5 Oct 2018

A History of Rugby League in London

A History of Rugby League in London

With London set to make history playing in the Million Pound Game, we look back at the history of the sport in the capital. 

The 1980 admission of Fulham RLFC, the first new admission to the RFL since Whitehaven in 1948, was big news. Many people point to this as the beginning of the game in the region which has since produced Super League players like Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Tony Clubb & Mike McKeenan.

But Rugby League was first introduced by a former Canadian Mountie called Brigadier-General A C Critchley, a man whose other schemes included a surprisingly unsuccessful cheetah racing circuit and who is credited with bringing greyhound racing to the UK.  

He persuaded Wigan Highfield to relocate to the stadium to for the 1933-34 season after a successful exhibition match between Leeds and Wigan at White City convinced Critchley of the games viability. 

The side was an on-field success, winning 20 of their 38 games, and finishing a respectable 14thin the ladder. Despite this, the clubs’ management relocated once again to Liverpool, the first of eight moves for the side between 1935 and 1997.  

A local greyhound track owner, Sydney Parkes, reintroduced Rugby League to London with two teams; Acton and Willesden and Streatham and Mitcham, who entered the league for the 1935-36 season, but both would be folded within two years. 

There would be no professional teams in the city for 43 years until Fulham burst onto the scene. Backed by their namesake football club, the side would play at Craven Cottage.  

Led by player-coach Reg Bowden, Fulham were a wild success and achieved promotion in their opening season of 1980, but the football club broke ties and the club was renamed London Crusaders. 

In 1994 the club were bought by Brisbane Broncos and found their current name – London Broncos in a period saw them join Super League in 1996, finishing 2ndin 1997, and reaching the 1999 Challenge Cup final.

The Broncos would play 20 uninterrupted seasons in the top flight before their relegation in 2014. Since then, the club have restructured and have concentrated on continuity under coaches Andrew Henderson & current coach Danny Ward. 

This strategy has brought the best in younger talent such as Kieran Dixon, James Cunningham and led the club to successive second place finishes in the Championship, in 2017 and 2018.  

The Broncos are well placed to make big news again in 2018, by upsetting the Wolfpack in Canada and making their way to Super League once again.