I have in front of me the programme for the Heineken Cup semi-final between Leicester and Toulouse on January 4,1997. Apart from some well-known names in the line-up (current Director of Rugby Richard Cockerill was “B”-no such boring things as numbers in those days…) there was an illuminating feature on their Welford Road Stadium.
No Caterpillar Stand then, but the Holland & Barrett Stand was there-albeit then known as the Crumbie Stand.This was named after Tom Crumbie, secretary of the club for 33 years until his death in 1928. He presided over an ambitious plan to turn the ground into an international stadium, but went to his grave presiding over what was already regarded as a white elephant. The popularity of rugby union was waning,crowds were dropping, and financial problems meant that the first Tigers Supporters Club was formed in 1934 with the sole purpose of “liquidating the £12,000 debt caused by the building of the Crumbie Stand”.
Nowadays , Leicester Tigers are often described as the Manchester United of English rugby. Like their footballing counterparts, they not only hold the record number of Premiership titles but their Welford Road Stadium, with its 24,000 capacity, is the largest purpose-built rugby union ground in England.
Walk to the ground from Leicester station, along Tigers Way, and the first sighting will be the magnificent GNC Stand. Opened as the Caterpillar Stand in 2009, it seats 10,000 people, and is Phase 1 of a development of the ground that should take capacity up to 30,000.
On a recent visit,for the Tigers v Montpellier Heineken Cup match, I was seated opposite in that one-time infamous Crumbie ,now Holland & Barrett,Stand. This still has the wooden benches, which hearken back to its construction back in the 1920’s, and so serves as a vivid reminder of how far the club had come.