JAMIE Whitby has always loved rugby, but has never quite felt like he “fitted in” in the sport.

Despite numerous attempts to join clubs, the 24-year-old always felt uncomfortable in what can be considered a “manly environment”.

However, that all changed when he joined his first training session with the Rochford Hundred Hawks – a new LGBTQ+ rugby side.

Echo: Inclusive - New LGBTQ rugby team in RochfordInclusive - New LGBTQ rugby team in Rochford (Image: Alan Harvey)

Last year, Rochford Rugby Club embarked on a mission to launch a new team specifically for the LGBTQ+ community.

After months of building a squad and hosting training sessions, the team played its first ever 15-a-side match last week.

Head coach Alan Harvey, who helped set up the club, said it has helped give men access to the sport that they never felt was available to them.

And Jamie, who is now vice-captain, said the club has made him feel more comfortable than ever with himself, and his sexuality.

Echo: Happy - Jamie Whitby in redHappy - Jamie Whitby in red (Image: NWA Photography)

He said: “Had you told me a year ago that I would be part of a rugby team I would have laughed you out of the room, let alone a vice captain of a rugby team aimed towards the LGBTQIA+ community.

“I had wanted to play rugby for so long but never really found my ‘in’ and had submitted to the idea that I just wouldn’t.

“Then I was introduced to the Hawks, and I agreed to go to one training session.

“I have never been so happy about a decision I have made.

“I have never been someone who is comfortable with their sexuality, but these men made me realise being bi is something to be proud of.”

Echo: Inclusive - the team is challenging stereotypesInclusive - the team is challenging stereotypes (Image: NWA Photography / Alan Harvey)

More than 300 people were at the match against Rochford Hundred Stags, and despite a valiant fight back, the Hawks narrowly lost the game.

Trevor Cain, 48, the captain of the team, added: “The Hawks have given me a space where I can play rugby and the only thing I need to worry about is that I can’t catch, or my hips hurt.

“We are helping challenge the stereotype of what it is to be gay. We are creating a strong team and a space for others from my community to come and feel safe, whilst enjoying rugby.

“My team-mates mean so much to me, they are like my sporting family.”

Head coach Alan said the winner on the night was “inclusivity and rugby”.

He added: “I have heard from the players that this has given access to the sport that wasn’t previously available to gay men.

“Rugby clubs are often known for ‘blokes being blokes’ which doesn’t attract people to it.

“Some of our players have always wanted to play but didn’t feel comfortable. It is a real community.

“We are now looking to enter the International Gay Rugby League for the 2024/25 season.

“We do still need sponsors too as we don’t have a club kit yet. And we are always looking for more players. We just can’t wait to continue to grow the club and create that community.

“The club is open to everyone and anyone, irrespective of age or experience.

“We are even attracting people to come and try the sport, even though they hadn’t even played before, and they are doing incredibly well.”

For details, email inclusiverugby@rochfordrugby.com.