Sport was always a big deal with my family. I have been playing rugby union since I was five years old, and it is a game I have always liked. One of my earliest memories of playing was when I was ridiculously tall at age 12. I was kicked by the coach of the other team because he could not believe someone of my age was a as big as I was!
People call me Fuzz, it is a nickname from when I used to hang out at the police station in Young when I was a kid. I played rugby all through high school and then in representative football. I played with the NSW Schoolboys in 1983 and then with Sydney University in the first grade team. I then joined the club I am affiliated with now, Woollahra Colleagues, and played first grade for five years.
It was in the final year of playing that I came out to the team. I felt I could do it because I had been playing with them for so long. The guys on the team were all fine about it. It was more an issue for the new guys to the team who had never come in contact with an openly gay man before.
In 2000, my partner and I decided it was time for a change of lifestyle, so we moved to San Francisco for three years. They had a gay rugby side, San Francisco Fog, and I joined more as a way to meet new people than to play. To be honest, they were a pretty hopeless side then, but had such dedication.
One of the first games I played with Fog was alongside Mark Bingham, who was killed during the September 11 attacks. They organised the Bingham Cup in his honour in 2002, and eight gay rugby teams from around the world came to San Francisco to play. It was an amazing experience, and at that point, the whole concept of gay rugby really kicked in for me. Before then I didn’t get why you need to have a gay team, but it became clear this was something these players were so into.
We returned to Sydney in 2003, and when a member of the London Steelers was travelling through he asked why there was no Sydney team. When he suggested I start a team and said that Bingham Cup was only six months away, it seemed like a good challenge.
So, I started a football team. I was really clear that it needed to have a serious rugby focus and be a competitive team, not a social group who happened to play rugby. I had been involved with a touch football team, POOFTA, and our first eight players came from there. I approached Woollahra Colleagues and asked the club president if he could help out. It was an enormous leap of faith, but he took it and said yes.
Our first training day was in November 2003 and only five people turned up. But it was a start. After our second session we had a meeting to discuss names for the team. Someone said The Convicts, and it seemed perfect. We figured the convicts might have been sent here for sodomy, or probably would have done it on the boat here, so it seemed like an easy name to adopt.
We all got stuck into setting up the infrastructure and building a team. We also set up a website at www.sydneyconvicts.org.au. Our first game was in March 2004 in Campbelltown and the team we played against were huge. I thought we had no chance. Well, we won that game with a score of 12 -“ 5. It was then I realised we had a rugby team!
We played well through that season. From the standard I had seen at the Bingham Cup, I thought we were in the running to win it. We went off to London with a squad of 40 and we were the new, unknown team. We made it to the semi-finals and got knocked out by my old team, the San Francisco Fog. But I still think we were the best team, as well as the best dressed of the lot!
We now have 35 players, six of whom are straight, and the quality of players we have attracted has been sensational. We are working towards the 2006 Bingham Cup in New York and there could even be two Convict teams by the time numbers are finalised.
There has been virtually zero reaction from other teams finding out we are a gay team. One game, there were some problems from the sideline, but that was it. There was a comment recently from one of the younger Colleagues players who seriously thought every club had a gay team!
This weekend is the end of our season with the Purchas Cup, when we play Brisbane’s gay rugby team, the Hustlers. They named the Purchas Cup after me because I set up the team and I am still a little embarrassed about it. We played Brisbane twice last year and once this year, so it should be a great game.
I am now over 40 and have had some back problems in the recent years. It was particularly bad during the last Bingham Cup, but I still want to play and plan to do so in New York. But in terms of setting this up and getting the Convicts to this point, it has been an amazing experience.
Interview by John Burfitt