On Friday 2 May, Members and Associate Members of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group took part in an historic game against an Army Veterans side to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of Army Rugby League.
The match, played at Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, brought together players from the original Army Rugby League side who first ran out in 1994 and colleagues who have pulled on the red jersey since the sport was recognised in the service 20 years ago. The Political Animals – the UK politician’s team – were invited in recognition of the role the Parliamentary Group played at the time.
The Group, celebrating its 25th Anniversary this year, was formed to support rugby league in Parliament, Westminster and another establishment bodies and recognition of rugby league in the services is one of the most important pieces of work to date.
David Hinchliffe was Member of Parliament for Wakefield and the Group’s first secretary. At the post-match dinner he said “We were able to demonstrate there were hundreds of serving personnel in all the forces who wanted to play the game of rugby league. I pay tribute to Ian Sproat, who was the Conservative sports minister at the time, who was very helpful in supporting the fight to get this great game recognised in the forces.”
Amongst those playing were Group Chairman and club captain, Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland, and Group Member Karl McCartney, Member of Parliament for Lincoln. The Animals were captained by Rotherham councillor Simon Currie and were joined by former MPs and Associate Members of the Group in a close-fought match.
Army Rugby League Secretary Major Dave Groce spoke of the importance of rugby league before the game, saying “The significance of rugby league in the forces is important because it embodies in the soldier the value and standards we expect from them – courage, determination, fitness, physical robustness; all the things that you’d want from a soldier. That team spirit, that go-forward, that not taking a backward step, that’s all really important.”
One such soldier is Chris Brown, who played in the very first Army Rugby League game. After the match he spoke of the growth of the sport in the services: “To watch them now and come and see their game, to take part in the Challenge Cup, it’s no wonder it is a growing sport in the army and it’s an absolutely brilliant experience to see the young guys come and play now and to join in myself.”
Chris was joined after the game by Greg Mulholland who spoke of the importance of the day: “It’s a real honour to play against people the army and people like Chris who played in the first ever rugby league game in the army, and with the role that the Parliamentary Rugby League Group played, it really is something very special. We’re just glad to come and take part in this fantastic occasion and celebrate 20 years of Army Rugby League.”
The game was followed by a celebration dinner in the India Army Memorial Room, hosted by Major General Richard Semple, the highest ranking officer ever to play rugby league who spoke about the day’s events and the future of the game in army: “Today has been absolutely tremendous, and it has been a great privilege to be the president of Army Rugby League on this occasion, to see two excellent games and participate in one of them and to see Army Rugby League growing from strength to strength within the army and I think it is going to continue to grow.”
Mulholland finished the day with a speech after the dinner paying tribute to those involved in rugby league’s gaining recognition in the armed services: “On behalf of all those here today and the Members of the Parliamentary Rugby League Group and service personnel who couldn’t be with us I would like to thank our founding Members David Hinchliffe, Sir Ian McCartney and the late Lord Geoff Lofthouse for their tireless work in supporting rugby league and ensuring the recognition we’re celebrating today. Army Rugby League and rugby league in all the services has achieved a great deal over the past 20 years, and an equally compelling future lies ahead. We’re proud to have played our part and look forward to another 20 years of success.”
Click here to view images from the days’s events