8th May 2020, 10:52 | armed_forces

VE Day 75 and the bond between Rugby League and the Armed Forces

VE Day 75 and the bond between Rugby League and the Armed Forces

As the nation commemorates VE Day 75, the Rugby League community reflects on the very special relationship between the sport and the Armed Forces.

The historic relationship with the Armed Forces was deepened when in 1994 - after tireless efforts by inspirational players from all three services, MPs, the RFL and others - a ban on the playing of Rugby League in the British Armed Forces was lifted and the sport achieved formal recognition.

Rugby League now goes from strength to strength with teams in the British Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force taking to the field in the President’s Cup, the Coral Challenge Cup and inter-service competitions; and the UK Armed Forces RL team of elite players from the three services competing on the international stage. The Pankhurst Cup fixture sees Women’s Armed Forces v UK Students; and services sides regularly compete in the Coral Women’s Challenge Cup. 2019 also saw the Army Women defeat York City Knights Women to win the Challenge Shield.

Simon Johnson, Chair, the RFL said:

“There is a special bond between the sport and the Armed Forces. This ensures that the Forces relationship is at the heart of the Rugby League community, from professional to community clubs. It includes engagement at major events, playing, officiating, coaching, mental and physical fitness sessions, fundraising, history projects, volunteering opportunities, and much more.

“It is a source of great pride to me and, I am sure, to every Rugby League fan that our sport is the only one to gather together and commemorate the sacrifice of our Armed Forces at the Cenotaph on Whitehall - in a very moving ceremony which takes place ahead of the Challenge Cup Final.

“The relationship between the sport and the Armed Forces is a dynamic one. There are more playing opportunities than ever for serving personnel or veterans – from men’s and women’s 13 a-side to Masters, Touch or Tag, and Disability or Wheelchair RL.  

“The relationship will continue to be innovative and inspiring - a fitting tribute to our shared history and our future together as we reflect and pay our respects on this the 75th anniversary of VE Day.”

The Armed Forces play an integral role at major events including the Coral Challenge Cup Final and the Betfred Super League Grand Final, and Armed Forces matches are a feature of the calendar for professional and community clubs. 

Activities take place across clubs and Foundations with veterans’ support and social groups; living history projects; fitness sessions, and leadership training.

Examples include at Hull FC where legend of the sport Johnny Whiteley MBE has shared his war time experiences and has inspired longstanding work by the club to connect veterans and other older people and their families to the club community. The Jack Harrison fixture and permanent memorial brings history and remembrance to new generations of fans.

Vibrant veterans’ activities offer support and camaraderie at Hull FC, Leigh Centurions, St Helens and other clubs. In the community game, the inspirational Armed Forces festival days at Crosfields, at Wigan St Pats and more are some of the sport’s best days out.