A Lancashire rugby club has been bringing together players from the LGBT community for the past 18 months with great success. Now, players are opening up on how the Typhoons has helped them, following the Pride in Rugby weekend.
The Typhoons are still a relatively new club in Preston, but has quickly grown to boast over 60 members of all abilities, genders, sexualities and disabilities. They train weekly at the Preston Grasshoppers and travel the country playing similar teams or competing in tournaments.
Like most sports teams, the squad often enjoy social events together. And while they can be found down the pub on some nights, last week saw them visit the theatre to watch head coach Duncan Ryan perform in The Wedding Singer.
Most of the players have struggled in traditional rugby clubs, while some have never played sports prior to joining. Prospective players may come for the rugby, but they typically stay for the social togetherness and camaraderie.
The Typhoons was set-up by Lawrence Howard, who has played inclusive rugby himself since 2012, with the aim to prove that smaller towns and cities can host successful clubs. He still gets involved as a player, but can also be found washing the bibs and running the line.
The club are now part of International Gay Rugby, an organisation that works with more than 80 clubs spanning across five continents. They recently kicked-off their 20th anniversary celebrations with Pride In Rugby, a weekend which saw the Typhoons host the Glasgow Alphas for the newly-created M6 Trophy.
Having grown from a small group based in London, International Gay Rugby now host bi-annual World Cups and expect to attract bigger numbers than the Commonwealth Games by 2026. They also work closely with clubs to support training sessions, offer coaching and mental health support.
Largely run by volunteers, Karl Ainscough-Gates acts as regional rep for the north of England. He’s responsible for 10 teams alone, including the Typhoons, but began as a player who benefited from inclusive rugby himself.
“I played a bit of rugby at school but hadn’t really done much. I was never one of those sporty guys. I'm a gay guy who moved up to Newcastle to go to university, and I didn't have the rugby experience to get into the rugby university teams. So for me, inclusive rugby was something that I could do at an entry-level not knowing anything apart from the shape of a rugby ball. Rugby needs to be for everyone”.
We spoke to some of the squad to find out about their experiences with the Typhoons.
Kris, 33, was one of the original players to join the club just a few months after losing his mum to a short battle with cancer. Despite doubts before turning up to the first session, the marketing manager now credits the team for helping him as a crucial distraction.
“I found myself in a really dark place and I didn't really know how to cope with that. I didn't have a language to explain to people and I wasn't very good at asking for help. I'd identified in myself that I just needed something to do, to get out of the house, to try something new and to surround myself with like-minded people.
“Rugby and the Typhoons have helped me enormously because it's helped me out of that dark place. It's helped me to get out of bed in the morning, to enjoy what I do and to look forward to coming into training. I speak to most of these guys on a daily basis about rugby, about life, just about anything. I owe this club a lot.”
Known as Lil Kris to teammates, he began his journey with the club after seeing an advert in the local paper, and decided to test himself by getting out of his comfort zone.
“It was something that I'd never really considered doing before, in fact I hated all team sports. I don't know what it was, but there was something about it that just resonated with me, so I very nervously turned up on the first night.
“I think I sat in the car for the first 10 minutes debating whether I wanted to go home instead of getting out, but I did it. I walked into the changing room and there were three or four other guys in there, and I realised they were in exactly the same position.”
Kris is quickly recognisable as one of the biggest characters in the changing room, and he takes great pride in his journey with the club, as well as helping others.
“There's a really supportive network that we've built up here at the Typhoons. People talk about all sorts, they've opened up about their mental health, about some of the issues they've faced growing up, with some of the baggage they brought with them, and whether that's gay players, trans players, straight players, everyone's been very open about what they've come to the club with and the team's been incredibly supportive.
“I've got really big hopes for this team, for this club. I think that there's some really exciting times both on the pitch and off the pitch, and I hope that we can make a really big impact on other people's lives, as much as I've seen the impact on my life.”
Wayne, 44, was born profoundly deaf and rushed to join the Typhoons after opportunities in Manchester and Liverpool proved too challenging to travel to. Having played rugby in school, he lacked confidence due to his deafness and sexuality, and eventually stopped playing from fear of discrimination.
Wayne uses sign language and visual gestures to communicate with his team mates, and is also joined by a volunteer interpreter at training sessions when available. Hannah Trimby, a British Sign Language and Deaf Studies student at the University of Central Lancashire, helps Wayne explain how he got involved.
“I found one of the coaches, Kai [Burns], on Facebook and asked him about it. I said that I was deaf, but he said, ‘no problem, come along and give it a go!’ I wasn’t sure at first but when I arrived, it boosted my confidence a lot.
“The first time there wasn’t an interpreter so it was quite difficult. There was a lot to take in and it was really quick, but after four weeks I was playing in my first match.”
Wayne was one of four Typhoons players to also represent the Grasshoppers last season, and while he greatly enjoyed the experience, found the support and respect between the Typhoons players to be irreplaceable.
“We work as a team and everyone comes together. I’m deaf but it doesn’t matter, everyone is friendly and helpful. Then after a game we go to the pub, we party and have a great time. It’s been nearly two years now, and it’s still such as a good team. It’s like a family.”
Terry, 36, celebrated Pride In Rugby by scoring his first try after a year and a half with the team. Having previously struggled with his mental health - a notable issue in the LGBT community - he was introduced to the Typhoons through his love life and found the club quickly helped all aspects of his life.
“I initially got involved with the club by going on a date with one of the players. We had a conversation about rugby and I thought I’d quite like to get into something in the evenings where I can go and do something, play a sport and meet new people.
“I came to one of the get fit sessions at Ashton Park in Preston, met quite a few of the people and never looked back. It was great to go out, get some exercise and get into a new routine instead of doing nothing.”
Terry also plays for the club’s touch team and was named Player of the Year last season - something he couldn’t have imagined when he first joined the club. He’s also relishing in the off-pitch opportunities and is another to have found support in his Typhoons teammates.
“It's massively helped my mental health and physical well-being, because I had quite a bit of a dark year and I was finding myself in a bit of a rut. I'd go to work, come home and just literally sit there, veg on the sofa and do nothing. But by coming out, being more active and meeting new people, it's broadened my horizon.
“To actually know that no matter what shape or size you are, you can actually play a sport, be good at it and get the recognition you deserve, and the fact that you've come together with a team, you bond and you work together to have a shared goal, is absolutely amazing. In fact, I kind of hate myself that I never did it earlier.”
Chris, 35, is one of the original players to join the club in early 2018. He had previously experienced inclusive rugby with the Manchester Village Spartans, but as a Chorley local found the move to the Typhoons to be a natural progression. And like his namesake, ‘Big Chris’ also found rugby to be a help after personal difficulties.
“I started rugby after the death of a really close family member and a break up of a relationship, and I needed to do something that got me out of the spiral I was going in with mental health.”
Chris now handles the club’s social media and helps new players embed into the squad. In throwing himself into the opportunity, he believes it’s something he’s benefited from greatly.
“I also wanted to do something that was a little bit of a wildcard, something totally out of character for me. I told some of my friends and my family, ‘I want to give rugby a try’ and there were like, ‘no way, you'll never be able to do that.’
“Three years on, here I am playing rugby at a competitive level and going on European tours. It’s been absolutely fantastic.”
Lucas, 19, has been involved for almost a year after moving to Lancashire from Norfolk. After enjoying rugby as a child, a negative experience with a former club put him off playing for a few years.
“They were not supportive in any way. I got ostracised for a lot of reasons, and then I ended up in hospital. Whilst I was there they suggested finding stuff to do when I move to Lancaster, so I thought ‘how about starting rugby again?’”
“I didn't start and come to this club thinking I'd find a group of friends and a supportive network, I just thought it'd be a rugby team. It's not. Well, it is. But I found not only a great group of mates who are there and they've listened, but the way that they've developed my confidence on and off the pitch is just amazing.
“I know I can come here each week and I can be in any mood whatsoever. I could be having a pretty rubbish time or the best time of my life and they're there, not just to play rugby, but off the pitch with a glass, and that's been amazing.”
Since joining the club, Lucas has experienced his first pride event and credits his teammates for teaching him how to socialise, drink and be a part of a friendship group.