The best-supported and most successful club in English rugby, Leicester Tigers occupy an enviable position in the game both at home and abroad.
From domination of the Midlands Cup in their formative years to national knockout cup conquests and on to a place at the top of the professional game, 10 English league titles and back-to-back European crowns, Leicester have set the benchmark for others to follow.
Founded in 1880, Leicester Football Club, or Leicester Tigers as they are more commonly known, have gone on to become one of the most successful and well-known rugby clubs in the world.
The club was formed in August 1880 at a meeting in the George Hotel, Leicester and was an amalgamation of three clubs: Leicester Societies AFC, Leicester Amateur FC and Leicester Alert. Leicester Football Club played their first game that October against Moseley at the Belgrave Cricket and Cycle Ground in their original club colours of black.
The Tigers team of 1893/1894
It was as early as 1885 that the team took up the Tigers name when the Leicester Daily Post stated that "the Tiger stripes were keeping well together." It is still not certain whether the name came from the brown and yellow kit then worn by the side or a connection with the local regiment who were nicknamed the Tigers after serving in India.
The club started as it meant to go on and in 1897 won the Midlands Counties Cup - the premier tournament for Midlands-based rugby clubs. Leicester then dominated this tournament into the twentieth century, securing eight successive wins up until 1905 when they dropped out "to give other teams a chance".
In 1920, the Crumbie Stand was built and a terrace added just a year later along with an extension to the members' stand, taking the ground capacity up to 10,250. It would be another 75 years until further extensions were made to Welford Road with the Alliance & Leicester Stand being built in 1995.
Growth to the modern era
It was towards the end of the 1970s that Tigers really began to grow. At the start of the decade the club had just 600-700 members and gates less of than 1,000. By end of the '70s, Tigers had reached their first cup final and the club was on its way towards a substantial period of growth.
Supporters and players alike attributed this change in attitude to the presence of Chalkie White, who came to Leicester in 1968. He was a very forward thinking coach with high standards in terms of fitness and tactical awreness. His unique style of coaching brought the team success on the pitch and with that success came an increase in supporter numbers.
The 70s was a fantastic era for the famous Barbarians fixture where, in contrast with the usual 750-2000 spectators, the team played in front of a packed house at Welford Road.
In the 1980s, the club still enjoyed the benefits of amateur rugby with nights away and Easter tours, but off the pitch they were taking their first steps towards corporate sponsorship.
The turn of the century saw an impressive run of success for Leicester Tigers as they took the Premiership title for four years in a row from 1999-2002 and became the first team to win the European Cup in successive seasons.
The history-making 2000/2001 Tigers collecting the Heineken Cup
In the 2000/2001 season, Tigers made history by winning a Zurich Premiership, Zurich Championship and Heineken Cup treble.
Although the Heineken Cup win of the following year was followed by four seasons without a trophy, Tigers finished the 2006/07 season by coming within 80 minutes of another treble-winning campaign as they fell to defeat in the European Cup Final having secured Guinness Premiership and EDF Energy Cup glory earlier in the year.
Two more Twickenham finals apperances followed in the 2007/08 season as Tigers finished runners-up in both domestic competitions.
But, after those near-misses, silverware returned to the Welford Road trophy cabinet 12 months later as Tigers beat London Irish in the Guinness Premiership Final at Twickenham to win the English league for a record eighth time. A week later Tigers reached a fifth Heineken Cup Final, but were pipped at the post by Leinster at Murrayfield.
Tigers topped the Guinness Premiership table again in 2009/10 and successfully defended their English crown with a thrilling victory over Saracens in the final at Twickenham in front of an 80,000 capacity crowd. A late try by England international Dan Hipkiss, on the field as a second-half replacement, allowed skipper Geordan Murphy to lift the silverware for a second successive season and the ninth time in the club's history.
Tigers reached the Premiership Final again in 2011, losing a rematch against Saracens which was only confirmed in the last play of the game.
A domestic double proved just out of reach in 2011/12, Tigers lifting the Anglo-Welsh LV= Cup silverware following Final victory over Northampton Saints but just missing out in an eighth successive Premiership Final at Twickenham when Harlequins took the trophy for the first time.
But Tigers achieved another landmark in May 2013 when victory over neighbours Northampton at Twickenham secured a record 10th league title. Geordan Murphy, in his 16th and last season in the first-team squad, hoisted the trophy and collected his own eighth champions' medal to cap a remarkable career.
Six Tigers players joined the British & Irish Lions tour to Australia immediately after the Final and shared in an historic series success. Five of them had come all the way through from the Academy ranks to achieve success at club, international and Lions level.
Leicester Tigers' Roll of Honour
|European Champions||2001/2002, 2000/2001|
|English Champions||2012/2013, 2009/2010, 2008/2009, 2006/2007, 2001/2002, 2000/2001, 1999/2000, 1998/1999, 1994/1995, 1987/1988|
|English Cup Winners||1996/1997, 1992/1993, 1980/1981, 1979/1980, 1978/1979
|Anglo-Welsh Cup Winners||2011/12, 2006/2007|