group category at last year’s inaugural LCR Pride Awards and as well as its rugby union team, it has launched a touch rugby team for players of any gender.
So Mike, how did the Tritons come about?
“Tritons were founded almost four years ago, originally as just a men’s rugby union team, with the aim of giving gay and bisexual men the chance to play rugby in an environment where they could be sure that their sexuality wouldn’t be an issue.
“Several players had a background in the sport, but the majority of us had never played before. We learned quickly and soon gathered enough momentum to play friendly games against local mainstream clubs and other inclusive teams from all over the UK. In our second year we joined a league of other inclusive clubs from across the North which makes us an active part of the wider International Gay Rugby (IGR) community.”
How do you differ from other rugby clubs?
“It is rare for an adult rugby club to have a standing commitment to getting new players into the sport who had no experience, particularly in the men’s game, and this is what attracted some of the straight allies we have on our team to join us.
“More than this, however, is the fact that being a Triton has changed many of our lives. So many of us arrived with no experience, not knowing what to expect and have discovered their resilience, confidence and passion for team sports. People who had never been involved in sport have discovered a side of themselves they never knew they had; others have rediscovered their love for a game they played at school or university.”
For the uninitiated, tell us a bit about Rugby Union and why it’s so great to be part of the Tritons.
“Rugby union is one of the most inclusive sports there is. There is a job for everyone. There are a range of body types, skills and everyone brings something to the party. When we work together, a diverse group of people get to achieve something together. Being part of a global network of inclusive clubs gives us unrivalled opportunities to play in international tournaments – we have already competed in Amsterdam and Dublin, with the possibility of travelling to Ottawa in 2022.
“We also play touch rugby and the great thing about this is that it can give the players that feeling of camaraderie without the hard contact element of rugby union. Whichever code you play, the Tritons also have an active social life, from going out after matches or, as we have discovered during the lockdown period, running online games and quiz nights to stay connected with our teammates at a time when we need that friendship more than ever. You get to stay active, improve your fitness, but also gain a whole new network of friends from all walks of life.”
Are there any other teams like you in the region?
“For 15 years the only inclusive rugby union team in the North-West were the now well-established Manchester Village Spartans, but soon after we were founded, Chester Centurions launched and the Preston-based Typhoons RUFC were established by one of our founding members. It’s great to have this extended family which means you can travel to places all over the world – from Portland to Osaka – and meet up with people you already have something really positive in common with.
“We are lucky to have these teams so close by and players from many other IGR clubs marched with us last year at Pride in Liverpool. Being able to march through the city wearing your Tritons kit is a really empowering and joyous experience (whatever the weather) and it reminds us of the role we play in the LGBT+ community alongside so many other organisations that do amazing things that we don’t hear enough about. We are gutted that we can’t get our message out in the same way this year, but we’ll be taking part in this year’s online march.”
What do you aim to achieve as an organisation?
“From a sporting perspective, we want to grow to the size where we can have two full squads. This will allow us to maintain our development of new players but also allow the more experienced players to play at a more demanding level in a local league.
“Since we first started we have come on in leaps and bounds and we have a role to play in representing LGBT+ sportspeople in the area. We have also recognised that we can offer more to the wider LGBT+ community of the city region and launched our O2 Touch Rugby team, which is for players of any gender.
“We welcome anyone who supports what we do and wants to have fun playing the sport that we love. The world is definitely changing, and other local clubs have been really positive and welcoming towards us. The fact that many of our players are asked to play for other local teams when there are no Tritons fixtures that week shows us that we are becoming an integrated part of the local social rugby network.”
This all sounds fantastic! Where are you based, for people who want to get involved?
“During the season we are based at Jericho Lane Football Hub, Otterspool Drive, Liverpool. Anyone over 18 who can get there on Wednesday evenings can train with us and we have players who travel from all over the Liverpool City Region and beyond.
“Just let us know you are coming and we’ll make sure you are welcomed and introduced to the teams. New players start with us throughout the season and once they have been shown the basics and feel they are ready, they can play in our training games and then in development games with similar clubs.”
Our theme this year is ‘Young At Heart’, which promotes the right for LGBT+ people to live happy, healthy and carefree lives, regardless of how they identify. What are the barriers to this in your sport generally and how are you addressing them?
“A lot of LGBT+ people, especially men, perceive rugby clubs as intimidating, hyper-masculine environments where people like us wouldn’t feel comfortable being ourselves. One thing I have learned is that you don’t have to want to compensate for anything to play rugby with passion. I’m no more or less butch than I was before I joined – anyone who has seen us in OMG when a Steps track starts up will attest to that – but I’m comfortable being myself and I’m comfortable being a gay man who also plays rugby – something I never thought I would do until the Tritons came along. You don’t have to fit any kind of stereotype to play rugby, and the Tritons wouldn’t want you to change.
“The most significant issue for all sports at present is, I believe, the inclusion of trans sportspeople as equals with their cisgender peers. This is one of the reasons we decided to launch the touch rugby team as gender-neutral, so people of all genders or none can be involved. It’s also worth mentioning that trans men can join the rugby union team without any need to divulge their medical history to anyone.
“As a club, we recently voted overwhelmingly to amend the aims of our constitution to state explicitly that we exist for the full spectrum of the community we serve, including trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people. We know that we need to follow this up with action, and we are keen to engage with prospective players to understand what they need from us to enable them to participate.”
Lockdown must have been a tough time for the club, how did you manage that?
“The lockdown came at a frustrating time for us, as the union side was in great form in our league and the touch team had just got a new coach, so we are keen to get back up and running once it is safe to do so.
‘Wednesday remained ‘Tritons Night’ throughout the lockdown, with our coach Mark running online fitness sessions, which we followed with an online games and quiz night. We even had a great turnout for our online AGM, and it was great to see that so many of our members cared about how the club was run and wanted to hear our plans for the future. We’ve missed getting together and we are looking forward to getting back on the pitch in the coming weeks.”
So what next on the Tritons agenda?
“We’re currently on the look out for kit sponsors, so we would welcome any enquiries from organisations who might want to work with us. Training is about to re-start gradually, beginning with small group, non-contact fitness sessions, but we are following RFU and government guidelines to ensure we keep players safe while offering as much of the club experience as we possibly can.”
To find out more about Liverpool Tritons RUFC and its gradual re-start of rugby activities as the lockdown is lifted and to read about future ‘Turn Up & Try’ sessions visit www.facebook.com/liverpooltritons. To chat to one of the Committee just message the club directly via Facebook.