Huddersfield man is the architect of rugby boom in the tropics

In recent years the game of rugby union has seen a growth in global popularity and a Huddersfield man has played a huge part in helping develop the game in one of the unlikeliest of places.

Tom Stubley, 36, was introduced to rugby at Mirfield Free Grammar School and joined Huddersfield RUFC in his early teens. He went on to play alongside future England international Luther Burrell in the club’s highly successful Academy team.

After completing his MA in Architecture at Leeds Beckett University Tom indulged his passion for travel and spent two years living in Australia and New Zealand. On his return journey, he visited Thailand and developed a love for the country.

After a brief spell back in England he returned to the land that was to become home for the next 8 years. He settled in the city of Chiang Mai in Thailand’s mountainous northern region. There he set up his own design studio, did some teaching work and founded the Lanna Rugby Club.

He said, ‘People laughed at me when I suggested the idea. They said no one would be interested in playing the game in the heat and the rain but I believed it would work and was determined to give it a go.

‘I found some free land on which to play about 45 minutes drive away and set up a Facebook page and website to promote the project. I then sourced some balls and equipment and announced the first practice.

‘That was in October 2018. New Zealander Phil Gwyther and Louis Stanton, who is ex-Leeds RL, were the first two to turn up. They became strong advocates for the club and have helped steady it through the years.

‘At first it was centred on ex-pats, although we did have some local interest, but I was keen to develop the game at grassroots level and provide opportunities for youngsters to take part.

‘I used to make the journey to the ground on my Honda Cub to coach the practice sessions. Sometimes I was the only one to turn up but I persevered and gradually interest picked up.’

Tom’s determination paid off and in 2019 he set up the first ever league in Chiang Mai, the Lanna Rugby 10’s League. ‘Promoting the idea of regular rugby to the university teams was hard graft, but now, 6 years on, the league has taken on a life of its own and has become a staple for

clubs in the region play in. It is now the Chiang Mai 11s League.

‘In 2020 we re-located from Lamphun Technical College to Kanta Anurorn School in San

Kamphaeng, which was much closer. Then, in 2023, we moved to the Varee International School in the centre of Chiang Mai which has become a big supporter of what we are trying to achieve. Our aim was to have an ‘open door’ policy and provide a safe space where youngsters could learn the game, make friends and be part of a team.’

Tawan ‘Dtun’ Kiatngamphom was the first ever Thai player to join in. Tom said, ‘Dtun started as a 16 year old in the early days. He could speak very little English but his enthusiasm overcame the language barrier and he is now involved in the coaching and has forged good community links by engaging with kids and getting them to come along and have fun. He is now the bedrock of the club and epitomises what Lanna is all about.

‘As time went on word spread, more and more kids came and loved it. Now they can’t get enough of the game. In 2021 we were approached by the Kids Ark Foundation who work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds. They wanted to get onboard and a healthy partnership developed. More recently the BanDek Foundation, who have similar aims to Kids Ark, have also affiliated with the club.

‘When Kids Ark linked up Erin Keiley, a Canadian player, got involved. She helped with the coaching, set up the women’s team and developed touch rugby in Chiang Mai.’

Lanna Rugby Club has built strong relationships with other clubs in Thailand and South East Asia including Chiang Rai Bears who were Lanna’s first ever opponents. The two clubs became self supporting and an annual ‘Battle of the Beasts’ competition is a highlight of the rugby calendar.

Boys and girls as young as 3 years are welcome at Lanna. They have a ‘Tots’ section for 3-6 year olds, a 6-9 year old ‘Cubs’ section and one for ‘Juniors’ from 10-15. The rugby season lasts from August to the end of February with a month break in December. Rugby is played mainly at the 10 a-side level although last season the Lanna Lions men’s team stepped up to the 15 a side game. The Lanna Lionesses women’s team is now one of the most competitive in South East Asia and last year an over 35’s team called the Golden Lions was launched which played against Payap University alumni in Chiang Mai.

As success bred success interest in the club continued to grow and attracted much needed sponsorship. Six years after it’s foundation Lanna Rugby Club is thriving. With a well organised management structure in place it runs an annual touch rugby tournament, hosts festivals and runs successful teams at junior and senior levels. It also holds two huge annual social events at its ‘Moat House’ base in the city centre. A Christmas party is held in the mid-season break and an end of season presentation night takes place in March.

Tom is now resident back in England and playing rugby for Huddersfield again but he is happy that his legacy is in safe hands, He said, ‘I am overwhelmed with pride for the new management team and the players of the club. Matt Hirst is club director and leads a strong group of brilliant officers with tenacity and creativity. They are constantly coming up with new and exciting ways to drive the club and rugby forward. Lanna Rugby Club is now leading the way in growing the sport in the North of Thailand.’

Recently a shirt exchange between Huddersfield RUFC and Lanna has taken place and Tom is excited by the prospect of a ‘twinning’ arrangement. He said, ‘It was a very special moment for us. Now that the club is growing the establishment of international links like this one will help push the sport forward which is incredible.’

Written by Richard Sykes

 

Lanna Rugby Club is a volunteer based club and always on the lookout for help. If you are interested in visiting to coach, referee or help the club out in other ways the club can be contacted via Facebook, Instagram or email – lannarugbyclub@gmail.co.uk.

https://www.facebook.com/lannarugbyclub

https://lannarugbyclub.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

            

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