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 name change to London Crusaders coincided with an entertaining period on the pitch.
The climax of this spell was a 1994 appearance in the Division 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 trained and played at the same home ground.
The team made the Super 8’s Qualifiers in both 2016 and 2017 missing out on promotion on both occasions. At the end of the 2017 season Head Coach, Andrew Henderson, decided it was time to move on taking up a position as Assistant Coach at Super League Warrington Wolves. Following this decision the club decided to appoint from within and former player, Danny Ward took over the Head Coach position for the 2018 season.
With Andrew Henderson having departed new Head Coach Danny Ward took the reigns with many pundits predicting the team would finish as low as tenth in the table. The side had other ideas and started the season with a bang winning their first seven games in a row until they lost on a wet Easter day to Toulouse Olympique. This was followed by another defeat at Leigh Centurions on Easter Monday and an away loss to Halifax. London, however, bounced back in the League despite going out of the Challenge Cup to Leigh at Leigh Sports Village.
Another loss in May to Leigh and two defeats to Toulouse & Toronto, both away, put the side in a tough position leading upto the Super 8’s and the chance of making the top four. The tide turned with a gutsy draw away in France and then victories over Halifax & Featherstone Rovers meant that the capital side needed to win away at Barrow by more than 46 points to Leapfrog Toulouse into the top four.
This they did with an emphatic 72 points to six win to take their place and confound the pundits.
August 9th 2018 was the first game of the eights and a last second drop goal from Jarrod Sammut saw the Broncos defeat Widnes at the Halton Stadium. This was followed up by a loss at home to Leeds and an away loss to Toronto before a win at Trailfinders over Toulouse 34-8 and a loss to Hull KR 30-18.
If London were to have any chance of going up they would need to beat Salford Red Devils and they duly did by 11 points to eight in Ealing. There was still a chance of going straight up had results gone their way but in the end a home win over Halifax by 23 points to 16 secured a place in the Million Pound Game. Toronto who had finished above London would host it and so the squad travelled to Canada for the biggest game in the clubs history since the Challenge Cup Final in 1999.
The game in Toronto was one of the most surreal that the club had ever seen but two goals from the boot of Jarrod Sammut secured a place in the 2019 Super League and London were back at the top table for the first time since 2014 with a two points to four victory in a try less match.
2019 – Back in Super League
London Broncos started 2019 as being written off by the press on all sides but the club were determined not to underperform and that was shown when in the first game of the season they scored 42 points against Wakefield Trinity at Trailfinders much to the surprise of the Rugby League fraternity.
The Broncos were however brought back down to earth as they lost the next three games with Wigan Warriors to come.
The Londoners again shocked rugby league by beating the reigning Super League Champions by 18 points to 16 and then, on a windy Friday evening, backed it up by beating Leeds Rhinos at Emerald Headingley, by the same score, in a nail biting finish.
The season progressed and London went on a disappointing run of 8 loses on the bounce with a Challenge Cup exit to Halifax on the way to the next visit of Wakefield Trinity to Ealing.
Surely Wakefield had learnt their lesson from the first game of the season and would not take the hosts for granted? The score said it all and London had yet another win under their belts again scoring 42 points in taking the much needed win.
Magic Weekend was upon us and this season was at Anfield Stadium home of Liverpool FC and the Broncos would face Leeds Rhinos once more. Both sides had their chances and the Broncos would end the weekend disappointed as they lost by just two points in a game that was there for the taking.
The Broncos returned to London and prepared for their biggest test so far and the visit of runaway leaders St Helens. On a rainy Sunday the Broncos produced a result that fans will remember for a lifetime as the game went to Golden Point for the first time in Ealing and Morgan Smith dropped the goal that meant the Broncos had won 23 – 22 and sent the fans into delirium.
Next up Catalans Dragons away from home and the intimidating Stade Gilbert Brutus… or so you would have thought but the Broncos backed up their win over St Helens and became only the second team to win in France in 2019.
Back to Back wins for the London side and next a bottom of the table crunch match in front of the Sky cameras at home to Hull KR. The game swung backwards and forward in a tight encounter but at the hooter London had won three on the trot and won 26 – 24 to move from the foot of the table.
Another run of three losses saw the Broncos slide to the bottom of Super League again but the side and their never say die attitude bounced back and once again took the points at Trailfinders against St Helens this time by a margin of 20 as they won 32 – 12.
Two more losses to Castleford and high flying Salford Red Devils followed before another trip to Perpignan and another tremendous win against Catalans Dragons. It seemed that London were determined to stay up and would clearly be fighting all the way until the end of the 2019 season.
Three games to go and destiny was in their own hands. The first of the three did not go to plan as a now much stronger Leeds Rhinos side took the points at Trailfinders.
As London travelled to Craven Park to face Hull KR in yet another huge game they new that anything but a win would mean relegation. The side played magnificently and the three points were theirs. One games to go and the Broncos needed one more win and for results to be kind to them elsewhere and the job would be done.
They travelled to Wakefield knowing that both Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR were also fighting for their lives and the simultaneous kick off made it all the more tense.
It was one game too far for the Broncos who on losing to Wakefield Trinity were relegated on points difference, the harshest way to go. 62 points separated London Broncos and Hull KR in the end but every London fan will talk about the 2019 season for years to come. Head Coach Danny Ward had done an amazing job with his squad and signed a new two year deal off of the back of the fantastic season had by the club.