Interview with Kevin Sinfield

The former England rugby league captain and double university graduate talks higher education and life after sport. Plus the latest higher education appointments

September 10, 2015
Kevin Sinfield, Yorkshire Carnegie, Leeds Rhinos
Source: Vicky Matthers/IconPhotoMedia

Kevin Sinfield is one of the most successful players in English rugby league. He is currently the third-highest points-scorer in the history of the sport in England, and is Leeds Rhinos’ highest points-scorer. At the end of August, he captained Leeds to their 13th Challenge Cup success. At the end of this season, he is switching codes to join rugby union side Yorkshire Carnegie. In July, he graduated for a second time from Leeds Beckett University with a master’s degree in sport business, following the BSc in sport and exercise science that he achieved in 2008.

Where and when were you born?
Oldham, 1980.

How has this shaped you?
I come from a normal working-class family. [Oldham] was a really good place to grow up and I have fond memories of my childhood. I went to two decent schools and met some great friends along the way.

How does it feel to be a double Leeds Beckett graduate?
Really great. The first degree was probably a little bit easier. I don’t mean that in terms of the actual [academic] level, just that it was a bit easier to balance my life back then. I started the first degree when I didn’t have any kids. When I started the second one, I was in more of a [family] routine – I have two lads, and they were more dependent on my time. But I’m so glad and proud to have achieved both [degrees].

What was your university experience like in terms of juggling your studies and rugby?
The master’s was more about time management. Trying to study, read and research things was the difficult part because you spend so many hours a day training, then your family take up a certain amount of time, and before you know it you’re tired. That makes things very tough. It took me three years, and they were three quite long, arduous years, but so rewarding at the end. To finally hand in my dissertation was a big relief and gave me a lot of satisfaction.

Do you think that professional sportspeople think about what they’re going to do once they retire?
I think that there’s more awareness now. Five to 10 years ago, there was very little awareness and people were very surprised that [when] they finished their careers [they needed to find another job]. Certainly with rugby league players, there are very few people that earn enough money from the game to be able to retire full stop. The vast majority have to find another line of work, and players just weren’t prepared for that.

What drew you towards a master’s in sport business? Do you have a particular career in mind after your playing days are over?
My first degree was in sport science and I felt that having a full, rounded understanding of the sport market was really important. What I’d like to do after playing would be more centred around the administration of sport, whether that be [as a] performance director, director of rugby or football manager. Hopefully somewhere down the track, [I could be the] chief executive of a sports club. I felt that I needed to give myself the academic background behind it, so that if those jobs or opportunities arise later on, I’d be in a decent position to apply for them.

What made you want to take up the challenge of rugby union after such a successful year in rugby league?
I think that you’ve answered it: the challenge. I’m 35 this week and the opportunity to play two professional sports really appeals to me. I’ve always been a rugby union fan, had an admiration for the game and always wanted to try it. I didn’t want to have any regrets after finishing my career, [I didn’t want to be] hanging my boots up thinking “I wish I’d had a go”.

Do you ever get bored with winning trophies?
No, I definitely don’t. [The Challenge Cup win] was pretty special, what we were able to do as a team, and to do it in front of such fantastic fans.

If you were a prospective student facing £9,000 fees, would you go to university or get a job?
I think that it has got to be [a decision that is taken] on an individual basis. I’d like to think that I would go to university and do it all again. But depending on my circumstances, that might change. I fully understand people going down both routes: it’s great to get the theory behind the work, but I also think that there are so many people out there who don’t have degrees or [any experience of] further education who have done brilliantly well and have so much experience on the floor and working with people.

What kind of undergraduate were you?
For my first degree, there were five of us from the club who did it together. We all had families, lived at home and were a little bit older than your normal student – I started studying at 23 and finished at 28. was very enjoyable and we met loads of new people, some of whom I’m still in touch with now.

Tell us about someone you admire.
It would be [former Great Britain rugby league captain] Ellery Hanley. Throughout your life, people talk about having heroes and how, on coming face to face with them, they’re often let down. But Ellery was every bit what I thought he would be. He was an absolute gentleman and a huge inspiration.


Political scientist Simon Hix has been announced as the inaugural Harold Laski Chair at the London School of Economics. LSE created the chair to commemorate its former professor and one of Britain’s most prominent socialists. Professor Hix, an LSE alumnus and employee for nearly two decades, has authored more than 50 articles in top international journals in political science and written seven books. He said: “It is a great honour to hold the chair. I have tried throughout my academic career to make my teaching and research relevant to politics and policymakers, and I hope that I can continue to do so in this new role, keeping alive Laski’s legacy at LSE.”

Lesley Thompson, currently programme director at the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, has been appointed director of academic and government strategic alliances at Elsevier. In her current position, Dr Thompson is responsible for the overall EPSRC portfolio which includes commissioning £800 million per year for research and postgraduate training. At Elsevier, she will play a leading role in advancing the publisher’s initiatives to help universities, funding bodies and governments achieve their strategic objectives. She will take up her position on 1 November.

James Miller has started his new role as deputy vice-chancellor at Glasgow Caledonian University. Professor Miller was formerly director of the Open University in Scotland.

The University of Lincoln has appointed Michael Christie reader in the School of Life Sciences. Dr Christie will work with colleagues to improve the quick and easy identification of individuals at risk of diabetes.

Alicia Greated has been appointed director of research and enterprise services at Heriot-Watt University. Dr Greated is currently head of the Newton Programme Management Team at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills.

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