It is difficult to believe that Welford Road is now 125 years old – at least it is if you have your back to the oldest stand.
Executive boxes arrived at the home of the Tigers in the 1990s as part of a stand that replaced the old cinder bank at the Welford Road end, while the replacement of the old members stand and the clubhouse has made a massive difference to the look of the place in the last few years.
One old stand remains, serving as a reminder of times past.
The club is celebrating the 125th anniversary throughout the season and supporters have been sharing some of their great memories.
The Barbarians features prominently, of course, for ex-players and members of a certain age and there will also be nostalgia-tinged thoughts about regional fixtures, tour games, the county championship, two World Cups, the amazing run of cup success just over 30 years ago and, of course, many great moments in European competition.
It is important too, though, to remember that Welford Road has living history – and that it is being added to constantly.
Without churning through the pages of the history books or prodding an online search engine, The Tig can think of a decent list of memorable moments from just the last 15 years or so. How about this as some personal favourites:
- Martin Johnson and his Tigers colleagues parading the World Cup in 2003/04 – and the long lines of supporters who queued to have their photo taken with the Webb Ellis trophy
- Premiership semi-final wins over Saracens, Harlequins and Saints
- Tom Varndell’s late score to beat Stade Francais in a European quarter-final – and lewis Moody leading to charge in defence as Tigers survived a last-minute drop goal attempt – and his last-gasp try against Quins which took Tigers from seventh in the table to a place in the semi-finals on the last day of the season
- The emotional farewell to Johnno, Backy and John Wells, marked by a thumping win over Wasps. Strangely, memories of the meeting at Twickenham immediately afterwards have been eradicated
- The historic night when Tigers refused to bow to world champions South Africa, defending for their lives to close out a great win
- Geordan Murphy
- Visits from Australia and Argentina
- Telusa’s try against Worcester last year
- The enormously emotional day when Matt Hampson returned to the pitch to be introduced to the home crowd for the first time after his life-changing accident
- Seeing the new stand construction around and above the old Members Stand
- Cockers prowling behind a window in the club offices as he followed the action during a touchline ban
- Dan Carter, Brad Thorn, Sergio Parisse, Bryan Habana, Louis Picamoles, Martin Castrogiovanni, Paul O’Connell, Brian O’Driscoll and Billy Ocean!
- A rampage against Perpignan after they had scored first and other big European dates including the win over Toulon when Brad Thorn scored his only try for the club, an unbelievable draw with the Ospreys, groundstaff clearing the pitch of snow during the win over Toulouse a couple of years ago and wins over the heavyweights like Clermont, Stade (twice in a season), Racing and Munster
- Marcos Ayerza being chaired from the field by the Argentina squad in a testimonial game
- The power of the Puma helicopter hovering over the pitch to deliver the matchball
- A bunch of clergy taking on the Big Boot
- Bloke On The Terrace shouting 'Chippy's open' as outsized Wasps prop Trevor Leota trooped towards the touchline after a yellow card
- A 14-man win over Sale Sharks after Julian White's red card
- Geordan Murphy’s drop goal against Gloucester from inside his own half
- Perpignan full-back Phillip Burger wearing tights
- And just to show it is as much about the occasion as the ramifications of the result, witnessing the New Zealand Maori haka (which is still among the most-viewed clips on the club’s YouTube channel) and Manu’s legendary hit on legendary fly-half Carlos Spencer in the ‘friendly’ against the Classic All Blacks
Welford Road, it’s a special place all right.