It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that our Club Founder, Alan Whelan, has passed away. My sincere condolences to his family, friends and all who knew him well.
Whether you’ve played for this club for a season or the majority of your rugby career, there is no doubt that Alan made a lasting impact in our lives. For that, we must honor him and thank him for his contributions to this sport we love and to this club we call our family.
Services will be held for Alan on Saturday, July 14th from 6-9pm at Weigand Brothers Funeral Home (49 Hillside Ave, Williston Park, NY).
The Funeral Home is accessible via the East Williston LIRR station. There is a 5:25pm train from Penn station with a switch in Jamaica that gets you there at 6:08pm. There is also a 5:14pm train from Brooklyn that switches at Jamaica to the very same 6:08 arrival. Return trains at 8:35pm and 10:35pm. Lions will gather at TR’s bar for a toast after paying their respect.
His ashes will be scattered at sea in Montauk this coming September.
I send much love to our Lions near and far during this difficult time. Please see below for his obituary, thoughtfully prepared by Old Boy and Hall of Famer (’11), Michael Malone.
Yours in rugby,
Village Lions RFC
Alan Whelan, Founder of Village Lions Rugby Club, Passed Away At 79
Alan Whelan, a Dublin-born man who founded the Village Lions Rugby Football Club out of his Red Lion Pub in New York City’s Greenwich Village, has died at the age of 79. He had battled cancer for ten years.
Surviving Whelan, who lived in Manhasset, New York, are his wife Fran and his son Sean.
“All of the Lions are heartbroken to learn of our founder’s passing,” said Quin Works, Village Lions president. “Alan Whelan was the heart and soul of the Village Lions from the day he launched the club three decades ago until his death.”
Born in 1939, Whelan had excelled at one of Ireland’s major rugby universities, St. Mary’s College, playing flanker, and joined Shirley Wanderers after moving to London. The club owned an old airplane hangar, and held wild post-match parties in the mammoth space. Whelan loved hosting the visiting team, as rugby traditions go, for food, drink, socializing and song after the match.
He joined the New York Rugby Club when he arrived in the U.S. When Whelan’s playing days wound down, he helped coach the New York University Medical School team, whose players often hung out at the Red Lion. He’d also launched the St. Francis College rugby club in Brooklyn in 1971, and the St. John’s University squad in Queens a year later.
Whelan created the Village Lions in 1989, much of the team made up of bartenders and bouncers at the Red Lion and his nearby music joint, the Lion’s Den. “The prerequisites to working at the Red Lion was, you had to play rugby, regardless of whether you had a cooking diploma or not,” said Whelan. “If you wanted a job in the kitchen, you had to play rugby.”
The Village Lions won the Metropolitan New York Division III title in 1990, and developed a reputation for offering the best post-match food and drink spread in New York, at one of Whelan’s downtown pubs. The Lions again won their league championship in 1991, and earned a spot in New York’s Division II.
Whelan’s Lions would not be stopped. They romped through Division II in 1992 with a 7-1 record, and were promoted to Division I in 1993.
Whelan emerged as a central figure in the city’s rugby scene. “There Alan was, this madman down in the Village,” says Ed Hagerty, former editor-in-chief of Rugby Magazine. “And I say that in the most reverential terms. Alan thought, ‘Here’s this neat thing.’ He wanted people to experience it, and they flocked to it.”
Tougher times followed for the club, and Whelan was less of a presence around the Lions. He sold his bars and was mostly at home on Long Island, where he partook in his other passion, fishing.
These days, the Lions have a team in New York’s second and third division, and a thriving women’s team as well. Both the men and women field 7-a-side teams in the summer. In a nod to their founder’s hosting skills, the Lions host two tournaments. Thousands of players worldwide, from some 46 countries, fondly recall their time playing with the Village Lions.
Yet the Village Lions were always close to his heart, and club members remain thankful to Whelan for starting it all. Said Club President Works, “We’ll think of Alan whenever the Lions are together, and we’ll play hard, and host with similar ardor, to forever honor Alan Whelan’s indomitable spirit.”
Reflecting on the Village Lions Rugby Club, 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.”