KEIGHLEY introduced razzmatazz to rugby league long before the arrival of Super League and they are still acting as pioneers three decades on.

That imaginative approach is currently being led by London-based tech entrepreneurs Ryan O'Neill, 42, and Kaue Garcia, 35, a married gay couple who became owners of the League 1 club two years ago.

They demonstrated Cougars' commitment to inclusivity and equality by hosting a Pride Game against West Wales in 2019 and marked LGBT Month in February by incorporating the Progress Flag on their playing kits for the 2021 season.

In a sport with such a macho image, the radical moves might have been seen as a calculated risk, but O'Neill is confident rugby league is moving with the times, having witnessed the progress close up.

He said: "We've moved on so far in the last four or five years and, if we can help and move it forward, so much the better.

"Rugby does have that macho image that suggests we might not be all that welcome but that's incredibly false.

"Our supporter base is relatively limited because we're in League 1, but the demographic in terms of ethnic minorities and gender and sexuality shows we have a real mix.

"We have a surprising number of gay and lesbian supporters. It shocked me actually. I thought when me and Kaue went up there, we'd be the only ones in the village so to speak. But we certainly weren't."

For O'Neill, it has been a return to the club he supported as youngster in the early 1990s, when his father Mick was chairman and one of the men behind Cougarmania, which brought some glitz and glamour to a previously drab Lawkholme Lane.

Mick agreed to return to lead a rescue act in 2019, after the club was placed in special measures and faced the threat of extinction.

The then-77-year-old fronted the takeover but was quick to introduce his son and Brazilian partner as part of the new ownership team.

And the couple are coming up with some fascinating new ideas.

Their plans for Cougar Park include a new entrance dedicated to Keighley-born Sir Tom Moore and a boxing arena under the main stand designed to engage with the local Asian community, who have so far shown little enthusiasm for rugby league.

"When I'm half awake in the morning and a thought comes across my mind, I jot it down on a notepad on my bedside table," said Ryan.

"Then I'll review it, and some of the ideas are totally and utterly insane, but some of them aren't so bad.

"We're always trying to think differently and reach out to new people. Generally crowds have been declining, so you've got to reach out to people who otherwise wouldn't be thinking of coming to a rugby league game."