Newcastle awaits a Magic Weekend

Upfront: The League Express opinion – Mon 4th July 2022

READERS with long memories might remember Salford made a feature of Friday-night Rugby League as the club flourished in the late sixties and early seventies.

Some 50 years on and 150 miles or so the North, Newcastle Thunder officials are working hard to grow their club, with a Super League place by 2030 a well-documented target.

Increasing both Thunder’s profile in the city and beyond as well as crowd figures at Kingston Park is an obvious objective.

So the club will be hoping Friday’s Championship clash with Bradford Bulls will contribute to both.

It’s a curtain-raiser to Super League’s Magic Weekend, which takes place in the city over the following two days.

Newcastle United’s famous St James’ Park hosts six matches, and Thunder hope supporters of top-flight clubs will also take in their game.

It will be the sixth time Magic Weekend has taken place at the stadium, which will also stage the big World Cup opener between England and Samoa in October.

Three Group C games, involving Scotland, Italy and Fiji, will take place at Kingston Park, also home to top-flight rugby union club and Thunder’s partners Newcastle Falcons.

The original Gateshead Thunder’s highest gate of 6,631 was against Bradford, in a 1999 Super League clash.

And Thunder, who moved across the Tyne in 2015, also recorded a club-record attendance at Kingston Park of 4,137 when Bradford visited for a Magic Weekend curtain-raising League One clash in 2017.

They hope to exceed that figure this year, when the clubs will underline their support for the LGBTQ+ community, spreading the message that Rugby League is an inclusive sport which everyone should feel comfortable attending.

The match is being staged in partnership with the Northern Pride festival, which takes place in Newcastle from July 22-24.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the first Pride march in London and both Thunder and the Bulls will wear special kits.

Both incorporate the six colours – red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple – which make up the LGBT+ flag.

Keighley Cougars have just hosted their annual Pride game, against West Wales Raiders, and Ryan O’Neill, co-owner of the club with his husband Kaue Garcia, explained: “Our Pride weekend has become an annual party in the town, and it’s a great way of spreading a serious message in a fun and entertaining way.

“We’re focusing on trans rights this year. Other areas of the LGBTQ+ movement are more advanced, and being gay is becoming easier, but the trans community are having a tough time at the moment.”

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