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Alan Whelan, a fifty-year plus fixture of rugby in New York City died at age 79.
He is most remembered for founding the Village Lions RFC in 1989, as an adjunct to his Red Lion pub on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village. Whelan imported Anglo-Irish rugby talent by offering bartender and waiter positions at the restaurant.
From the outset, the Lions offered competitive rugby and outstanding social fixtures for Men and Women. Over time, the rugby improved as the club won Division II titles and several sevens events.
Whelan played for St. Mary’s College in Ireland before immigrating to America. Here he joined the New York RFC and started working in bars on the upper east side of Manhattan in the 1960s.
Along with New York RFC's John Barnes (Mad Hatter Pub), in 1971. Whelan helped start (and coach) the St. Francis College, Brooklyn, program, and a year later, established a new club at St. Johns University, Queens, New York. Later, he and Barnes formed a club at St. Francis Prep, one of the first high school teams on the east coast. He helped organize its successful tour to Ireland in 1974, the first ever-American high school rugby visit to Europe
Many thousands of players from 46 countries played with the Village Lions.
From today's Village Lions website obituary.
"Whelan mentioned how the players, in the club’s earliest days, were a frequent target for more established rugby clubs looking to absorb the Lions into their fold. 'They’d come to me and say, why don’t you throw your lot in with us, we have Division 1 status, you have a lot of bodies, a lot of young guys,' said Whelan. “'I basically told them all, we’re not joining anybody, we’re not changing our colors, we’re not changing our name. We are the Lions. We’re gonna stay the Lions and we’re gonna die the Lions.'"