Newcastle's North East Barbarian wheelchair rugby team hoping to be 'biggest in Europe'

A wheelchair rugby team is expanding its membership to recruit junior members after going from 'strength to strength' following the success of last year's various Rugby World Cup competitions.

"If you have a body, you’re an athlete" is the club's motto.

North East Barbarians hopes to be the biggest wheelchair rugby team in Europe by 2030.

Newcastle Wheelchair Rugby, which runs the club, has amassed a solid following on social media, with tens of thousands of followers and video views across TikTok and YouTube.

The club's chairman Mick Armstrong hopes the progression of the sport will attract similar numbers in supporters and members.

The success of the club all started with a tragic accident. Mick's friend Layth Abdulla needed a new outlet to enjoy sport again after he became reliant on using a wheelchair.

In 2018, there was no squad on Tyneside, so Mick formed a club. Now, it's interest is picking up speed.

  • Mick explains the rules of Wheelchair Rugby 5s and his hopes for the future of the sport

Following the success of the Rugby World Cup competitions last year, Mick says the club has been inundated with interest.

He said: "We've had so many emails, and people being involved with the club and searching us. Our hits on the website through the roof.  Wheelchair sport is amazing and I think it needs to be out there to a wider audience."

The aim for North East Barbarians, which now train at Blyth Sports Centre in Northumberland, is not to just expand the sport of wheelchair rugby, but to create a community amongst players.

Mick said those involved in the team rely on the social aspect of training too: "[He told me] 'My mind is free. I don't think about anything else other than what I'm doing'.

"That's what people try and do at yoga. You want to forget about your worries and come down here and have a laugh with the team."

What are the rules of WR5s?

  • As the name suggests, Wheelchair Rugby 5s has 5 players on court. Although, the Paralympic discipline has 4.

  • This sport is open to players with physical impairments - basically anyone who can't play running rugby.

  • Teams have a maximum squad of 12.

  • Games are played over two periods of 12 minutes - with a 2 minute break at halftime.

  • A goal is scored when a player carries the ball across the opposing team's goal line. 

  • Contact before the whistle is NOT allowed.

After raising £40,000 for adult sport chairs, the club has now expanded and their fundraising mission continues. The club is seeking to raise a further £35,000 to accommodate junior members.

At at these sessions, everyone is invited to play together - even if they do not use a wheelchair in day-to-day life.

Daniel said he was not really into sports before his accident, but that all changed after joining the team:

"I thought when I got into a wheelchair sport that it would be really overprotective, because of your injury. But loads of people have different injuries and you play full on with them. It doesn't make a difference, it doesn't matter who is who, you just play the sport."

For Grace, she would like to see more women and girls join in the sport too.

  • Meet Daniel and Grace, two junior members of the squad

Will has tried various sports, but found a firm favourite in wheelchair rugby.

His Dad Gary Messer says the inclusivity the team shows is a reason he keeps coming back.

  • Will's Dad Gary says "being the same as everyone else" makes all the difference

New talent is always coming through the door. For many new players, they found out about the squad on social media. Benjamin wanted to try something new, and it seems his debut on the court, is only the start of his journey in the sport.

Ben said: "I feel like everyone else you know, you're just tackling into eachother. It does feel like actual rugby, just with wheelchairs. If you're independent and up to it, then just do it. Don't be so hesitant."

It was the first training session of many for Benjamin Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Training takes place on a Tuesday night at Blyth Sports Centre and the club plays three national tournaments a year. From January 2023, 10 free Junior Wheelchair Rugby taster sessions are available to new starters.

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