Providing top quality professional rugby league in our nation’s capital requires great spirit and determination, both on and off the pitch. Three separate and equally unsuccessful attempts to introduce a professional rugby league club in London had been made in the 1930s. The bold ventures at London Highfield (1933-34), Acton and Willesden (1935-36) and Streatham and Mitcham (1935-37) were perhaps doomed from the start. Despite some highly promising crowds in the early stages, the entrepreneurs of the day saw greyhound racing as the boom sport and rugby league in the capital died almost as soon as it had begun.
For 43 years that was it for rugby league in London. Until quite out of the blue in June 1980 Fulham Football Club, and chairman Ernie Clay, announced the formation of a rugby league team, with the open intention of creating another income stream for the soccer club. The RFL accepted the new club in what many thought was a madcap scheme. One of the game’s leading players Reg Bowden was recruited to act as player-coach and within weeks an experienced team of players was assembled.
The opening match at Craven Cottage was a day never to be forgotten. Nearly 10,000 fans turned up, most of whom were watching their first ever rugby league match to see the newly formed “Men in Black” overturn rugby league legends Wigan 24-5. The first season was a series of heady experiences; 12,583 fans to see Leeds beaten in the John Player Trophy, 15,013 to see Wakefield in the Challenge Cup, 11,926 for the end of season challenge against champions Bradford and of course, most importantly, promotion itself.
The euphoria of the opening season could never quite be matched in subsequent seasons. Relegation in 1981-82 was disappointing, although the visit of the great Australian “Invincibles” (the 1982 national side) was a memorable match played in front of 10,432 fans. That season saw the debut of London legend Hussein M’Barki. At the end of the fourth season continuing financial losses saw the plug pulled at Craven Cottage, but thanks to the backing of supporters Roy and Barbara Close and new coach Roy Lester, Fulham still had a future. Between 1984 and 1994 the club spent periods based at Crystal Palace, Chiswick and Barnet. This decade was noted for its continued struggle both on and off the pitch.
A 1991 name change to London Crusaders coincided with an entertaining period on the pitch. The climax of this spell was a 1994 appearance in the Divisional Premiership Final under popular coach Tony Gordon. A further development in the spring of 1994 was the announcement that the Brisbane Broncos was buying the club and another name change to London Broncos was confirmed.
The world revolution in the game of rugby league saw the advent of Super League in 1996. Consequently the Broncos made the journey to south east London where home matches were played at Charlton Athletic’s Valley Stadium. The 1996 season indeed saw the best gates since the heady days of the inaugural season at Craven Cottage. Circumstances however saw another move, this time to west London and the Stoop Memorial Ground, home of Harlequins RUFC. This period at The Stoop also saw the advent of the Virgin Group as popular majority shareholder. Much desired success on the pitch seemed to have arrived in 1997 with an excellent second place finish in Super League. Highlights that season included victories at The Stoop over Canberra in the World Club Challenge and Bradford and Wigan in Super League. In 1999, on a day long remembered by Broncos fans, London reached the Challenge Cup Final in what proved to be the last rugby league game ever to be played at the old Wembley Stadium. Challenge Cup Finals have now returned to the new Wembley Stadium which will soon have a group of rugby legends immortalised outside in a statue.
After a second brief spell at The Valley, fervent supporter David Hughes purchased the majority shareholding from Virgin in a major restructuring of the club. As part of this re-organisation the Broncos moved back to their west London roots in 2002, playing home matches at Brentford FC’s Griffin Park.
In July 2005 the Club announced that Ian Lenagan, a prominent businessman, had become chairman and majority shareholder. Weeks later in August 2005, the club made the momentous announcement that at the conclusion of Super League X, London Broncos would form a partnership with Harlequins RUFC which would include a name change to Harlequins Rugby League and a move to the newly renamed Twickenham Stoop.
In December 2007 a new period in the history of London rugby league commenced when Ian Lenagan handed over the chairman’s reigns to become owner of his home-town club, Wigan Warriors. Keith Hogg, a long time supporter of rugby league was appointed chairman.
In summer 2008, Harlequins RL secured their place in the Super League by successfully winning a licence to play in the top flight until 2010. In October 2008, Tony Clubb and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook made try-scoring debuts in the England team against Wales. Later in the month, Harlequins captain, Rob Purdham travelled to Australia for the 2008 Rugby League World Cup. Despite the England team failing to live up to expectations, Purdham put in very strong performances and was widely praised.
In January 2009, Keith Hogg stood down as chairman and was replaced by David Hughes.
After a couple of tough seasons, in 2011 Harlequins RL again secured a three year licence to play top flight rugby league competing in the Super League until at least 2014. On November 1 2011 the club reverted to its former identity of the London Broncos. The newly re-branded Broncos also made a number of new signings in the off season ready for their campaign in the 2012 Super League.
The 2013 season was again one of disappointment for the Broncos, finishing 13th overall with five wins, two of which came in the final two games of the season to prevent the London side finishing bottom of the table. Notable highlights of the season include reaching a Challenge Cup semi-final and the capture of Jamie Soward for a total of nines games of the season as a mid-season signing.
At the beginning of 2014 the club re-located to north London, basing themselves at Underhill in Barnet and playing their games at The Hive in Edgware. Head coach Tony Rea constructed a squad a short notice after the club staved off administration towards the end of 2013. Early in 2014 a new management structure was established at the club with Jason Loubser taking control on a day-to-day basis as General Manager.
In March Tony Rea stepped down and assistant coach Joey Grima took control of the first team. The Broncos relegation to the Championships was confirmed on 13th July winning just one league game of the season against Leeds Rhinos at The Hive.
Joey Grima relinquished his position as head coach in early 2015, and then assistant coach Andrew Henderson stepped up to the task at hand.
In late 2015, still under the guidance of Andrew Henderson, the club re-located to Trailfinders Sports Club in Ealing, where for the first time all three teams will train and play at the same home ground.