The Chargers prepare for the Bingham Cup
As they prepare to compete in the international Bingham Cup we catch up with the Melbourne Chargers club captain, Ryan Naylor, and their president, Anton Brookes.
While Melbourne might be the home of Aussie Rules, there is a new game in town. Rugby has found new fans in Victoria in recent years and many of those fans are in the gay community. For the Melbourne Chargers Club Captain Ryan Naylor, joining the world of rugby was a fateful event.
He went along to the Chargers’ very first training and recruitment session five years ago to support a friend who wanted to join. The friend ended up dropping out, however Naylor has gone from strength to strength and has been the club captain for the past two years.
“I still find it very hard to articulate what I like about rugby,” Naylor says. “No one who knew me at school would ever have thought I’d take up a full contact sport, let alone pursue it as obsessively as I have. It keeps me fit, it’s mostly a lot of fun, and I get to spend my time with a great group of people.”
While the Bingham Cup is firmly in the Chargers’ sights, for Naylor the pride of representing not just his club but his country is foremost in his mind. He says that while he would like to bring home two trophies he just hopes the Chargers have a good time.
“It’s not often amateur sportsmen have the opportunity to represent their club, their community and their country in an international competition, so I’d like everyone to feel like they squeezed every last drop out of it,” he says.
The loyalty the players show towards the team is inspiring. Overwhelmingly most of the players feel drawn in by the sense of ‘family’ that being part of a team rouses. Naylor knows the team will give 100 per cent and says that’s what he wants to give in every minute of every game he plays.
“I like winning, but my primary competition is against myself,” Naylor says. “I play for pride in my jersey and for the love of my club and what we stand for and the people playing alongside me. On or off the field, I will not let my club or my team down. If I feel like I’ve achieved that, then I’ll be happy.”
For the Chargers president Anton Brookes, growing up in Wales, rugby was almost obligatory being the national sport. However, at the time rugby wasn’t for him and he found himself more drawn to the performing arts:
“Anything that would take me as far away from sport as possible,” Brookes says.
Then, at 27, he had a change of heart and decided to join the Manchester Spartans (Manchester's version of the Melbourne Chargers), and has never looked back. In 2011 when he moved to Australia he joined up with the Chargers.
“I've always watched the international tournaments, such as the World Cup, or 6 Nations Rugby and am an avid Wales supporter. I was never a soccer fan, nor had I even heard of AFL before coming to Melbourne.
There's something about rugby that always kept me intrigued. There seemed to be a lot more camaraderie in the team, and there never seemed to be an issue about who you are, or how you look, or what size you are, you're always welcome. I have always enjoyed using the term 'rugby is a thug’s game, played by gentlemen'.”
While it’s true that AFL has its strongest following in Victoria and rugby is not as broadly popular here, Brookes has seen a definite rise in interest in the sport.
“AFL will always be the leading sport in Melbourne due to the amount of media the game attracts,” Brookes says. “However, we have found that over this year, and the success that the Chargers have had by reaching the finals within the VRU [Victorian Rugby Union] Third Division, we have had a huge increase in followers from the LGBTQI community.
“With the Bingham Cup also being in Sydney this year, it's had a lot of home media, which has boosted our popularity also.”
Brookes is proud of what the Chargers have achieved. They have remained loyal to their goals of creating a place where new and experienced players can come along to play in an environment where they can be completely open about their sexuality.
“Many players may have either left the sport or have not been able to be truly who they are,” he says. “We aim to contribute to the promotion and development of the sport of Rugby Union in Victoria and provide a new and diverse social opportunity for same-sex attracted people.”
[Images] The Chargers. Photo: Andrew Rodgers
To get involved with the Melbourne Chargers go to melbournechargers.org