A rugby clinic hosted by the Capital-based Caledonian Thebans will see players from across the UK, Europe and the Americas descend on BT Murrayfield for specialised coaching and matches this weekend.
The event represents significant progress for the Thebans, a club made up of “60 per cent gay and 40 per cent straight players”, who claim to be the first rugby team to field a transgender player. Their first clinic held ten years ago hardly attracted more than a first-team – this year, they’re expecting 225 to take part.
Clinic organiser Jonathan “Jocky” Geary, from Edinburgh, said: “Thebans are very much inclusive. We are just a group of guys who enjoy playing rugby in each other’s company and a mixture of newcomers to the sport and those who learned at traditional clubs.
“However, having started in 2002 a big sea-change occurred eight years later when, with a new president, we became much more performance orientated.
“Last season, we played 34 games and won 27 but, while training twice a week on the back pitches at Murrayfield is encouraged, it isn’t compulsory to get a game on a Saturday.
“Indeed, one of the biggest buzzes for us is when an opposing club get in touch after the fixture to say thanks for our after-match hospitality.”
Hospitality provision will go into overdrive this weekend with the Edinburgh economy being a significant beneficiary.
“When we started our clinic, which features SRU-led coaching followed by matches, a decade ago we attracted just over 20 players. Normally that number has grown by 10-15 teams each year but this time round there are 75 additional players. Many of those come from the London club which has 40 new members this season. As well as other UK teams, there are teams coming from USA. Canada, Sweden, Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, Lyon and Brussels.
“That has meant additional time being spent canvassing sponsors for items to put in our welcome packs but hopefully we are giving a lot back through the numbers staying and attending after-match parties.
“What obviously helps the formal rugby part is having access to an iconic venue like BT Murrayfield and its facilities.
“From the outset, we have had nothing but assistance in promoting the rugby cause from the SRU.”
Geary, a 32-year-old self employed sports therapist, was originally introduced to rugby as a youth at Boroughmuir.
“My parents were keener for me to get involved than I was and, when I later took off to America, I did wrestling for a couple of years. A bar job when studying sports science back in Edinburgh led to me being persuaded by the pub owner to turn out for the Thebans.
“I just got more and more involved to the extent of running around this week organising matches, coaching, accommodation, social events and, of course, medical cover to the extent we have five physios on stand-by to deal with any injuries.”
Geary believes the event’s increasing popularity may be linked to more liberal attitudes within rugby as former Wales and Lions captain Gareth Thomas as well as top-flight referee Nigel Owens have ‘come out’ in recent years.
Geary said: “Perhaps among veteran players having a star like Gareth Thomas come out might have helped.
“What has certainly been positive is the work of (England world cup winner) Ben Cohen who has made a very public stance against bullying (and homophobia).
“Definitely in rugby the general attitude is that people don’t care as they are only interested in the game.
“Above all, we have gone out of our way to promote the sport and our club as a decent bunch of blokes to play against.
“Certainly, there’s no problem in acquiring fixtures for the rest of this year with a couple of games lined up for November and one on every Saturday in December.”
This weekend’s rugby should certainly set up the Thebans for a powerful finish to 2014 under the watchful eye of coach Jim Reilly.
“Jim came to us from Murrayfield Wanderers a few years ago and offered his services as coach but there is more to it than that as he will have a big say in lining up the games which will follow a serious coaching session. The SRU have also indicated they will try to provide someone with international experience to assist.”
Rugby action gets underway on Saturday from 11am and is preceded by two hours of coaching.