February 1, 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Tom Crumbie whose influence at Leicester Tigers has never been surpassed.
Crumbie played just three first-team games for the club – two on the wing and one as a forward – but his work over more than 30 years as Honorary Secretary laid the foundations for the club we see today.
In the words of the club History Book written by Stuart Farmer and David Hands, “It would be difficult to overstate Tom Crumbie’s contribution to rugby in the city and county.”
Club historian and statistician Farmer says: “It is always difficult to say one man makes a club, but it would not be too much of an exaggeration to say Tom Crumbie was probably THE one Leicester Tiger that has had the biggest influence on the shape of the club.
“The single most important job in any club in the amateur era was Honorary Secretary and Tom took that job as a young man of only 27 in 1895, and he kept it up to his death at the early age of 60.
“When he died 1928, Leicester had become a really, really big club.
“A lot of people who have come in since then – players and administrators – have done so because it was such a big club. Tom Crumbie had shaped that club and made Leicester into a force to attract the real household names we have today.”
Crumbie’s influence was many-faceted, but the development of Welford Road was central to his influence.
“He was a real visionary,” adds Farmer. “Tom had a vision to develop the ground. At that time England did not have a home ground, there was no national stadium as we have today, and Tom’s vision was to have England playing regularly at Welford Road and almost develop an international ground here.
“It didn’t happen, of course, but we got the benefits of that with the Clubhouse built in 1910, the Members Stand in 1913 and then the South Stand which later carried Crumbie’s name in 1920.
“To put that level of work into context, you have to remember there was no further major development until 1995. That fabric was put in place by Tom Crumbie.”
The stadium celebrates its 125th anniversary this season and now has a capacity of almost 26,000.
It was Crumbie’s decision to invite the best players of the era to play for Tigers, a policy which had its detractors but which also brought national attention and sizeable crowds to Welford Road, allowing the club to thrive and build on his vision.
“He wanted a big stadium and had the question of how to get people to watch rugby there,” says Farmer.
“He was a bit radical in this thinking, but he thought he’d bring in the really big-name players. To say Tigers was an ‘invitation club’ is a bit strong because there was a strong core of local players including the likes of Harold Day who played for England, but he added the superstars of the day around that.”