Premiership Grounds focus: Welford Road, Leicester

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 06: A general view of Welford Road prior to the Gallagher Premiership Rugby match between Leicester Tigers and Exeter Chiefs at Welford Road Stadium on April 06, 2019 in Leicester, United Kingdom. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Welford Road has an extensive history in the Premiership. The ground has been a staple in the top flight of rugby since the modern game began. Leicester Tigers have played their home games at Welford Road for all but twelve of their 139 years of existence.

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Last Word on Rugby looks at all things Welford Road, it’s history, the present day and what’s to come for the home of Leicester Tigers.

The history of Leicester Tigers’ Welford Road

Leicester Tigers were founded in 1880 and twelve years later on 10 September 1892, their permanent home at Welford Road was officially opened. Tigers still reside on the land on the southern edge of the city centre, after it was originally only purchased on a 10-year lease.

The stadium took on the name Welford Road, despite having an Aylestone Road address. This was to avoid confusion as a cricket club already played at another ground on Aylestone Road.

The stadium has seen expansions on several occasions with the most notable work taking place in 1920, 1995, 2009 and 2015.

However, in 2004, Leicester almost gave up on the faithful Welford Road as their home. Tigers entered a shared venture with Leicester City Football Club and aimed to purchase the Walkers Stadium (now known as the King Power Stadium).

Discussions continued for several months but neither side could agree on who would have priority of the shared club. As a result, these plans were abandoned and Tigers turned their attention to improving their current ground.

Work started in 2008 on increasing the capacity of the stadium from 17,498 to over 25,000.

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The initial stage of construction included the demolition of the North Stand. The £60 million redevelopments made room for 10,000 supporters, accommodation, hospitality suites and a bar. Not only is it the largest stand at Welford Road it is also the second-largest single-tier stand in the country after The Kop at Liverpool FC which holds 12,390.

Despite all these impressive renovations, there is one stand at Welford Road that has been frozen in time. The Breedon Stand, also known as the Crumbie Stand/Terrace holds 8,500 spectators split between seating on wooden benches and standing in the terraces. It also houses the changing rooms for players and officials with them entering the pitch via the terraces.

The southern stand cost just £21,000 to build in 1920. Its existence has been threatened to keep up appearances with the rest of the modern stadium. However, it remains a special place for both club and supporter offering a glimpse of history and tradition. It encapsulates the typical look of most early rugby stadiums and will remain standing for the foreseeable future, much to the delight of the devoted following who have adopted it as a second home.

Best recent matches at Leicester’s Welford Road

Tigers suffered their worst season during their 2018/19 campaign. They finished in 11th after not being out of the top half of the table since the league began. However, they were once a top-three side, a position they held for seven consecutive seasons and some of their games had glimmers of the side they once were, and hope to be again.

2018/19 – Leicester Tigers 49 – Newcastle Falcons 33

Tigers bonus-point win over the Falcons was special for many reasons. It was their first win of the season and also Head Coach Geordan Murphy’s first game in charge. Kyle Eastmond, Will Spencer and David Denton were all given Welford Road debuts too. The game felt bittersweet for Tigers’ fans who found revenge in the scoreline after Newcastle knocked them out of the top four in the previous year.

Furthermore, in his second season since re-joining the club, George Ford contributed 29 points to his sides emphatic victory. Ford also sealed the game with a superb last-minute penalty kick from just within halfway.

2018/19 – Champions Cup: Leicester Tigers 45 Scarlets 27

Another fan favourite from an otherwise difficult and forgettable season was Tigers five-try win over Scarlets in the Heineken Champions Cup. Second rower, Harry Wells, scored on his 50th appearance for the side with his fellow forwards dominating the game. Captain George Ford led by example kicking four conversions and four penalties to help Leicester to victory.

The evening also marked the 22nd anniversary since Leicester played their first home game in European competitions. Leicester’s strong and disciplined defence is essentially what kept their Welsh opponents from making further advancements in the game.

The future of the stadium

The ground behind the south stand was the target of renovation plans in 2017. A multi-storey car park and a hotel are set to replace the NCP carpark that currently occupies the space. The initial aim was to have the work finished in time for the 2019/20 season. However, with the league re-starting again in under two months, things have barely started.

Leicester Royal Infirmary recently registered their interest with the plans. The hospital now wants to share a seven-floor carpark with the club. The predicted total of the project is £11 million, £6 million more than originally thought. It will offer parking for hospital staff and safe, convenient parking for Tigers’ hospitality guests.

Work is then due to commence on the planned £22 million hotel once the car-park is complete. As well as offering accommodation, it will host conference and corporate facilities for the rugby club.

Earlier this year Leicester Tigers announced that they were putting their club up for sale for £60 million. This financial move came after a successful investment into Premiership Rugby by the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners. Tigers’ hope to benefit from the rise of interest in rugby union, especially in a World Cup year. This opportunity could then help kickstart the hotel and car-park plans into full swing.

Welford Road

Despite their recent drop in form, Tigers are still undoubtedly one of the biggest and most successful clubs in the top flight. Welford Road will continue to be a daunting place for opposition to visit accompanied by a passionate home crowd.

The stadium has been the base for Leicester to go on and win more titles than any other English team.

The club’s size and reputability has seen it host seven international matches, including World Cup pool matches. The accessibility of the stadium has also seen it welcome rugby league and NFL matches as well as pop concerts.

Welford Road is an attractive stadium, sure to gain attention from investors in the coming months. This could see further improvements and changes made to the stadium to ensure it continues to be a hub of sport and culture to the city of Leicester. Along with monetary aid, the determination of players, staff and supporters is sure to help Leicester return to being the dominant force it once was.

Premiership Grounds Focus

Last Word on Rugby’s Premiership Grounds focus has profiles of Sixways, Kingsholm, Ashton Gate, Sandy Park, Franklin’s Gardens and The Rec grounds.

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