With ‘Leisure Rugby’ going through such a boom phase in recent times, increasingly we have seen tournaments being able to ride the wave and put together revenue spinning events after only a year or two in production. Organisers have been licking their lips trying to tap into the ‘get rich quick’ mentality that has cultivated in sporting events in general. The Stockholm 10s is one from the old school though. Born 17 years ago, thanks to brothers Hunter and Alan Mabon, the event has been on a rollercoaster that has now culminated in it becoming a premier fixture on the European calendar, whilst finding itself as the biggest 10s tournament globally. But it wasn’t always like that.
With ‘Leisure Rugby’ going through such a boom phase in recent times, increasingly we have seen tournaments being able to ride the wave and put together revenue spinning events after only a year or two in production. Organisers have been licking their lips trying to tap into the ‘get rich quick’ mentality that has cultivated in sporting events in general.
The Stockholm 10s is one from the old school though. Born 17 years ago, thanks to brothers Hunter and Alan Mabon, the event has been on a rollercoaster that has now culminated in it becoming a premier fixture on the European calendar, whilst finding itself as the biggest 10s tournament globally. But it wasn’t always like that.
Penny starts to drop
“It was a struggle to start with getting twelve male teams and the tournament made substantial losses, we nearly cancelled it several times due to heavy expenses,” said Alan.
It might have been a struggle in the formative years but they attracted some decent names to gloss over the small amount of teams present including the Hastings brothers (who dovetailed the trip with Gavin’s stag do), Rob Wainwright, Phil de Glanville, and the boot himself Jon Callard.
Eventually Alan and Hunter’s persistence eventually paid dividends and they no longer had to ‘bribe’ teams to make the journey. This is partly due to their hard work but also a realisation in rugby circles of what heading to Sweden entailed.
“Six or seven years ago, Ryanair started flying to Stockholm, and brought down the airfares. This in conjunction with a weak currency suddenly made Stockholm cheap to fly to plus less expensive to enjoy,” added Alan.
“The teams that actually participated started telling their friends that Stockholm was not that expensive, there were no polar bears in the streets plus that everybody spoke English!”
Interestingly for the UK teams, if you sit down and do the sums, heading to Stockholm is not that much more expensive then a long weekend at a major domestic rugby festival - and let’s be honest, the Swedish sun and bevy of blondes isn’t exactly an unappealing option.
The stats started to show progress was being made over the years. 12 teams went to 16. 21 teams to 24. Old boys and ladies teams were added and now the final count sees a total of 32 men’s, 16 ladies, and eight old boys sides spread out over a weekend of festivities. It has been a steady progress but one that reflects the industrious work of the brothers.
Time and effort was placed on the infrastructure with quality food, medical services and a real push to draw in high profile and quality referees. Jim Fleming has graced the event in years gone by and as with last year, the 2009 event will once again see the highly respected Wayne Barnes officiate – don’t worry Wayne there are no Kiwi teams in house.
10s offering other avenues
So why Tens at Stockholm? The founding club, Stockholm Exiles, celebrated its 30th jubilee by playing in the established Hong Kong Tens in 1992, enjoying themselves immensely and actually performing rather well. This lead the club to decide to bring this shortened form of the game back to Europe the following year.
We have already seen the regard that ‘Tens’ is now starting to be taken in and the benefits it can bring when we look at the Cape Town 10s. It’s a topic the brothers feel strongly about, although they are also aware that the gap between 7s and 10s could get even larger in the future.
“Tens has proved popular in Asia and I personally feel that this form of the game is much more like the 15s with a bit more space. 7's has become so specialised and only for the fast men,” said Hunter.
“10s is a very good alternative to 15s and you need front row forwards as well, not just speedy backs. The future of 10´s could be tough, especially if rugby makes the Olympics. I suspect that more money, interest and sponsors will get involved with 7s,” added Alan.
One angle which seems to be working in the Mabon brother’s favour is the timing of the tournament. Being smack bang in the middle of the pre-season period means that some of the players and teams pitching up to the ‘Årstafältet Rugby Center’ can use the event as some sort of pre-season exercise with the European 15s season on the horizon.
This can work two-fold with the obvious fitness playing with reduced numbers can bring whilst the tour side of things provides a decent bonding experience for new and old players. With the set-piece taking on a greater degree of significance for Tens it’s not so exclusive for the more nimble and mobile operators in a squad – i.e. the lumps in the front five can join the party.
It’s also not just the higher level sides going on overseas tours. Middle tiered rugby clubs and teams are jumping on planes and are not just limiting themselves to one trip a year.
Sharks out to avenge 08
Swedish International Alex Taylor runs the Olorun Sharks, a side made up of predominately British players with the odd Kiwi sometimes thrown in too. The Sharks have ruled the roost in Stockholm in recent years taking the men’s title four times. Yet last year is still a sore area for Taylor, with his side blowing a three try lead in the final to lose out to the Wooden Spoon.
“I’m still slightly lost for words from last year, after being three tries up! We simply went to sleep in the second half and suffered an unbelievable come back from the ‘Spoon’ who took it 22-15.”
“It’s gutting they (Wooden Spoon) will not be there this year too so we can put that right but we are expecting some strong resistance from the others from making it five titles,” said Taylor.
That resistance could come from a whole host of names, especially the new teams to the event such as Agence Tourisme (France), Tigers RFC (Texas, USA) and the Chics (Spain) who are expected to cause a stir.
The Bootleggers are bringing a strong squad and the major domestic threat usually comes from Hammarby who have shown well in the last few editions. Yet it’s the Olorun Sharks who are still probably the team to beat.
“The squad’s looking strong with a lot of new faces in the side. Most notable probably James Tirrell a former Saracen and key part of Samurai's 7s side this summer. We also have some top gas with a French international 7s player making his debut too,” added Taylor.
In the Ladies bracket it’s the Moody Cows and the Stockholm Exiles who are favourites but the Mabon brothers are interested to see how the German Women's 7s Academy. This is very much based on the senior’s excellent showing in Hanover recently and the investment and effort Germany have been placing on their rugby.
And what about events outside the rugby? With teams coming from all over Europe, the Mabons felt it was important not just to rely on Stockholm and Sweden to provide the entertainment but to make something happen themselves.
“We now have 3 different nights. The first one is in Stockholm and participating pubs, the second night is a BBQ and DJ or band on site (we had 500 people on the dance floor at 1am last year) and the third night is a closing party, which attracted over 800 guests last year,” said Alan.
And from a players perspective, Stockholm ticks all the required boxes culminating in a weekend to remember.
“After the great rugby on display, we all get to enjoy a cracking night out, and it’s certainly one of the reasons the Sharks love coming here,” said Taylor.
Indeed it is, with Taylor hinting it’s not usually a hard sell to persuade his boys to fly out, with the promise of great nightlife and a chance to immerse themselves amongst the locals. ‘Living the dream’ is how Taylor describes the Stockholm Tens experience, and for the Mabon brothers it’s a dream which has taken time to realise.
“The tournament will grow again, maybe start getting national teams, or getting touch rugby and beach rugby on board. At some point we will need to move to a proper stadium for parts of the tournament, more media and local tie ups need to come onboard,” said Alan.
Hunter is also keen to continue to expand, but not surprisingly from such a wily and experienced Tournament Organiser he is also wary of moving too quickly.
“This year we will have a few less teams than last year due to the hard times. However we have almost reached the limit of our capacity on our four pitches.
“It would be great to grow the women's event but there is no point in growing too much if you lose the quality of the event though.”
It’s a sensible attitude with again a desire on making the playing experience as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Other tournaments could do worse than follow the Stockholm blueprint.