Since 2019, Keighley Cougars has emerged as one of the most progressive clubs in the sporting world. With visionary owners Ryan O’Neill and Kaue Garcia at the helm, the club has embraced innovation and community engagement to create a remarkable legacy. Their mission is driven by a passion for breaking down these barriers and reshaping their community into one that welcomes all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Their groundbreaking initiatives have left an indelible mark.
One of their most remarkable achievements was organizing the world’s first Pride game, where players proudly sported specially designed rainbow kits. This groundbreaking event not only showcased their commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion but also sent a powerful message that transcended sports and reached a global audience.
In their stadium, they created the first Pride-dedicated terrace, a space where fans could come together, celebrate, and support their team in an environment free from prejudice. Pride flags flutter around the stadium year-round, serving as a constant reminder of their dedication to fostering a welcoming atmosphere.
Under their leadership, Keighley Cougars has organized a series of high-profile events that have pushed boundaries and promoted inclusivity. Notably, the club hosted the Cancer Awareness game against Oldham, demonstrating their commitment to raising awareness and support for important causes. This event was followed by Rugby League’s inaugural Pride Event, held during a home fixture against the West Wales Raiders. By creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, Keighley Cougars has paved the way for positive change within the sport.
In the face of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Keighley Cougars stepped up to make a difference. The club went above and beyond by raising over £10,000 for the NHS, recognizing the tireless efforts of nurses, doctors, and medical staff. They also expressed gratitude by wearing a special kit designed to honour and thank these frontline heroes. In addition, the Cougars donated over 6,000 items of personal protective equipment (PPE) to local nursing homes and the Airedale Hospital. This extraordinary display of community support showcases the club’s dedication to making a tangible impact in the lives of those around them.
The progressive approach of Keighley Cougars has not gone unnoticed. In 2019, the club was honoured with the prestigious Bradford Sports Awards Professional Club of the Year title. The following year, they were once again recognized as the Betfred League 1 Club of the Year. These accolades validate the club’s commitment to excellence and their ongoing efforts to push boundaries in sport.
The 2021 season brought both challenges and triumphs for Keighley Cougars. Despite losing the preliminary final against Doncaster, the team used that setback as fuel for the 2022 season. In an extraordinary display of skill and determination, Keighley Cougars achieved promotion to the Championship League by winning all 22 games—a feat that had only been accomplished by two other teams in history. This undefeated season was a testament to the club’s dedication, teamwork, and progressive mindset.
Keighley Cougars continues to build upon its progressive legacy, forging a path of innovation, inclusivity, and community engagement within the sporting world. With visionary leadership, a passionate fan base, and a commitment to pushing boundaries, the club is poised for even greater achievements in the future.
Back in November 2022, Kaue Garcia, felt deeply honored to receive an invitation to meet His Majesty King Charles III amongst other young leaders from the local area. This momentous occasion brought together a gathering of leaders who were diligently working towards fostering positive change within the Bradford district. As a symbol of recognition for Kaue and Ryan’s dedicated efforts and contributions to the LGBTQ+ community, Kaue stood among his peers, sharing in the collective responsibility of shaping a brighter future.
Going back to the past, Keighley Cougars have a long and successful history within the sport of Rugby League after joining the Northern Rugby Football Union, now the Rugby Football League, in 1900 after switching codes from Rugby Union.
The club was in the inaugural Second Division Champions, following the mergers of the Yorkshire and Lancashire leagues, in 1903 as they won the league with 27 victories in their 34 games throughout the season.
Keighley would have to wait until 1937 for their next big moment as the club made the Challenge Cup Final for the first, and to date only, time in their history as the faced Widnes at Wembley Stadium.
However, despite a try from Reggie Lloyd, the club were defeated on the day at Wembley.
Following the Second World War, the club for the most part struggled for success but did make the Yorkshire Cup Final in 1951, where they were defeated by Wakefield Trinity at Huddersfield’s old Fartown ground.
By the early 1990s things had become almost critical for Keighley, the ground was decrepit and the team was losing to the likes of the now defunct Nottingham City.
In 1991 Mick O’Neil, Mike Smith and Neil Spencer joined the board and embarked on re-branding, inspiring the ‘Cougarmania’; the first being to rebrand the club Keighley Cougars and to rename the ground, Lawkholme Lane, as Cougar Park.
Peter Roe returned to the club as head coach in September 1991 and stayed until 1994.
In 1993, the Cougars won the third division only to be denied promotion due to the Rugby Football League merging the second and third divisions.
The appointment of Phil Larder and signing of Daryl Powell saw the club back up this success in 1995 as they won the Second Division Championship before going on to Old Trafford, where they would defeat Huddersfield to add the Premiership crown to that title.
The summer era has seen the Cougars become third tier promotion specialists, with Gary Moorby first leading the side to promotion in 2003 as they defeated the Sheffield Eagles in a real nail biter at Widnes to be crowned the National League Two champions.
Two promotions in three seasons would follow later in the decade, Barry Eaton leading the club to promotion first in 2009 as the late Danny Jones inspired the side to victory over Oldham in the Championship One Play-Off Final at Warrington.
The club then returned to Warrington in 2011 for another Championship One Play-Off Final appearance, Jason Demetriou’s side comfortably seeing off Workington to clinch promotion once again to the second tier.
And in 2016, a dramatic and controversial final minute try from Charlie Martin at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road saw the club, then coached by Paul March, victorious over the York City Knights to win the iPro Sport Cup in front of a crowd of just under 10,000 spectators.
Off the field, the club’s hard work has seen in twice when the League One Club of the Year award in both 2015 and 2019.
The 2015 accolade was recognition of the way the club pulled together and carried itself throughout the remainder of that season following the tragic loss of Danny Jones in a fixture against London Skolars.