We recently caught up with Founder of London 9’s Rugby & Music Festival, Graham Oliphant. The event, based around the Rugby League 9’s format is taking place on Saturday 21st July 2018 in East London with teams from all over the World coming to play.
The London 9’s is just the beginning of Graham’s plan to create a World wide 9’s circuit by 2024 with other cities already in the planning stages.
As well as a feast of Rugby, the London 9’s is also a huge music festival curated by SoundFlow Academy and also featuring England Rugby Union star Luther Burrell in the DJ booth!
Fill Your Boots – What was your inspiration for creating the London 9’s?
Graham Oliphant – The fact that 9-a-side Rugby League is a great concept and is being under-utilised and under marketed by the sport of Rugby League.
RU7s has proven how popular the short form of rugby is, at the top level, but also amongst amateur teams and specific social 7s outfits. 7’s festivals are plentiful and all popular, with teams attending multiple events each year.
With the growth in success of other short-form variations of different sports, from 20/20 cricket, 5-a-side football. Even AFL and NFL are now investing in short-form variations to attract a new audience
Add into this mix, a huge growth in sports tourism from young adults seeking unique social/sport experiences in more exotic locations and then you have the concept of the London 9’s: A Rugby and Music Festival, specific to the Capital City.
FYB – What was your background before taking on the event full time?
GO – Coming from Cumbria originally, I played both Union and League when I was younger. Playing League at Durham Uni and then moving to London and playing for the London Skolars in 1996 onwards. These were very ‘formative years’. No glitzy stadium and private gyms…. we used to mark the pitch out with bags of flour every Saturday am and travel 3-5 hours for an away game. I loved every minute, even the post-match sausage-rolls you could’ve robbed a bank with, they were that tough.
I cut my teeth with London Skolars back in 2003 as their Operations Manager when they first turned semi-pro, organising the Middlesex 9s which proved very popular.
I worked for the London Fire Service for 15 years, whilst still playing Rugby, operationally and in my later career in policy and strategy. I resigned from work in December 2017 to set up my own Company and pursue Rugby Event Marketing and in particular developing a Capital9s Circuit. The first part of this being the London9s Rugby & Music Festival.
FYB – What was it that attracted you to the 9’s format of the sport?
GO – 1996 Bath v Wigan: The clash of the codes.
I remember watching, mesmerised, in ’96, in my last year at Uni, thinking how amazing- how different. The endless debate from both Codes and back seat fans about who would win and why – who was ‘the best’. The big characters of the era- Edwards, Farrell and Offiah…. and been surprised by how well Phil De Glanville got stuck in and was a stand out player for Bath!
The halcyon days of cross-code match ups- when Wigan in their heyday also won the ’96 Middlesex 7s and then Bradford shaking the establishment by winning, in style, in 2002 and then the 2003 Saints v Sale match up.
Inspired by these I could never really understand why Nines wasn’t adopted in a more structured way in the UK and why we suddenly stopped having cross-code match ups.
I should also state that the #LDN9s is an independently run and independently funded festival, open to anyone who wishes to enter. So people may think I’m talking a good game, but I’m putting my own money and a few hundred hours of toil into this and i’m determined to make it work. I hope it is a journey others will feel inspired to join.
Essentially, I wanted to open up ‘Nines’ to the wider Rugby audience and invite both Rugby League and Rugby Union sides. Provoke that debate again, tongue in cheek, about which code is better? Can League sides beat Union 7s specialists in a RL version of the short form game? This is what the London 9’s will offer. The other Capital9s events will be more specific to RL teams.
Yes, all teams will be playing to the version of Rugby league Nines that I have devised, to suit the running times of the tournament- Fast-Furious-Fifteen minute games- 100 games in one day! Bosch!
FYB – What can people expect at the London 9’s?
GO – To have an amazing day out! Sport, is after all, entertainment.
Over 100 games of rugby
✔️ 42 adult amateur rugby teams
✔️ 12 hours of DJ music
✔️ 8 cheerleaders
✔️ 6 Rugby pitches in action
✔️ 3 festival bars
All in 1 amazing day👍
I wanted to create something special. Something memorable. Something that brought together the best elements of a ‘Rugby Tournament’ with the excitement of a ‘Music Festival atmosphere’. I guess, having now moved to the U.S. some of my experiences in the US sports market have rubbed off and I wanted to bring some of that ‘razzmatazz’ into a RL style format.
The London 9’s will be the largest Rugby9s Festival in Europe. It is an attempt to reinvigorate and showcase the short-form of Rugby League, certainly in the northern Hemisphere.
There will be Mens and Women’s teams, as well as a Tag Tournament and a Masters game. All playing to a RL9s version of Rules. It is principally aimed at an adult market of sports and festival lovers.
I’d like to think the London9s is MUCH MORE than just a rugby tournament.
FYB – What teams are taking part?
GO – On the teams, yes, there is quite an exotic mix of mens and women teams, both Union and League, and the numbers are still growing. We anticipate 42 teams in Total.
Notably, we have a team from Australia, made up of two 9s teams, who are embarking on a 15,000km journey to play at the London 9’s. They are funding their own flights and taking time off work. That, right there. That, is passion.
A team from West Papua – the Wan Papua Warriors are travelling over 13,000km from the Southern Hemisphere and have set up a GoFundMe campaign to help with costs. The Fijian based side, the ’Topline Warriors’ have committed to a mere 16,000km journey, where they have been holding local fundraising events and saving from their salaries for the last 3 months to fund the trip.
This is a huge undertaking form these guys. Amateur athletes travelling across the globe to play in an amateur tournament. They have placed their faith in me and I want to make sure they have a great time and the event is a success.
24 Men’s teams:
From the UK too, we’ve had a flurry of teams book in- the RAF RL were the first team, back in October to confirm, along with Cardiff Demons and Cardiff Athletic, Bath RL, Coventry RL, Brixton RL, BARA and it was great to see stalwarts of the Nines Wests Warriors confirm a team.
Many more Southern based clubs have confirmed: Elmbridge Eagles, Eastern Rhinos, Hammersmith Hills Hoists, Telford Raiders, Newham Dockers, Sherwood Wolfhunt, London Skolars and London Spartans, London Chargers.
Boston Buccaneers with their excitingly designed team strip are bringing quite the supporter base with them.
The Red Star Belgrade RL side have entered an exciting ‘Barbarians’ side, comprising Serbia based players, US, Australian, Scottish, Welsh, and
6 Womens’s teams:
Castleford Tigers Ladies- the strong winners of the Brighton9s in 2017 and Yorkshire County Cup winners will be there, along with the Ironsides Ladies RU Club and MO-Sistas charity team, who have a large following.
The Royal Navy women side have secured a berth, along with newly formed Brixton Bulls Women’s RL and fast improving Hull FC ladies RL.
2 Vets sides/Masters
St Albans Centurions and South London Silverbacks will be playing a 13-a-side curtain raiser Masters game for over35’s, comprising a mix of the Masters RL community. Increasingly popular in the UK.
10 Tag Rugby Teams
TryTag Rugby will be hosting a Mens and Womens Tag tournament as part of the wider festival, with opportunities for those who don’t want the ‘full contact’ option.
42 Teams all told. All playing across 6 pitches, in one day!
FYB – What can you tell us about the Capital 9’s Series?
GO – You’ll notice from the London9s Promo video that there is a big emphasis on London itself. This is deliberate attempt to market London as a desirable destination- trying to convey a sense of ’sports tourism’ which I feel has been under utilised as a marketing concept by Rugby sides in the Capital.
I am currently in discussion with a number of interested parties, with a view to launching other 9’s events, located, strategically in Capital Cities around the Northern hemisphere, to bolster and complement existing RL activity in those locations. Two more Cities will be launching in 2019. One of these will be Belgrade, in Serbia- a party Capital, on the Danube, with an annual beer festival that attracts over 100,000 people. I am working with the Red Star Belgrade RL Club to develop the Capital9s model and offer opportunities for international amateur and Tier 2 and Tier 3 Nations to enter teams and experience this amazing City, in 2019.
These will become annual events, and create a ‘Circuit’ with reciprocal opportunities for teams and fans to travel between events and enjoy the three main themes of a Capital9s event: Nines rugby + Music + Party, all wrapped together in a ‘sports tourism’ experience, unique to that particular Capital City. It’s fun and there is a clear appetite from amateur teams to travel and participate. Establishing a Capital9s Circuit, creates that opportunity.
FYB – Do you see 9’s becoming a World wide game similar to the 7’s format?
GO – It’s very early days. It certainly has the potential, however parity would take decades and massive and consistent investment. There is definitely an appetite for it though. That’s not to say that 9s is any less entertaining though- in fact it is actually a better product than 7s, in my opinion. More fast-flowing and a better transition for players to the full game.
7’s has developed as a global brand in it’s own right and is an exciting and entertaining game. It is also proving THE method to engage and attract a new audience to Rugby Union. This has been clearly demonstrated in the USA. Also becoming accepted into the the Olympics as well was a huge step forward. I do think that 9s should be elevated and adopted by RL bodies into the mainstream.
Imagine Magic Weekend as an international 9s Competition? Many more teams, much shorter games, with the same energy and weekend party atmosphere of Newcastle- amazing!
FYB – What does the future hold for the London 9s & Capital 9s events?
GO – By 2024 have 9 Capital Cities around the world linked as a cohesive, integrated Capital9s Circuit with a familiar format and umbrella structure ,Work with clubs and teams to help boost grassroots Rugby growth on the back of this and get more kids with Rugby balls in their hand, Attract Umbrella sponsors to help improve and innovate the experience.