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History of Leicester Tigers Rugby Club

by Leana Kell

Founded in 1880, Leicester Rugby Club, or Leicester Tigers as they are commonly known, have celebrated phenomenal success and become one of the most well-known and talked about rugby clubs in the world.

Since the introduction of League Rugby in 1987, the Leicester Tigers have proved themselves as the most successful club in English rugby, winning the league a record 10 times, and last winning the Aviva Premiership title in the 2012/13 season.

Appearing in a record nine successive Premiership finals and retaining sixth position or above in the league, the Tigers are one of just four teams to have never been relegated from the top division and the only British side to have qualified to play in every European Champions Cup.

Well supported by their fans, the Tigers hold an enviable position in the game both at home and across Europe and have set a great example for other rugby clubs to follow.

The early years

Leicester Football Club (as it was originally referred to) was formed in August 1880 and was an amalgamation of three amateur football clubs within the area - Leicester Societies AFC, Leicester Amateur FC and Leicester Alert.

In October, the club's first match was held against Moseley at Belgrave Cricket Cycle Ground with the team kitted out in their original club colours of black with yellow stripes. It wasn't until 1895 when the club switched to their famous scarlet, green and white colours for the first time.

The name 'Leicester Tigers' was adopted as early as 1885 when the Leicester Daily Post referred to the club's 'tiger stripes' - it is thought the paper was referring to the club's stripy playing kit, but there has also been speculation that it was due to a connection the club had with a local regiment known as the 'Tigers' who had served in India.

By 1897, the club was already enjoying success winning the Midlands Counties Cup, a tournament they continued to dominate into the twentieth century, until they decided to drop out to finally allow others a chance of winning.

Welford Road

Welford Road is the current home ground of the Leicester Tigers built on the edge of the city centre between Aylestone and Welford Road. It became the home ground for the club very early on in 1892 when the ground officially opened with a game against Leicester Rugby Union. The Tigers won 17-0 in front of a crowd of just 1,100 spectators.

The Crumbie Stand was built thirty years later and was named after the club's secretary who built it, Tom Crumbie. A year later a new terrace was also added as well as an extension to the members' stand, which took the ground's capacity to a much larger 10,250. The expansion nearly bankrupted the club but it was also detrimental in attracting some of the country's top players, laying the foundations for the future success of the club in the 1920s and 1930s.

The stadium now has a current capacity of 26,000, making it the largest purpose-built club rugby union ground in the country. In 2015, plans went ahead to increase the capacity even further to 30,000. The Tigers demolished the clubhouse and in its place a new temporary stand was erected with a capacity of 3100 housing a VIP premium lounge and a new clubhouse, opening in December 2015.

The later years

At the start of the 1970s the club had just 600-700 members, but following the Tiger's cup final success within a decade the club had really started to expand. Many supporters and players put the expansion of the club down to one man, Chalkie White, who joined the Leicester Tigers in 1968. His unique style of coaching and forward thinking attitude brought the club huge success and helped them build a much wider following.

From 1987 to 1997, the Leicester Tigers dominated the Courage League along with Bath, proving to be head and shoulders above the rest of the competition - the Wasps were the only other team to be crowned champions in the first ten years.

The Tigers became the first official champions when they beat Waterloo on the last day of the 1987/1988 season, before Bath went on to win six titles in eight years. Leicester won again in 1995, whilst the Wasps claimed their first title in 1990 and their second in 1997.

By 2000, the Leicester Tigers were thriving taking the premiership title for four consecutive years from 1999-2002 and becoming the first team to win the European Cup in successive seasons. They achieved 57 unbeaten home wins from 1997 to 2002 including 62 successive wins, only losing 14 games out of the 92 games played over the four seasons.

In 2000/2001 the club made history winning the Zurich Premiership, Zurich Championship and Heineken Cup treble all in the same season. Despite a further four seasons without winning a trophy, the Tigers remained near the top of their game, narrowly missing out on a treble trophy win again in 2006/07 when then were defeated in the European Cup Final, having already won the Guinness Premiership and EDF Energy Cup earlier in the year.

By the 2008/09 season, the Tigers were on top of the English league for the eighth time when they beat the London Irish in the Guinness Premiership Final at Twickenham, and then in 2009/10 they won again beating the Saracens in the final at Twickenham in front of an 80,000 strong crowd.

The Tigers reached the Premiership Final again in 2011, but lost to the Saracens, and in 2011/2012, despite winning the Anglo-Welsh LV=Cup, they failed to clinch the winning title in the Premiership, this time losing to the Harlequins who took the trophy for the first time.

In May 2013, the Tigers finally secured a record 10th league title in the final against Northampton at Twickenham, before joining the British and Irish Lions squad for a victorious tour to Australia.

The Leicester Tigers had participated in no less than 11 Premiership Play Offs, reaching 9 consecutive finals between 2005 and 2013, but their run finally came to an end when they lost to a late Northampton try in the 2014 semi finals.