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Rugby, Aussie Rules and Gaelic Football Have a Footing in Dallas

There are five adult amateur rugby clubs in Dallas, with 340 men and nearly 100 women registered.EXPAND
There are five adult amateur rugby clubs in Dallas, with 340 men and nearly 100 women registered.
Bonnie Roth
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“Big Red” is a 6-foot-7 Irishman wearing a floppy hat and a spaghetti-strap dress. “Lewie” is a Texas-born DISD school teacher with a mullet. He’s sporting his wife’s striped maternity dress.

Also in attendance: a one-armed fitness guru called “Teapot”; a correctional officer at a local jail; a former naval officer and an Ivy Leaguer. Diversity is an understatement. Nicknames are the norm.

Nearly half of a 130-strong brotherhood is downing celebratory beers in the backyard of The Rustic bar in Uptown. More than a dozen countries are represented in this mix of teammates. Everyone is clad in women’s garments.

This is a typical weekend for the Dallas Reds Rugby Football Club.

Today is Sundress Sunday; a riotous and ridiculous celebration of Saturday’s victories over teams from Texas and Louisiana.

The end-of-week clothing choice may elicit laughter, but rugby is a serious affair in Dallas – not at all like that episode of Friends. It’s just one of the lesser-known international sports that have gained a foothold in Dallas, helping to curate a thriving social scene, bonded through athletic endeavor.

Australian rules – commonly known as “footy” – and Gaelic football also have local amateur organizations; the Dallas Magpies (men) and Fion MacCumhaill club (men and women), respectively.

There are five adult amateur rugby clubs in Dallas alone, two of which have women’s sides. In total, there are over 340 men and nearly 100 women registered. The sport also boasts local college and high school programs and 2017 saw the creation of a city-endorsed Dallas Youth Rugby Club.

Ben “Fluff” Collins plays both amateur rugby and footy, occasionally having a run with the Gaelic squad too. He’s an Australian who has also lived in England, and for the past year, Dallas.

“Club sports are so common in Australia and Europe,” he said. “People don’t know what they’re missing until they try it. Anyone who sees these sports for the first time is automatically interested. People love the social aspect too, and the comradeship that comes with training all year.”

The Dallas Reds Rugby Football Club, shown here celebrating a victory at The Rustic, has a tradition of wearing women's clothes on Sundays.
The Dallas Reds Rugby Football Club, shown here celebrating a victory at The Rustic, has a tradition of wearing women's clothes on Sundays.
courtesy Dallas Rugby Club

Now, about the men in dresses. No one is quite sure why the final Reds home match of the season is always followed by a bar crawl in women’s attire. You might say it’s a synecdoche for rugby’s surprising role in Dallas.

Some Texans may be familiar with rugby sevens, which was re-introduced in last summer’s Olympics. It’s a distilled version of rugby union (as opposed to rugby league, a different iteration). Union is the most popular rugby code on the international scale and is the game played in Dallas. Visually brutal and elegant, rugby’s culture is uniquely centered on how to play and carry yourself as a gentleman (or woman). It’s both the exciting action and devotion to camaraderie that can draw hundreds of fans to a pitch on a Saturday in DFW.

The local existence of Aussie rules (AFL or "Footy") and Gaelic football clubs are met with the most surprise, as most Americans have never heard, let alone seen, these games played.

“I get a lot of ‘How did you end up playing Aussie rules in Texas?'” said Jack O’Dell, a former college football player in Ohio. “I have to explain that there is a U.S. league with 30-plus teams.”

In many respects, Aussie rules and Gaelic football are similar. Their enormous playing confines closer resemble a polo ground than a soccer field. Like rugby, both sports feature the organized chaos of nonstop flowing play. There’s no pads and no offside penalties so crushing hits come from every direction. Carrying, kicking and hand-balling up and down the field give both sports the flavors of quidditch, soccer and rugby.

Partly due the number of major corporations located here, Dallas is a city of both domestic and international transplants. Both, as well as Texas locals, comprise these niche sports’ membership.

Some of the rugby clubs recruit overseas talent in hopes of a national championship, often setting up visitors with housing, a job and transport.

“Rugby was a great excuse to go see a different part of the world and the Reds accommodated me,” said Jake Campey, a 23-year-old fresh off British military service. “It’s hard to find a club that has top level play and social and Dallas rugby does it so well.”

In general, the growth of international sport in Dallas can be credited to the ambassadorial nature of those who play and support it. Between co-ed touch rugby; men’s, women’s and LGBTQ clubs in rugby; rugby sevens; Aussie rules and Gaelic, the community welcomes newcomers from far and near, year-round.

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