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Academic joins fellow female rugby pioneers at Welford Road celebration

A De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) academic joined the record-breaking celebrations for women’s rugby yesterday as one of the sport’s female pioneers.

Linda Hickson joined more than 300 other female players from all over the country at a special celebration held on the day England Women crushed Ireland in the Six Nations 69-0.


The Welford Road fixture set a new attendance record for England Women, known as the Red Roses. Some 15,836 people were at the game, the most to ever watch an England Women home fixture – and Leicester-born Emily Scarratt got a huge cheer when she received her 100th cap.

Linda, who is Head of Accounting and Finance at DMU, has played rugby since her university days and has continued to play for over 34 years at local, regional and divisional level and during her time in the armed forces. She was the first female rugby referee in the RAF and refereed games as far afield as Cyprus and Sardinia. She also played for the DMU women’s team for a number of years and played her last varsity match at Welford Road at the age of 50!

She said: “It’s just fantastic to be a part of this celebration, and to see so many women who have helped make the sport what it is today. We organised for people to meet up at DMU ahead of the game so we could all walk down together, and the atmosphere was incredible. Lots of people had not seen each other for years, decades even.  

“Today is hugely significant. When I first started watching England women’s rugby there were about 50 people there, and to see the crowds at Welford Road today is brilliant.”

THUMB rugby

Linda began her rugby career by mistake. A sports science student, she’d mistakenly thought she had been asked to play hockey when she turned up for her first game.

She said: “I actually started playing rugby by accident, I thought I had been asked to play hockey and turned up at the game with my stick! I had 15 minutes to get a brief lesson and then I was playing at number eight – I tackled everyone in sight.”

“By the end of the game, I was hooked. I dropped hockey and switched to rugby and it became a bit of an obsession.”

The Female Pioneers event was the brainchild of Gill Burns, former captain of England Women who led them to World Cup victory in 1994.

Gill said: “Society used to think women had to be wrapped up in cotton wool, and luckily forward-thinking people gradually won supporters over, slowly but surely we have got the support of the rugby community. We had lots of negativity originally but one of the things we tried to do was to prove the sceptics wrong and I think we have done that.”

Posted on Monday 25th April 2022

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