Rugby Retrospective takes a backward look at history, events and curiosities from the Rugby World. This first edition takes a look at one of the eight RFU founding member clubs:
Richmond F.C. founded in 1861 was a founding member of the RFU and is one of the world’s oldest Rugby Football Clubs. The team plied their trade at the Richmond Athletic Ground from way back in 1889, finding their way in the third division of the English Rugby system until 1996 when they caught the eye of Multi-millionaire Ashley Levett. Levett began to invest heavily in the club, bringing in big names and pushing Richmond to become the first professional team in England.
Following promotion from National 3 in 1995/96 and National 2 in 1996/97 the team embarked on their first season in the top flight and newly formed English Premiership (Known as Allied Dunbar at the time) in 1997/98.
Richmond started the first campaign with a bang, a resounding win in their first home match against local rivals London Irish 32-12.
Through the first 5 games, Richmond had a record of 2 wins, 3 losses, and this trend continued through the next 5 matches, with 4 wins and 6 losses, the next 5 matches with 6 wins and 9 losses, with the team failing to build momentum.
The team lost their 10th game that season against Leicester Tigers at Welford Road before embarking on an emphatic 6-game winning run lasting until the seasons end, including demolition jobs of Bristol (43-3) and Wasps (51-29).
Turning the win/loss deficit, they finished the season with 12 wins and 10 losses, 24 points and a very respectable 5th place in the table. Finishing close behind titans of the times, Leicester Tigers and Bath, this was a remarkable achievement for any club.
Attendances were improving, averaging 3,611 a game with a peak of 6,500 turning out to their win over Bath in April. The stands were reaching maximum capacity more often than not. They had talent in abundance, the first £1million signing Ben Clarke, brothers Scott & Craig Quinnell. Agustin Pichot.
In 1998/99 the league was ambitiously expanded to 14 teams with London Scottish, West Hartlepool and Bedford Blues all being elected to the premiership.
The season began positively, with 3 wins and 2 losses through the first 5 games, continued solidly above last year’s trend with 6 wins and 4 losses through 10 games. After 15 games the team were showing consistency, cementing their place in the mid-table at 8 wins 6 losses however after a draw and missed opportunities at home, their record slipped to 10 wins and 10 losses with 4 games to go.
Richmond fell short at the tail end of the season, losing 3 in a row before saving the best performance for last…
In front of a meagre 1,308 fans away at Godlington Road in Bedford on Sunday 16th May 1999, Richmond ran out winners with a score of 106-12. A 94-point margin, a Richmond record and a Premiership Rugby record that still stands to this day. In the competitive Premiership, it is unlikely that this record will ever be broken.
16 tries came from the Richmond team that day, Richard Butland slotted 13 conversions. Hattricks from Brian Cusack and Mel Deane, braces from C. Quinnell and Jason Wright. Bateman, Shelbourne, Vander, Walne, Whitford and Williams touched down the rest. It was a legendary team performance and one for all time.
It was a bitter-sweet end to the clubs 2nd season of top-flight rugby. Richmond finished 9th despite earning the same 24 points as the season prior, but this was not the end of the disappointment for Richmond fans.
The club had outgrown the Athletic Ground at the end of 97/98 season and became tenants 36 miles west of Richmond at the Madejski Stadium in Reading. Sadly, attendances were poor, and revenues from the competition meant that owner Ashley Levett was continually having to personally finance the club, and as such, he placed Richmond into administration in March 1999.
Richmond and London Scottish F.C. who had also been placed into administration were merged into London Irish, who moved to the Stoop Memorial Ground before taking up tenancy at the Madejski stadium the following year, where they remain to this day. During a time of uncertainty, many players decided to jump the sinking ship and take up contracts elsewhere or returned to their original home teams.
The Richmond amateur club was reformed a year later in 2000, and the club re-joined the leagues as an amateur club at the bottom of the RFU club pyramid.
Richmond returned to the Athletic Ground as an amateur club in 2000 and have steadily risen through the divisions.
They won the Herts/Middlesex division 1 in 00/01, London division 4 south west in 01/02, London division south west 3 in 02/03, London division 2 south in 03/04, London division 1 in 07/08 before finally winning the National League 2 promotion playoff in 11/12.
During this league ascent, Richmond were the winners of 6 Surrey Cups between 2001 and 2007.
They were National League 1 champions in 15/16 earning them entry once again to the RFU 2nd tier, the RFU Championship.
After a 10th place finish in 2016/17 and 9th place in 2017/18, the club is well positioned amongst the English 2nd tier, however average home attendances have struggled below 1000 in recent years.
Richmond is an historic and proud club; Richmond Women compete in the Tyrells Premier 15s League, the pinnacle of the English Women’s elite game and 126 men and over 100 women have been capped for their country whilst playing at Richmond.
The club is certainly one of which we would love to see return to the top table at some point in the future.