For a long time, rugby league was non-existent at a professional level in London. Several attempts to introduce teams in the 1930s proved short-lived and it took almost half a century for a new team to be formed. As it happened, that side was Fulham Rugby League – a team that is still competing to this day, although no longer affiliated to the Football Club and instead known as London Broncos.
Then-Chairman Ernie Clay – known for using Fulham for his own financial gain – announced the formation of our own rugby team to act as another stream of income at the Club. The announcement was made in June 1980 that both Fulham Football Club and Fulham Rugby League would play at Craven Cottage, with seasoned professional Reg Bowden taking on the role of player-coach.
With the sport dominated by northern clubs, the capital was a niche market for rugby league and the attendances more than justified the decision, with almost 10,000 spectators turning up to watch the first match on Sunday 14th September 1980 – more than double the number that were in attendance for Fulham’s previous football match against Bradford City.
With less than three months to build a team from scratch, Bowden did a decent job of assembling a side in time for the start of the new Rugby Football League Division Two season. Mighty Wigan were the first opponents on that September afternoon and the recently relegated outfit were resoundingly beaten by the new boys, as two early tries from Adrian Cambriani set Fulham on their way to a 24-5 victory at the Cottage.
That win set the wheels in motion for a successful debut campaign for Fulham Rugby League as they won promotion at the first time of asking by finishing third in the division, with York, Wigan and Whitehaven the other sides going up. The following season was one of disappointment, though, as Fulham occupied the final relegation spot and returned to Division Two.
The next two campaigns saw Fulham Rugby League establish a reputation as something of a yo-yo side. After winning the Division Two title in 1982/83 – and also boasting the league’s top points scorer (Steve Diamond – 308) and top try scorer (John Crossley – 27) – they finished in the drop zone once again a year later.
After four seasons, financial losses resulted in Fulham Football Club severing ties with their rugby league affiliates, although the side lived on in the capital as it endured a nomadic existence for several years, featuring spells at Crystal Palace, Chiswick and Barnet.
In 1991, the club was renamed London Crusaders; an identity they kept for just a few years before being rebranded once again, this time as the London Broncos after they were purchased by Australian Rugby League outfit Brisbane Broncos. Under their new guise, they found themselves back in West London as they played at Brentford’s Griffin Park for a number of years.
However, they underwent another name change in 2006 following their partnership with Harlequins Rugby Union and began to play their home matches at Twickenham Stoop. During this time, they released an anniversary strip to celebrate 30 years since their birth as Fulham Rugby League. The kit (pictured) replicates the original design that the club first played in three decades ago at Craven Cottage – a black top featuring a white arrow pointing downwards across the chest.
A year later, the club reverted from Harlequins to their Broncos name and they are currently competing in the Super League – the top level professional rugby league club competition in Europe – although they have recently announced plans to leave their Twickenham home at the end of the season.
Colour photograph courtesy of www.londonbroncosrl.com.