What a difference a decade makes

Last Saturday I went to watch Harlequins play Clermont Ferrand in the fifth round of the Heineken Cup at their Twickenham Stoop ground. I was one of a crowd of 12,800, about 2,000 below the current 14,800 capacity.

I recalled how, idling through the rugby books section on Amazon recently, I had come across the title “Britain’s Rugby Grounds”, by Chris Harte. Published in 2003 it called itself “A guide to 50 rugby union grounds in Britain” -(Kendal anyone?). Idiosyncratic the choice may have been, but the Stoop is among the more well known venues covered. Thus the book unwittingly offers an insight as to  how much rugby stadia have changed over the past decade.

It contains a photo from the (then recently opened) East Stand. In fact,this  is the only part of the ground still with us. On the other side of the pitch is the small West Stand, and the uncovered South Stand is plainly visible. Harte refers to the “permanent-temporary” seating behind both sets of posts, where some “5750 spectators can watch in relative comfort,just so long as it is not raining.” A new South Stand now seats 4000 under cover. The West Stand then had 448 seats, but has been transformed into a modern 4000-seat structure.

As  the stadium itself has changed so has the crowd . Quins have been teased over the years for being champagne charlies; city boys who were all style and no substance.But the rich City set from the commuter belt no longer dominate Quins’ fan base. The majority of fans come from the club’s four local boroughs, and it to accommodate that expanding fan base that the Twickenham Stoop has undergone such huge development over the past 10 years.